They said stores were dying, but that wasn’t true. Large retailers may well be refining their store estates in certain territories, but shops in general are working harder than they once were, and are viewed as the hub of multichannel operations.
This is also supported by the fact that traditional pure plays are exploring growth opportunities presented by expanding into the physical space – with Made.com, Amazon and Miss guided among the major online brands to recently venture into bricks-and-mortar.
But regardless of whether it is a new channel venture, or the center of a retailer’s business, every store is united by one thing: the sales associate is central to its success. Customer-facing staff are a key knowledge source and advice point for shoppers, bringing a human warmth and friendliness that simply cannot be replicated online.
However, in a connected commerce world, where customers are used to researching products online before they arrive in-store, or checking their mobile device at the shelf edge, are retailers doing enough to empower their store associates? I believe much more can be done.
Putting business intelligence into the hands of store associates
In a competitive environment, employees need to play the role of brand ambassador like never before to ensure they offer customers a positive experience they would not receive elsewhere.
To provide the most comprehensive service possible, retailers need to equip front-line staff with the essential data to answer any type of query effectively, whether that query relates to:
- Product information and functionality
- Availability (if an item is out of stock at the shelf edge)
- Popular opinion – such as online reviews and social media feedback; or
- Related and complimentary items
In order to deliver this sophisticated level of service, retailers need provide customer-facing staff the technology and training to do their jobs more effectively. Personnel armed with business intelligence dashboards can use this equipment to guide potential customers through the shopping process, answering any queries that may pose a potential barrier to conversion.
Equally, being able to access operational information may give store associates the opportunity to ‘save a sale’ that would otherwise be lost due to lack of availability, if an item is out-of-stock at the shelf edge. Joined-up systems that can provide a real-time view of inventory will enable them to order an item to a customer’s home, get it shipped to the store at a later date, or arrange collection from a nearby location.
Making in-store service even more personal
Not only does giving front-line staff access to data through omnichannel store technology make customer service better on a practical level, it also enables far greater personalization.
Part of the reason people like to shop in-store is the individual service that they receive from store associates. Retail analytics technology can enhance this further, by providing staff with critical information around shoppers’ purchasing history, loyalty, and which marketing offers they respond best to, in order to ensure that every interaction is relevant to shoppers at an individual level.
This is a win/win situation: if the customer feels more valued they are more likely to purchase more and return more often. And successful one-to-one engagement can kick start customer loyalty marketing initiatives that reach far beyond a single sale.
Investing in store associate technology: the long-term benefits
In the transparent world in which retailers now operate – driven by the growth in online shopping – consumers have more knowledge about price and product than ever before. It means face time with them in a store is precious and can’t be wasted.
To make the most of this opportunity, shop staff need to be given mobile point of sale software to enhance the shopping experience for consumers, and leave them feeling like they have received a personalized service.
If in-store technology is used in the right way, store associates will further root their central position to securing sales and building lasting loyalty among shoppers. In this regard, it’s imperative for retailers to train and enthuse staff on using tech, to ensure data is driving strong customer relationships.