15 Things retailers can learn from market operators

I am not a huge fan of markets – not any more than the average Joe at least. I don’t pretend to have more knowledge about markets than the next bloke. But I do understand retail and I really understand consumer behaviour. But more importantly, I have enough common sense judge good and bad business practices when I see it.

This post is not a critique on market stall operators because many of them are hobbyists ands should probably not be judged against professional standards. (Although having said that, even an amateur photographer will try to take the best photo they can and not hide behind their amateur status.)

Observation # 1

A customer is looking at the shoes that (for some reason) were laid out flat on the grass. The operator made a sales pitch, but the customer did not engage, but did not walk away either. After a moment the operator says: “I am going step away and I will be at the back if you need me.” He then proceeds to step away – all of 2 meters (it is a stall after all).

The insight

Very smart. People like to buy, but don’t like feeling ‘sold to’. By SAYING what they were going to do and THEN doing it, they do more than simply give the customer space. They actually communicate a level of psychological consistency – the sub text being that I am as good as my word.

Observation # 2

Some operators do and some don’t wear your own product.

The insight

You are your own best advertisement. A big, fat dude can’t credibly sell diet products. If you sell art then you must look the part. Wear your own product.

Observation # 3

There was an operator that built some jewellery that contained plants – sort of a ‘garden in a necklace’ – like a ship in a bottle, but on a miniature scale.

The insight

In a sea of junk, something different and innovative always stands out.

Observation # 4

One clothing stall had a sign that communicated: “Fashion at market prices.”

The insight

It may seem redundant because both the fashion and the market aspects were obvious. But telling a customer what to expect when that is exactly what they expect is never redundant.

Observation # 5

The candle retailer had a nifty tactic to help customers smell more candles. She offered them coffee beans to chew – which apparently clears the nose sufficiently to allow customers to keep smelling when the variety of aromas could become overwhelming.

The insight

Knowing your product and understanding what the customer is actually buying (not just the look of the candle) is important and finding practical things to make that easier for the customer is hugely valuable.

Observation # 6

One stall had a price point sign that read: “Price’s as marked”

The insight

I know you are not a professional, but really? You can’t spell ‘prices’? I googled the phrase "price's as marked" in quotation marks. Can you guess how many results I found? Exactly 4. I did not realise it was possible to search for something that gave so few results. If the billion people on the internet can get it right, sure you can.

Observation # 7

One stall holder was selling (handmade) dog leashes. But no dog in sight anywhere.

The insight

In an open air market like that dogs are permitted and there are a few around. Most dogs that are taken into these environments are relatively trained not to attack other dogs on sight, but even so that would be a relatively minor hassle.

The alternative is I walk past your stall and I see a table with colourful ropes on it.

Observation # 8

Some stallholders have EFTPOS tap-and-go while others still rely on theold-fashioned bumbag.

The insight

Do you really need to give a customer a reason not to buy?

Observation # 9

No sample jerky at the jerky stand.

The insight

Good luck with selling that.

Observation # 10

I observed the quietest stalls were the ones where the owners were sitting down on a char at the back of the gazebo.

The insight

Is this the cause or effect? I would hazard a guess that customers are thinking if you are not very interested in your product there is no reason for them to be.

Observation # 11

Customer approaches the table and touches product (a plush toy). The owner announces from the behind the laden table “That one is $15 “

The insight

The first thing surely isn’t what it is going to cost but what you are going to get? If the operator said “they smell really good too” the customer would probably have lifted the product towards their face to smell. Picking up the product is already one step closer than simply touching it.

Observation # 12

While selling some organic bathroom/beauty product – owner announces that he is really 167 years old. The customer laughed.

The insight

Rule #1 of getting a customer to buy is to get them to relax. Humour is an effective tool in doing so – if you can pull it off.

Observation # 13

The pickle stand showed their certificates form the Sydney show

The insight

The credibility that comes from an ‘official endorsement’ should not be underestimated.

Observation # 14

I observed one owner juggling sticks to entertain himself while waiting for customers to his herbs and spices stand.

The insight

It wasn’t entertainment aimed at the customers. It had no relevance to his product. He clearly showed his disengagement in a way that is possibly worse than the operator sitting down at the back of the stand because customers would not want to interrupt someone who is ‘doing something’.

Observation # 15

AT the stand selling clocks, not a single one had the correct time, neither have they been set to 10 past 10 as is the custom to display the ‘happy face’.

The insight

If not showing your product in a positive light (by wearing it or demonstrating it) is a crime, then showing it to prospective customers in a ’broken’ state is even worse.

The most important point about all of the above is that NONE OF THESE would cost money and can easily be applied by any operator. These little things can often make the difference between a good and great business.


None of the stall holders actively and prominently directed customers and/or passerby to their website and not one tried to collect a name for a subscription list. There were a few websites listed on labels but nothing significant. I would consider that to be a major missed opportunity.



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