Hardlines retailers have benefitted from a new wave of interest in home decorating, thanks in part to the popularity of home improvement shows on networks like HGTV and DIY. What used to be a place to rush in and out with a specific tool or piece of hardware in mind is now becoming a destination to browse and be inspired.

Although the industry as a whole is growing, individual hardlines retailers still need to protect their market share. Today’s customers are fickle, and the Internet presents a whole world of competition. Shoppers can easily compare prices and order online – often with fast, free shipping. A recent survey of hardlines retailers found that their number one business challenge was customer retention, followed closely by increased competition.

How can hardlines retailers battle the competition and earn customer loyalty? The secret lies in knowing your customers, what they want, and how they would like to shop. Sell the way your customers want to buy, and they’ll have no reason to look elsewhere. Here are the key ingredients in creating great customer experiences for your hardlines customers:

Anticipate their needs

Shopping for home goods and hardware can feel intimidating to many consumers. Most of us aren’t renovation experts, so we often feel a little out of our domain, dwarfed by the large aisles in a home improvement store. To the customer, this is a challenge, but to the retailer, it presents an opportunity.

Anticipate the customer’s needs and seize an opportunity to sell more. For instance, the shopper might not realize that the bathroom cabinet they have selected doesn’t come with the faucet. Save them the return trip by suggesting a complementary faucet as well as the plumbing materials that are needed for installation.

Equip store associates

Hiring experienced sales associates is another major challenge for hardlines retailers. They are expected to be the experts who can guide nervous homeowners making important purchases, but they’re often no more knowledgeable than the shoppers.

Equipping associates with tablets that allow them to access product information, like a digital Look Book, or access other informational resources from vendors, can be very beneficial. Tablets can also be used to run applications like clienteling, to personalize the shopping experience, and MPOS (mobile point of sale), for fast checkout and ordering.

Clienteling can also be especially useful in serving your top clients. In the hardlines industry, selling to trades is often an important part of your business. The way you serve a contractor or designer should be different than the service you provide to the occasional shopper. Clienteling enables the associate to access past orders, both online and in-store, and to deliver the personalized service that your most loyal customers expect.

Drive store sales through the web

There was once a time when online and physical retail channels were regarded as competitors, even within a single retail brand, each struggling to gain the customer’s attention. Smart retailers now realize that the two are closely intertwined, and each can serve to boost the sales of the other.

Take advantage of webrooming customers who are simply researching products online with the intent to purchase in-store by offering features such as stock checks and BOPIS (Buy Online Pick-up In-Store). That way customers know ahead of time that their trip to the local store will be worthwhile.

Make the store a fun and inspiring place

Modern hardware stores are becoming destinations where shoppers explore and browse – often with the whole family. Home Depot has capitalized on this shift by offering free in-store workshops – not only for adults but for children, too!

The way the store is merchandised can have an important impact on shopper engagement as well. Even warehouse stores can inspire shoppers with vignettes and coordinated displays. Give shoppers fresh ideas and make it easy for them to bring the ideas to life in their own homes by cleverly stocking the featured items nearby.

Have the right products on hand

When you think of creating great experiences, you might think of marketing and customer service. It goes deeper than that, though. What’s one of the most disappointing shopping experiences? Going to a store and not having the item you want in stock!

With business intelligence-driven merchandise management, you can ensure that the items customers want most are always in stock in the right stores. In the event you do run out of something, unified OMS can be used to place orders that are intelligently fulfilled in the most cost-effective way possible.