COMMENTARY

The human touch: Why mobile can't replace in-store associates

July 26, 2017

Photo: iStock.com

By Logan Rodriguez, director of retail at Square Root

Today, mobile devices are more than phones and tablets — they are an extension of our bodies, going everywhere we go and enhancing nearly every experience. So it's no surprise when consumers are stuck to their screens while shopping in-stores; they now have access to more resources than ever before. They have the power to quickly compare prices, check ratings, and consult their networks while perusing the racks in real-time.

While this may sound like doom for the physical retailer, recent data shows that consumers still like shopping in stores. In fact, more than 65 percent of consumers said want to see, touch, and feel products in person, and prioritize these factors when making a final decision to purchase a product. But as mobile continues to integrate with the in-store experience, retailers need to stay agile and re-evaluate what makes shopping in-store great: the human experience.

Empowering the in-store associates

Brands have a lot to lose when the customer experience is subpar — data shows 70 percent of shoppers have abandoned a purchase because of a bad in-store experience.That's why it's critical to equip store managers and in-store associates with the right tools and training they need to meet the needs of customers and deliver a quality in-store experience.

From a corporate standpoint, it can be difficult to accurately gauge what's happening on the floor. In-store teams are the guys and gals on the ground representing the brand and engaging directly with customers.

To avoid becoming part of the statistic, store managers should train their teams from the get-go to ensure they have a deep understanding of brand goals, protocols, and knowledge of what it takes to keep customers coming back. Knowing each customer likely has a phone in their pocket, store managers should empower employees to make quick decisions and act on data — such as customer requests, the status of store inventory, and competitor prices.

For example, if a customer finds a competitive price for an item they're interested in and brings it to anassociate's attention, the brand representative should have the authority to price-match on the spot — not only meeting the customer's price expectations, but exceeding them with fast and seamless customer service.

Beyond immediate customer assistance, the associates walking the store floor should be empowered to elevate the customer experience in whatever way they see fit for the moment. Because these associates also serve as brand ambassadors, they should be able to share new products, upcoming promotions, and insider tips and recommendations on what their favorite products are — things that go beyond targeted advertising on mobile. An improved customer experience starts with associates who are well-informed and prepared to anticipate, help with, and act on customer needs.

Tools, training, and transparency

A huge challenge in the retail industry is a lack of visibility and transparency across stores and teams — and it's not a top-down problem. In fact, bottoms-up alignment is the key to data transparency because true data begins at the associate level; face to face with in-store shoppers. By empowering in-store associates to have ownership over data and decisions, alignment all the way up the chain of command will occur naturally, ensuring everyone is working toward the same goal. Enabling transparency between store-to-store brand initiatives and goals, and giving access to the critical company data drives everyone forward.

However, if store managers and associates don't have the right tools to access or process data, they can't adequately predict and act on customer needs. One of the biggest challenges industries today face is data paralysis — that is, acting on the mountains of data they collect. Forty percent of today's companies have reported they struggle to act on data — with retail being one of the largest industries facing this problem.  Along with difficulties turning data into action, retail respondents cited having no available tools for acting on data.

What's more, 74 percent of retail respondents said that with better tools, they would be better able to meet brand goals and act on customer needs.

Unlike customer-facing mobile apps and websites, in-store associates and managers have insider knowledge and the ability to use in-store tools to their advantage. For example, a frazzled shopper looking for a Father's Day gift can consult an associate on what the most popular products of the season are. With the right tools and access to data, associates have the ability check what's in stock, order direct, and use real feedback to close the sale. What could have been an unpleasant experience for the shopper easily turns into an opportunity for an associate to add an unexpected and unmatched service to their in-store shopping experience.

Bottom line? Consumers still look to brick and mortar for added personal touch — physically looking at items and consulting experts offline. So long as brands continue stay agile and empower in-store associates — they'll be able to deliver an unmatched shopping experience that mobile simply cannot compete with — closing the sale in-store and keeping the customer coming back for more.


Topics: Assisted Selling, Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Marketing, Merchandising, Retail - General, Workforce Management


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