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Putting the Store Associate at the Heart of the Retail Experience

15th Apr 2016
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The high street has always evolved, but the phenomenal change in consumer shopping behaviour over the past decade or two is now prompting a major rethink of the role of the traditional store within the overall retail mix. As online sales continue to rise, retailers have to ask where – or even whether – it is possible to derive clear value from the expensive store network investment.

The immediacy and increasing personalisation offered online has raised the bar – the opportunity for retailers is to reshape the store experience to support and enhance this digitally inspired changing customer expectation.

Quality of Experience

The most essential aspect of this new experience has to be the role of the store associate.  For the majority of store associates the only route to information is the same website the customer has already browsed. Without the ability to add anything extra to the customer interaction, the associate risks actually detracting from, rather than improving the shopping experience. This not only fails to maximise the value of the in-store investment, it misses an essential point:  consumers still enjoy the high street experience.

The fact that 71% of shoppers believe they know more about a retailer’s products and services than the store associate today presents a clear opportunity for retailers. Associates need the single view of stock across the entire logistics network and also the ability to transfer that stock on the fly to meet customer demands. They require a customer’s complete online and offline transaction history plus a quick view of product recommendations to support a meaningful and timely engagement and support up- and cross-selling opportunities.

In Store Culture

However, while technology clearly plays a key role in empowering the store associate it is just part of the overall mix. Retailers also need to ensure assistants have the right skills to engage with customers - both soft people skills and specific technology skills to ensure they can utilise the information available without negatively affecting the customer interaction.  If a store associate has to spend more time trawling through menu screens than talking to the customer, both parties will be frustrated. Retailers need to combine intuitive technology with training designed to help the associate engage with a customer by leveraging the new depth of information available.

The retailer also needs to address the culture to support store associates and minimise staff churn. Incentives must reflect the multi-channel nature of sales, not simply in-store purchases. In addition, associates should be offered clearer career path development that reflects their growing value to the business. It is also essential in this fast changing store environment that the experience of associates is continually assessed and reviewed. Levering technology to enable click and collect from instore stock, for example, can drive up online sales by as much as 20%, but what is the impact on the store associates of this new strategy?  Are they being rewarded for this activity – or do they feel it is taking them away from the customers? 

Indeed, the way in which associates interact with customers will be significantly influenced by the store layout.  With tablets that both provide information and take payment, is there any need for the traditional till location or would store associates be more productive and engaging if released to the shop floor? Without doubt these aspects of the strategy will evolve as the quality of customer interaction changes – and different customer groups will begin to demonstrate varying preferences. The key is to ensure flexibility within the store associate model to create the right customer engagement.

Conclusion

The way in which retail is being delivered on the high street is going through another major transition and the responsibility for realising a number of new initiatives is falling on the store associate. Devaluing these individuals to cut costs can only undermine the customer experience.  Retailers need to give store staff a combination of the right skills, tools and technologies, to not only be able to engage with the customer effectively and “save the sale” but to add value to the interaction and create such an enjoyable shopping experience that they are able to significantly increase the likelihood of converting an up or cross-sell opportunity as well as the chances of earning and retaining that customer’s loyalty.

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