It’s the 21st century and shoppers still prefer in-store shopping over shopping online, with no signs of changing soon. Respondents to our 2019 Shopper Vision Study said that the top two factors that get them to spend more time in brick and mortar stores are:
1. Product availability
2. Helpful store associates (assistants)
Shoppers revealed that store associates who can provide more options and personal customer interactions can enhance the in-store experience. Translation: Happy employees lead to helpful employees, which results in happy customers.
There’s an opportunity to increase in-store retail sales by turning employees into “brand ambassadors”
Improving these elements of the shopper experience can improve customer satisfaction levels:
1. Coupon and discount availability
2. Suggestions for complementary items to a desired item
3. Level of information or help provided by store associates
4. Availability of information in-store
5. Ability to find item prices
6. Ability to find items
Unfortunately, only 62 percent of our study’s respondents were satisfied with the level of information or help associates could provide. As we've noted previously, smartphone-equipped shoppers often feel as though they’re better equipped with product knowledge than the store associate who should be the brand’s expert.
That’s becoming a problem for retailers as we heard repeatedly from presenters in early 2019 at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, the world’s largest retail conference and expo. It is no longer enough to elevate employees’ profile to the “associate” level. Retailers need their teams – the folks who are boots on the ground in their stores – to evolve into highly engaged brand ambassadors. That is why the conversation at this year’s Big Show was just as much about transforming the employee experience as it was about transforming the customer experience both in store and online.
Make capable hands more effective
Retailers shouldn’t settle for a 62 percent customer satisfaction level with employee interactions when there are straightforward solutions to meeting customer expectations and delivering the level of customer service they seek. Though the process to transform associates into brand ambassadors is multi-faceted, the concept is pretty straightforward: give your employees the right tools and information to become invaluable to the customer.
Our study revealed that associates believe they’re limited in their assistive capabilities—that they don’t feel equipped to help shoppers find items, to access customer information or to grow their own product knowledge. Perhaps that’s why more than half of retail decision makers indicated that they plan to increase investments in barcode scanner-equipped handheld mobile computers and rugged tablets over the next few years.
When associates are empowered with retail mobile technology, like barcode scanner-equipped handheld mobile computers or enterprise-grade tablets built for retail applications, they reported that they had positive impacts on customers. (Meaning, they could fulfill their role as brand ambassadors.) These retail technologies put performance directly into their hands, giving them the power to help find answers to customers’ questions. They have the ability to scan item barcodes for price checks, inventory levels and product lookups for other options that may not be available in-store, as well as the ability to access customer information for any available promotions. This exclusive product knowledge encourages shopper engagement with your ambassadors and gives retailers a valuable touchpoint on consumers’ buying journey.
Expand communication channels
Brand ambassadors have a unique pulse on the realities of retail and, as such, play a special role in communications between retailers and shoppers. They understand your company vision and brand promises (that is what helps them speak more intelligently about products and feel more connected to the business) as well as your pain points. They are the ones fielding both customer complaints and compliments, and they know what’s working and what’s not. Take advantage of their front-row seat to conduct honest assessments of your performance: “close-the-loop” by regularly soliciting their feedback.
Encourage ambassadors to route issues back to senior management and create processes to ensure your shop floor teams are heard. Create a culture of diversity and inclusion. Reinforce everyone’s role in influencing business decisions. Then train them to become the eyes, ears and voice of the brand both in store and online. Enlist employees as brand ambassadors on social media and teach them to support chatbot inquiries. Then give them the time to engage with customers by automating mundane tasks.
No, robots are not here to replace everyone. They are here to help humans be more successful at their jobs. Automation of the boring, repetitive stuff keeps employees focused on valuable, strategic activities, such as adding value to customer interactions by delivering the insights shoppers need using the data they now have time to retrieve on their enterprise mobile devices.
Just remember that equipping employees with powerful tools can extend the reach of their effectiveness—and ultimately increase customer satisfaction and retail sales. But if the technology you give them is not easy to use, then it can be less effective and your employees may fail to prove their value to shoppers. Any technology used for inventory management, online customers service or point-of-sale (POS) transactions must be intuitive; your employees (or customers, in the case of self-checkout) must be able to understand the technology in less than 5 minutes. That is the only way to create a frictionless experience and ensure your brand ambassadors are in a position to fulfill their mission: to improve the shopper experience and make employees even more valuable than shoppers’ smart phones.
To learn more about consumers’ omnichannel expectations and what retailers can do to respond, read the full 2019 Shopper Vision Study.