As retailers eagerly await to reopen their shop doors again in the UK and elsewhere around the globe, store associates will be returning to a job that will not be the same as it was…nor will it be again. Whether you believe that COVID has simply accelerated what was already destined to be, or has completely transformed the way we live (and shop), the reality is that stores, and the role of the store associate, has changed. And we think this represents a great opportunity for retailers to empower their store associates with retail clienteling and put them at the heart of their business (right next to the customer!).
In 2020, according to the Centre of Retail Research, there were over 182,000 job losses and 16,000 store closures in the UK retail sector, and the CRR is predicting similar figures for 2021. In their latest High Street Sales Tracker (February 2021), BDO state that store LFL sales dropped over 80% compared to 2020 sales, whilst non-store sales soared 167%. So does this mean we will see a continued shift in focus from retailers away from stores and towards a more digital presence? And therefore, fewer store associates?
The New Role of the Store Associate
Whilst stores have been closed, we’ve seen some great examples of retailers using technology to keep their associates connected to their customers, and in doing so continuing to drive online sales through human interaction. Whilst there is absolutely a place for marketing automation, AI-based product recommendations and increasingly intelligent bots, many customers still desire, and expect, the ability to speak to a well-trained, knowledgeable sales advisor.
During the past year, services that typically would have taken place in a store have shifted to online: Fashion styling, beauty consultations, home design and customer events across a multitude of technology platforms have become commonplace. Consumers now have the ability to connect real-time with store associates through digital channels such as SMS, Whatsapp or video chat, schedule virtual appointments, or even browse an entire virtual store.
It’s clear that, for many retailers, this human interaction between associate and customer is more important than ever before, regardless of the channel. The success measures we see across our customers highlight this even further: when a customer interacts with an associate across any channel, we see 30% higher transaction values, 80% higher conversion rates and overall a higher customer lifetime value. Personal is powerful, and equipping your store associates with the right tools to be able to engage with customers both in-store and online will be critical to many retailers and brands, especially those competing against some large online-only retailers.
How to Equip Your Store Associates
1. PROVIDE ASSOCIATES WITH DATA INSIGHTS
Give your associates access to the data they need to do their job more effectively. Having product data, stock levels, sales data and customer information accessible in one place is becoming a key requirement for the store associate. This data can provide insight to help them reach out to the right customers: which customers are looking to purchase a good? Who needs replenishment? Who is at risk of lapsing? Who should be invited to an upcoming event? Providing associates with the insight of who to contact and when is a key capability that can have an immediate impact on sales
2. MAKE THEM AVAILABLE THROUGH EVERY CHANNEL
This is a growing trend that will continue well after stores have reopened. Consumers no longer expect to have to physically enter a store to be able to see a product and get expert advice from an associate. But equally, consumers don’t want to only have the option to chat to a bot or someone in a contact centre whilst they are at home. Connecting your Store Associates to digital channels represents a huge opportunity for retailers: your best sales people and most knowledgeable product experts can now drive sales both in-store and online by allowing customers to connect with them over chat, live video, SMS or whatsapp. These can be ‘in the moment’ connections whilst the customer is actively shopping on the website, or scheduled through an appointment booking tool.
3. INCENTIVISE & MOTIVATE YOUR ASSOCIATES
For many years now, store associates have provided excellent customer service in the store only for the customer to say “I’ll have a look online later” (or what they may mean is “I’ll see where I can get it cheaper online”). Hopefully the customer will purchase from that retailer, but if they do, often the store associate has no visibility of this. Being able to correlate the activity of your associates with sales both online and offline is a key way to motivate them and change behaviours, rewarding them for the real work they are doing to increase sales in the store, but also online sales. Our retail clienteling attribution model makes it clear to see how the interactions associates are having with customers is impacting sales, as well as KPIs such as ATV, UPT and RFM.
4. MAKE IT EASY
This is where the power of human + technology really comes to the fore. To start with, any technology used on the shop floor must be easy to use, intuitive, and mobile-first. We spend a lot of time focusing on our user experience and ensuring that store associates are able to use the tool with the minimum amount of training.
Where we also focus our efforts is using technology to make store associates more productive and effective. Which customers should I reach out to today? Who is more likely to purchase from the new collection we have coming in? Who should I invite to this upcoming store event? Which communication channel is right for this customer? Which template is driving a higher engagement rate and conversion rate? These are just some of the questions we help answer with our retail clienteling platform and automatically create tasks for associates to make their lives easier and drive more sales for the retailer.
Making it easy to then communicate with the customer, see all previous communications, purchases, and recommendations all in one place, and have the ability to easily send an SMS, Whatsapp or email to the customer within our retail clienteling application again helps to drive adoption and deliver more sales for the retailer.
5. MAKE IT PERSONAL
Above all else, it’s key that the store associate is able to add their own flair, creativity and empathy into the customer’s journey, and it’s this personal approach that ultimately drives stronger business outcomes. As Maya Angelou famously said, “people will never forget how you made them feel”, and this is where the magic of human + technology comes alive in retail. Our Collection Builder feature (apart of our retail clienteling tool) is just one example of how a store associate is able to deliver a truly personalised edit of products and services unique to that customer encapsulated in a creative format that is designed to inspire the customer and connect with them on an emotional level. This personal approach drives significantly higher engagement and conversion rates than any form of automated outreach.
Personal at Scale
The challenge for many retailers is how to deliver this level of personalisation and customer experience at scale, across multiple channels and across many different customer touchpoints.
At Proximity Insight, we focus on getting to the heart of what really matters with our retail clienteling platform: providing store associates with the right information and the right capabilities to be able to connect with the customer wherever they are. This blend of technology, human intuition and skill will become increasingly important to retailers as customers continue to traverse physical and digital channels. We believe that store associates have a more important role than ever to play in ensuring the survival and success of a brand, and we are passionate about enabling them to provide the best customer experience possible and create truly magical moments for their customers that will keep them coming back time and time again.