As seen on Retail Touch Points.
There’s no denying the benefits of online shopping, whether it’s shopping from the comfort of your couch, or being able to compare prices and check product reviews with just a few clicks. Add to that the relatively new phenomenon of next day — or even same day — delivery, and it’s no wonder why many store-based retailers feel like they face an uphill battle this holiday season.
But the physical store location has one major advantage that Amazon and other online retailers don’t…the store associate. And store-based retailers are hiring plenty of them this season. The National Retail Federation forecasts retailers will hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers. In fact, Walmart just announced that they’re staffing stores with associates whose sole purpose is to accommodate shoppers in checkout lines, helping to point them to the shortest line, and retrieving items that customers may have forgotten while they’re waiting to check out.
Unfortunately, today’s store associate is underutilized and underinvested in by the majority of retailers. Among some of the challenges they face today:
Customers are often more knowledgeable: It’s a far too common scenario where a customer walks into the store, approaches an associate with a question about a product, and the sales associate responds with a blank stare. Truth be told, the customer is often more knowledgeable than the store associate because they have all the product info they need in the palm of their hand on their smartphone. Customers have the ability to compare prices, check product reviews, and seek people’s opinions on an item using social media. The associate, on the other hand, has no such device and must try to remember details about every product in the store.
Temp workers lack sufficient training: Hired during the busiest time of the year, holiday temp workers don’t have the training and knowledge that year-round employees have, yet they’re expected to deal with the rush of holiday shoppers and be brand experts on every item the retailer carries. The individual store associate becomes the face of the company in the shopper’s eye, and the insufficient training that temp workers receive can lead to not just a diminished in-store experience, but it can ruin the image of the company for that customer.
The rise of click & collect adds to job workload: With the increase in click & collect and curbside pickup, the job of the store associate has only increased. Aside from their traditional role of stocking inventory, helping customers, etc. — they’re now responsible for finding the products that shoppers purchase online and sorting them in-store. This severely impacts the time available that an associate has to help shoppers in the store.
So how does a retailer help empower their store associates? Here are the top three investments store-based retailers can make to win the holiday shopping season:
Providing endless access to product inventory and information: Retailers consistently tell us that the number one thing they want their store associates to have is instant access to the product catalog and inventory from anywhere on the selling floor. Enabling associates with the ability to look up any product and associated details, customer reviews and availability immediately increases their effectiveness with their customers.
The ability to communicate directly with customers via email and SMS: Store associates want the ability to provide a personalized experience to their customers by sending texts and emails when new products come in, or to notify a customer of an upcoming promotion. We’re seeing that when customers are serviced with personal recommendations, conversion rates increase by 24% and customer loyalty can grow upwards of 33%.
Collaborate and communicate with peers and head office: Retailers should provide a content platform that makes it easy for all teams within a retailer (from the merchandising team at head office, to the store manager and the store associate on the ground floor) to find, access, collaborate on and store content. This way, store associates can access rich media content like videos, planograms and visual merchandising directives easily.
Turns out the winning formula to providing the best shopping experience possible isn’t just about investing in the latest in-store technology…it’s about investing in the single most important asset that retailers have had since they first opened their doors generations ago — the store associate.
Mark Steele is Executive Vice President at Tulip Retail, where he focuses on empowering store associates to deliver superior customer experiences by leveraging mobile technologies in-store. Prior to Tulip Retail, Steele was a Regional Vice President at Oracle. As part of Oracle’s Retail Global Business Unit, he worked with hundreds of the world’s top fashion brands to help optimize their omnichannel strategy.