Tips to Sell Fair Trade Products Effectively
If you choose to carry fair trade products, you are taking a great step towards contributing to an effort to eliminate poverty and promote sustainability. As important and difficult as it sounds, you are actually not alone. Fair Trade certified product sales worldwide grew from $2.17 billion in 2006, to $3.62 billion in 2007. That was a 47% increase!
While this trend holds true in 2009, you can employ some communications tactics to increase your chances of success in this industry. Here are some tips to help you sell Fair Trade products more effectively:
1. First and foremost, you must understand Fair Trade well yourself. Knowing what fair trade is and explaining to a customer why they should support it will help you look authentic and honest. You will find information about this in our About Fair Trade page.
2. Once you are armed with knowledge, it’s time to educate your customers. This is key to helping them understand why the products you are offering are socially and environmentally responsible. They can ask things like: Does my purchase make a difference? Is Fair Trade more expensive? Who benefits from this? Our FAQ section will help you answer these questions.
3. The next step is to create a visual impact in your store or your website. A poster of an artisan/farmer is a great way to get your customers’ attention (the equivalent for a web store would be a flash animation in the home page). For example:
4. Any ethical products you are selling should also be clearly visible and have signage that explains what Fair Trade products are. Signs that say “Fair Trade” or “Green” help customers identify the products faster. Tags and pamphlets help the customer understand why fair trade is the right choice.
5. If you place ads in newspapers or magazines, make sure that the words “fair trade” or “green” are clearly displayed. This way, potential customers will know they can find ethical products at your store.
6. Finally, you should walk the talk when it comes to sustainability. Use recyclable packaging, recycle your waste, support a development project, etc. Your customers will appreciate it and trust you more.
Find a Niche
Whether you decide to start a retail or wholesale business, you must make sure that you will meet a need or a want that is not successfully being met. The next video, which is part of an interview with Sam Bills (manager of Ten Thousand Villages in Pasadena, CA), explains this a bit more:
In order to more effectively mobilize Fair Trade products in your store, you must be able to understand your customers (and who they are). This includes understanding their buying process, their needs, their preferences, why they buy or don’t buy from you, among other aspects.
Who will more likely buy from you?
The target market of Fair Trade products is varied. Usually, it is mostly women who buy Fair Trade, especially middle-aged or older women and college students. Beyond that, your customers will more than likely be educated, well-traveled, cultured individuals whose values align with Fair Trade values. It always takes less resources (time, money, marketing) to sell to people whose values align with your store’s values. Therefore, keep in mind that you might want to pay special attention to these types of customers.
This, however, does not mean you cannot expand your market through education and community involvement. The best places to reach potential customers would be schools, colleges and places of worship, since individuals in these institutions share either a global vision, are educated or learning about global trade, or adhere to high ethical standards. Holding talks, Fair Trade parties, fund raisers for students, and creating events around Fair Trade Day or Fair Trade Month will help you draw attention to the Fair Trade cause and expand your customer base.
How to sell the idea in the store
Once you attract customers, try not to push too much information on them. For example, if a college-age girl walks into your store and is attracted by the Fair Trade posters you have, don’t approach her by saying: “Hi! Fair Trade is a market-based approach for alleviating global poverty, it’s a great cause, we carry organic fair trade items and these are amazing, you’re helping other individuals through our products and these are great gifts, and our store is eco-friendly and socially conscious, and I have been to Nepal where this was made…”. STOP! The customer will feel overwhelmed, and you may look “selfish” by talking about how great Fair Trade, or the product or the store are.
Instead, approach them by saying: “Hi! What do you need today?”. She might respond: “I need a mother’s day gift.” You can then ask them: “Is it for your mother, a friend, a sister, an aunt or a grandmother?”. The more information she gives you, the better you’ll be able to suggest some products for her. If the mother is pretty young and has a baby, you can offer an organic, Fair Trade tote bag to carry her things and the baby stuff as well. If the mother is an elderly woman, you can offer a classy, hand-woven Fair Trade purse with beautiful embroidery. Once you introduce the product, it is easier to proceed to explain the sustainability aspect of the bag. It may be made of recycled materials, or it may even be a major source of income for mothers on the other side of the world, so the gift affects more people than just the recipient.
In the end, the idea is to meet customers’ needs through the Fair Trade alternatives that you may offer in your store. First, figure out what needs your customers are looking to fulfill. Then, look for a suitable Fair Trade alternative to meet these needs.
Important questions to ask yourself – but your customers have the answers
You may be selling Fair Trade items pretty well, but do you know why this is? Or, and I hope this is not the case, maybe you’re not able to sell Fair Trade as well as you wish you did, but do you know why?
Why do your customers like you? Why do they choose to buy Fair Trade when, in some cases, it may be a little bit more expensive? Why buy from you and not from the competition? Or, why don’t they buy from you, and what is the competition doing well? You should know the answers to all these questions in order to run your business effectively.
Maybe your customer buys from you because you run an ethical business, and you are able to show this because of your community involvement. Maybe they like the posters in your store, and they learn something new every time they buy from you. Maybe you have a great selection of functional, Fair Trade alternatives. Well, maybe. But you should probably ask them what they really think of you, so you can understand your own strengths and weaknesses better. This can be done by simply chatting with them as they check out, or asking them to fill in a small survey (this is a good alternative for online stores).
At the same time, it is a good idea to be alert of the opportunities and threats happening around you. Maybe you can visit your competition’s store or website, and see what they are doing that is helping them be successful. Some organizations have webinars, community events or workshops that you can attend to study their own strengths. This will give you different ideas of ways to serve your customers better and allow you to stay on top of your game.
The key is to get information from your customers and your competitors. This information will help you meet your customer needs more effectively, help you analyze your own company’s strengths and weaknesses, and learn from competitors to stay on top of your game.