Many clothing retailers have seen just a 3-5% increase in year over year sales. Most reported soft quarter two numbers and reduced margins according to data from NRF. Though there are some positive signs with back to school sales, the economy has been in neutral for this sector and there is little expected in continued gains pre-holidays, and internet sales projecting continued gains in holiday market share.
With the neutral economy, retailers seek to gain sales in creative ways including targeting strong and emerging demographics. Recently a market of about 9 million in the U.S. has been gaining public awareness, rights, and acknowledgment. Tapping into this market can yield some impressive gains and loyal customers.
There has been strong momentum in LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender queer) rights and acceptance. As these civil equality rights for LGBTQ populations move forward retailers may need to educate themselves on the new laws in both employment and transactions with LGBTQ customers. Taking steps now to get ahead of these swiftly approaching changes in laws and business requirements may set you up to be a leader for these human rights, and to strengthen your position gaining community support to your services as an ally or LGBTQ friendly company.
How many LGBTQ people are there in the United States? The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates 9 million (about 3.8%) in 2011. The Transgender data is speculated to be under reported as well.
So with a few steps and a little education you can tap into this large and hungry for options market. Many of these customers become fiercely loyal when they find shops that are LGBTQ Friendly and they have good experiences with. The community also is reported to have very strong word of mouth network gaining your business access to the extremely important and difficult to obtain referral business to your establishment. So I present you with this list to success in growing your retail business with the LGBTQ community.
10 Ways to Boost Your Retail Sales with the Emerging LGBTQ Market
- Have gender neutral or gender identity friendly dressing rooms and policy. Many of the transgender community are looking for respectful places to purchase clothing and sizing can be very difficult to determine. Offering access to dressing rooms of either gender can be a world of relief for these clients. Consider gender neutral dressing rooms or posting that these are gender identity friendly spaces will go a long ways to building pleasant and repeat customers.
- List where family or gender neutral restrooms are. If you have restrooms in your establishment consider revising your gender policy and adapting to allow entry based on gender identity/expression. If you are remodeling or building new consider family or gender neutral facilities for your customers. If you do not have restrooms in your store consider posting the location of family and gender neutral restrooms for your customer’s convenience. Restroom access for transgender customers is becoming a larger issue with many states enacting laws to protect transgender people and allow them access to the restroom of their presentation. In California they recently passed AB 1266 granting rights for students to choose programs, sports, and facilities that match their gender identity. Needless to say, changes are coming and now is a great time to review you restrooms and policies.
- Have size conversion charts handy. As mentioned previously, determining sizing can be difficult for transgender customers. Having reference information available with size conversion charts for your staff and customers will be very welcomed. If you are able to determine your specific lines conversions, that is even more useful for employees and customers alike.
- Consider hiring gender diverse staffing. Now is also the time to evaluate your hiring policies and code of ethics. Visit HRC (Human Rights Campaign) to get started with some basic workplace employer resources. Evaluate your hiring process and benefit options for equality to the LGBTQ community. Include Gender Identity in your non-discrimination policies and code of ethics. Having these policies in place are likely to drive stable and referral employees to your business when they know equal and protecting rights exist.
- Talk to your employees about transgender clients and how to accommodate and interact respectfully with them. Many common statements, words, questions, and pronouns can be disrespectful, offensive, or just simply rude; even if unintentional. Review this list here on some of the big ones to look out for. 17 Questions Trans People are Tired of Hearing. Discuss with your employees alternate pronouns and greetings to use that are more gender friendly or flexible. When in doubt ask, or simply leave out the gender specific pronoun. Some very helpful info-graphics can be found here.
- Set up a LGBTQ customer bill of rights and train your staff to those expectations. Post this visible for your customers.
- Have a local LGBTQ community representative meet with you, offer advice, and or talk to your team. There are multiple resources likely in your area to seek (often free) assistance from. Consider talking to your local colleges as they often have LGTBQ programs. You may also Search for gender counselors/therapists for advice of local options as they are usually networked well and can point you in a helpful direction.
- Advertise and sponsor community events and in local publications. There are often local publications for the LGBTQ communities for you to advertise in. Many customers choose to support the advertisers who support them. An example is Lavender Magazine with both print and web advertising available. You may also consider Facebook ads specifically reaching out to the LGBTQ community using their unique ad engine. Another great way to connect with the LGBTQ community is through local Pride events and conferences.
- Setup Gender Identity-Friendly customer service best Practices. For the transgender customer there is often anxiety about verifying their photo I.D. as their gender presentation may not match the gender marker and photo on their payment methods and I.D.s .
- Review your payment acceptance guidelines and discuss with your employees how to respectably handle photo/name discrepancies. A large component to also consider is confidentiality. Transgender customers may not be “out” and stating or sharing their name can be embarrassing at minimum and damaging to them at worst. Treat this information respectfully.
- Offer free size exchanges, returns, and custom order options. As stated before sizing can be challenging for transgender customers. Having worry free policies in place can encourage the additional purchases that may be in question.
- Be genuine in caring for your customers. This is easily the most important and simple item you can do to boost sales and attract LGBTQ customers. At the end of the day some very basic actions can ensure pleasant interactions with repeat and growing business.
About the author: Anna Talyn is a Transwoman from Minnesota, founder of Trans Life Expressions Facebook community, speaker, advocate, and writer. For more information you can find her blog at www.annatalyn.wordpress.com and her Facebook community page at www.facebook.com/TransLifeExpressions.