As seen in MarketWatch.
Tech can empower retail associates with mobile checkouts, inventory intelligence and more
When’s the last time you asked a sales associate a product question and received a blank stare in return? Every week?
Retail experts say the lack of in-store customer service is a swelling problem that arming associates with technology could go a long way toward fixing.
“You have endless amounts of information about that retailer in the palm of your hand when you walk into the store where the associate doesn’t have anything except an old-school cash register,” said Mark Steele, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Tulip Retail, a cloud-based platform that helps store associates.
Retail experts agree that having top-notch sales associates on the retail floor is a necessity year-round. And now, seasonal hiring has begun, with tens of thousands of temporary workers headed to retail outlets across the country. Associates “need to be brand experts. When you get into seasonal selling, the expectation is the same,” Steele said.
Unlike years past, seasonal sales associates are not only expected to retrieve merchandise for customers in the store and ring up sales at checkout, but also help with online transactions, keep up with constant inventory changes and more.
The entire shopping experience needs to be more personalized, Steele said, using tools like social media to connect with shoppers even after the sale is made. He also encourages retailers to give workers devices that will make them “empowered by mobility” and “more effective.” For example, provide equipment for completing transactions anywhere in the store rather than funneling customers to long queues at a register.
Finding people to fulfill this list of duties is made even more difficult when workers are new, inexperienced or know their jobs will soon come to an end.
So far, a number of retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT, -0.23% , Kohl’s Corp. KSS, +0.92% and Target Corp. TGT, +0.29% have announced their seasonal hiring numbers, with many also leaving room to transition temp workers into permanent hires.
Research conducted by job site Indeed found that Macy’s Inc. M, +0.98% , which announced plans to hire 83,000 seasonal workers, posted about 22.8% of all the seasonal job openings, followed by J. C. Penny Co. Inc. (about 13.7%) and Gap Inc. (about 6.7%).
Holding on to more of their associates for a longer period of time will also help, said Steele.
“Retention is actually a huge problem with store associates,” he said. “When a retailer is doing things inside the store to empower these associates, they’re also seeing a rise in retention rates.”
Because there are more tools at shoppers’ disposal, the transaction process has become more complicated. Good training comes into play.
“It’s more than just the store the associate works at,” said Michele Dupré, group vice president of Verizon VZ, -2.61% Enterprise Solutions’ retail and hospitality practice.
She believes an associate has to be able to take the customer through the entire purchase “journey.” Some of the questions to ask: “How familiar are they with the e-commerce channel?” And “How familiar are they with inventory management?”
“The associate has to be aware of the possibilities for how they can help the customer,” she said.
Consumers may be taking a lot of initiative on their own, but they still rely heavily on sales associates. Nearly nine out of 10 shoppers (87%) say they are more likely to buy an item recommended from a sales associate, according to the 2016 Omnichannel Retail Associate Study conducted by retail technology provider Salesfloor. And 77% said they are more likely to make a purchase from a sales associate who has helped them before.
Associates have to be able to help customers across platforms to maximize sales.
“Shoppers are omnichannel, but the people who work in stores aren’t,” said Oscar Sachs, chief executive of Salesfloor.
They should provide “a higher touch service” for more personalized assistance. Associates can even take on some of the marketing duties, if the retailer has the right strategy in place.
“People would prefer that to hearing something from a national newsletter,” said Sachs.