Meet today’s digital customer demands by empowering sales associates

As retail sales continue to shift online, brick-and-mortar retailers are under increasing pressure to leverage their physical presence in order to fight back against digital disruption. This reality arguably makes the store associate one of the most critical assets for smart retailers- a real differentiator in this Amazon-centric world.

Yet as the modern shopping experience has changed dramatically, most retailers have remained frozen like a hare caught in the headlights. The store associate has remained boxed into the traditional role of a one-dimensional order taker, unable to keep up with the information-empowered digital shoppers they now serve.

A recent study conducted across Europe reveals that 25% of European consumers want better-informed store staff who can offer enhanced services such as sharing detailed product information, access to online reviews and real-time stock checks. One fourth of those surveyed also expect sales associates to be equipped with a mobile device.

To meet growing customer expectations of a first-class, personalized service in-store, the function of the sales associate has to evolve into one that’s digitally-enabled and apt to work across both digital and physical touchpoints in the customer journey.

Here are some of the ways by which retailers can make the store associate to customer interaction fluid and far more meaningful:

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Advanced Mobile Connectivity

Typically, store associates do not have mobile access to their information systems, so they must walk to a computer or visit the stock room to check inventory and product information. This can disrupt the flow of customer service on a sales floor or worse, result in a lost sale.

Modern mobile devices are smaller, have much more recognizable and intuitive interfaces and work with unified applications that require minimal training. By leveraging the power of mobile technology, associates can easily access key information such as product specifications and measurements, product reviews, price comparisons, customer reviews, videos, press coverage etc. and share them with shoppers while they are considering a purchase. This can help them respond instantly to customer queries and facilitate in-store decision-making.

Digitally empowered associates can also access customers’ personal preferences, wish lists, order histories etc. to create a personal, one-on-one connection with the shopper, which paves the way for clienteling.

Clienteling In-Store

With access to a 360 degree customer view that aggregates information from various sources such as an input on a mobile device, search on a desktop or even in-store data, the store associate can make the shopping process feel more like one spontaneous, ongoing conversation. This ultimately leads to more loyal customers who spend more and contribute better data. They can also maximize cross-sell and upsell by providing recommendations that are timely, relevant and personal. Other functionalities like loyalty programs and promotions can also be directly communicated to establish a more personal line of communication with customers.

A number of forward-thinking retailers such as Nordstrom have already implemented smart technologies for their sales associates and have taken the art of clienteling to another level. The retailer’s TextStyle service allows its customers to make a purchase by sending text messages to the sales associate or personal stylist serving them. The salespeople can thus provide a completely 1:1 personalized experience to the customer and serve them on their terms.

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Armed with mobile technology, the store associate can see that a customer has collected 1500 loyalty points and can double them if she spends $80 on footwear. On their mobile device, they can also see that the customer has recently purchased a magenta silk blouse and can recommend a matching mauve/purple pair of ballerinas to double her loyalty points.

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Endless Aisle Made Possible

Retailers need to enable associates to offer an “endless aisle” of products, i.e, the option to ship a product to a customer’s address even if it isn’t available physically in the store at any given point. Not only that, the store associate should be able to deliver multiple fulfilment options, such as the ability to buy an item in store, return an item purchased online and have another item from a nearby store delivered to the customer’s address in a single transaction, with a single payment taken in store.

To make this possible, sales associates need real-time visibility over inventory availability across channels. This way, they are spending less time searching for inventory while on the floor, and can be more informed and attentive to enable seamless, high quality interactions with modern digital customers.

Bloomingdale’s, for instance, began mounting iPads connected to its inventory management system, within its fitting rooms to ensure that both customers and sales associates can scan items and check for various sizes, colors and product reviews. 

Smoother, Speedier Checkouts

Standing in queue to pay for a product is as far removed as can be from the ease of the on-demand mobile world customers otherwise inhabit. Enabling smoother, speedier checkouts is nothing short of a boon to time-crunched shoppers.

Mobile point-of-sale (POS) solutions free associates from fixed checkout counters and allow them to personally serve customers on the floor and create more floor space for promos and merchandize. A speedy transaction is crucial because it allows the associate a couple of extra minutes to reinforce their store’s brand while closing the sale and ensure that the customer leaves with a positive experience.

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Just as today’s customers have digital embedded in their purchase journey, so too must store associates. This will let them reach and be reached across channels in real-time. Smart technologies are an amplifier, not a replacement to the humans in retail. Together, they can create something truly amazing.

Author : Krittika Banerjee, Research Analyst

Practice Head: Abhishek Mahajan, Store Solutions Architect