Across the world, retailers are having conversations about the store’s changing role in a digitally driven world, and the impact it has on how consumers shop in a bricks-and-mortar environment. But how many retailers are addressing the impact of the omnichannel store on the sales associate?

Undoubtedly, the connected consumer is changing the role of customer-facing personnel within retail organizations. Research that iVend Retail conducted last year revealed that more than two thirds (68%) of shoppers will look up a product online before they enter a store, and this means that they are more knowledgeable, decisive, and more easily disappointed when they reach the shop floor.

This changes the game for store associates. They must respond in an equally expert fashion, and tailor service around the shopper to close that sale. And the bar has already been set high; we live in a world where information is critical to every buying decision, and it is easily available to the consumer through the internet. Therefore, front-line staff must offer a more informed, bespoke service than the data available through an organic Google search.

Looking forward into the future, therefore, giving store associates the omnichannel technology to access rich product and customer information will be paramount – in fact, it should already be a priority for retailers.

In my view, store associates must not only be able to access details about a product; they should be able to offer recommendations and advice to encourage the sale, and potentially increase the customer’s basket value by suggesting complementary items.

However, the sales associate of the future’s role will involve more than using technology to convert and upsell to customers. They will be instrumental in blending the mechanical with the personal, bringing big data together with one-to-one service to create a truly personalized experience.

The store associate needs to understand who is on the shop floor at any moment in time, and support those shoppers’ journey to purchase by tailoring the service they give them. As I have already mentioned, suggesting complementary purchases based on the item they are buying is one way to do this, but there are much more.

Personalized loyalty schemes will play an ever more important role in the shopper/retailer relationship, and customer-facing staff will be hugely important to its success. Being able tailor promotions based on a consumer’s lifetime value to the brand will encourage advocacy.

Even just knowing enough about the customer to greet them by name, ask them how they found their most recent purchase (citing it by name), and giving them a special piece of information – like details of an upcoming collection preview – because they’re a loyal customer can make a huge difference.

Naturally, these changing demands on store associates are going to impact the shape of the retail workforce. Omnichannel technology will play a critical role in delivering the rich, highly personalized experiences that consumers will only demand more of, and this will inevitably mean that fewer front-line staff will be needed to provide customer service.

In fact, the British Retail Consortium has already predicted that, in the UK alone, 900,000 retail jobs will disappear in the UK by 2025 – but those personnel who still have roles will have better, more qualified jobs.

Fewer but enhanced roles will be a major talking point for the retail industry going forward. The growth of omnichannel retail technology has started to bridge the divide between digital and physical shopping, and this year we’ve really started to see discussions around how this capability is changing workforce responsibilities in the store environment.

In addition to enabling richer customer experiences, store technology will give each individual member of staff the opportunity to do more within their role, and play an even greater part in providing quality of service.

This will ultimately lead to a future where fewer sales associates are needed on the shop floor, but those that remain will be much more empowered. In five years’ time, they will play an even greater role in forging and nurturing customer relationships.

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