Watch what you say!

Watch what you say-web

October 2018—

Some of the best four-letter words can actually attract customers.

I’m not sure when it started in my retail career, but I found myself using four-letter words on a regular basis. No, not those four-letter words. (By the way, some of my personal favorites are love, hope and help but I digress.) Growing up in a farming environment I was exposed to the wrong kind of four-letter words especially when farmers faced mechanical quandaries. Those words expressed emotion, frustration and sometimes—in a pinch—as a plea to the mechanical gods to make a piece of farm machinery start working again.

Are you using the right kinds of four-letter words to move your store in the right direction? Did you know that a Microsoft study shows that the average attention has declined from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds today? Think about that: By the time you have finished reading this sentence, it’s possible someone has drifted on to something else – maybe even you?

Is anyone surprised? Other studies show that consumers on the web don’t read complete sentences or paragraphs. They scan for key words and bullet points to pick up the information and get the message. Not all four-letter words are bad. In fact, there are many four-letter words that help sell or persuade consumers: Free, Sale, Fast, Easy and Best. Let’s take a look at each of these to see how you may use them effectively.


Who doesn’t love something free? For you margin warriors out there just relax. Free does not have to mean margin erosion by giving away merchandise. Instead, free can be used to support and enhance something you might be doing anyway. As an example, do you routinely tell customers that you will haul away their old mattresses as a service? We know that this is one way to help move customers to a buying decision in the mattress department. Change in store signage and online presentation to take full advantage of the power of FREE mattress disposal. How many routine services might this apply towards? Free design help? Free interest finance promotions? If you are actually incorporating a service or product into a price to promote as free, it behooves you to make sure the total price with the free item or service is competitive and conveys value.


Sale is one of the most commonly used four-letter words. Some retailers toss this word around with ease and do little to substantiate what this means to a consumer. Others carefully establish pricing structures to move products on and off sale. Aside from avoiding complaints to the attorney general in your area, this may help your salespeople maintain credibility and provide a natural sense of urgency for a customer to make a buying decision. There are many savvy consumer blogs that suggest customers study retailer’s “sale” patterns to know when to purchase. Think carefully about the patterns you establish. I worked with an old retailer who used to say, “The sale trail is fraught with peril, but we really need to walk down it.” A disciplined promotional calendar will help you navigate this trail. Are you running a Clearance Sale or Limited Time 48-Hour Sale? The name of the sale will help define for your customers what might be offered and a reason for them to come in. Going-Out-of-Business-Sale is probably the strongest example, but you should only use that one time.


Fast to consumers means they have more time to do the things that are important to them. What might you already be doing that could be presented as fast? If your credit processes are automated, then present that your financing options can be completed quickly. Is your showroom set up by departments to convey a fast shopping experience?

Same Day Delivery might be re-purposed to Fast Same Day Delivery. Is your merchandising schema established with options to make it fast to find matching rugs, lighting and accessories? The word fast implies your respect for their time. Of course it’s critical that you back up your claims of fast with processes that live up to the name.


Freud suggests that our brains are wired to seek pleasure and minimize pain. Easy is a word that evokes pleasure and emotion. Today’s world is complex and increasingly busy. Making something easy is just smart. Easy is a four-letter word that meshes well with the word fast. If your financing process is fast and easy perhaps you suggest “fast-and-easy financing.” Is your store easy to find with “fast-and-easy on-off access to the highway”? Do you pride yourself in answering customer calls and emails quickly? Perhaps you suggest that “we make it easy to talk with our professional staff.” The key is finding the processes or functions that you strive to make easy in your store and convey that to your customers.


This word conveys that you are presenting something superior to other options. Just like the word sale, it makes sense to put some context around the claim. If you say it is our “best financing offer of the year” then it should probably be the best one. Do you have a selection of products or inventory that is superior to your competitors? This might be presented as “we have the best selection of recliners in town.” If your store has been voted best in a category such as “best furniture store” through a consumer choice campaign then you should play up that award. Of course, good, better and best is a way to present merchandise choices in the store. Determine what you do or offer that is best and take credit for it.

In preparation for this article I reviewed hundreds of emails from more than 200 furniture retailers for those five words (yes, I subscribe to 200 furniture retailers email lists). Sure enough I found them being used in many email advertisements but completely missing in others. Some of these emails were cognizant of presenting ideas and words in brief easily scanned formats while others were way too complex. Bottom line is consumers today have shorter attention spans in recent years and likely shrinking as we speak. Powerful words simply conveyed can create the opportunity to use my most favorite four letter word in retail. “Next!”

About the Author

Marty Grosse
Marty Grosse has executive level experience across 6 top tier furniture retailers. He operates a consumer furniture research website & Furniche Finance Consulting which supports financing needs of traditional and online retailers. Visit Email