After the arrival of e-commerce technology, which enabled an easier, faster and at the lowest price purchase, it was thought that there would have been a weakening of physical point of sales. Consequently, it was believed as well that the role of store associates would have become less relevant, being replaced by a more direct access to technologies. Actually, customers interact with products and brands independently and make purchases through both physical and digital touchpoints. According to the 2019 edition of Multichannel Observatory, made in collaboration with Nielsen, 8 out of 10 Italians are multichannel consumers (43,9 million), while 53% of them use e-commerce services (27,8 million).
So, are retail sales associates not necessary anymore? Not at all. As a matter of fact, many web giants are currently searching for additional ways to interact with potential clients directly, launching flagship stores, pop-up stores and even shop-in-shops. They feel the need to offer consumers a complete service, integrated by direct support, hardly possible online. As an example, in 2018 Amazon teamed up with BestBuy to bring the new Fire Edition smart TVs to customers also in physical stores. This choice added a valuable pre and after sales-service and assistance component to the mere purchase of a new digital technology, especially because BestBuy is famed for its customer-focused curation and its flawless customer service.
Moreover, many studies have shown that people still appreciate human help: according to a 2016 research conducted by Mindtree and Grail Research, 43% of shoppers who interact with retail associates are more likely to make a purchase. This means that the fundamentals of human contact and influence provided by sales assistance are still relevant, even though they have inevitably changed.
Nowadays, the store associate should become more of a shopper concierge rather than a salesperson. As it was common in the past, when the small town baker or butcher knew personally their clients and knew exactly when they would have arrived and what products would have bought, every shop assistant should get to know the person standing in front of him, with his or her peculiarities, needs and wants. His actions’ aim should be that of offering customers the best and most customized experience they can live, making them understand that the real added-value of a store is that of creating an experience which is properly customer-centered and focused on their demand. A new “advanced assisted sale” should emphasize the real benefits given to people.
To achieve this new retail paradigm, digital transformation should be implemented in store without replacing the role of store associates: it should, on the contrary, empower them. Technology cannot substitute the need for a concrete human contact, but it should be complementary to it.
Retailers would take many advantages in providing their store associates with in-store digital tools and modern technologies. Above all, they can adopt it to deliver a better shopping experience to consumers, in two ways: on one side, to enhance people’s engagement; on the other, to make it possible to automatize the resolution of certain operational activities, such as monitoring product exposition oh shelves and collecting data about POS performances. In doing so, they could then spend more time on managing real valuable activities, such as the creation and maintenance of a positive relationship with shoppers, focusing on their shopping experience.
Another important shift in today’s store associates’ attitude comes from new skills which are required for the job. For instance, skills in customer service, marketing and communication are more in demand today than in the past. Retailers need employees who build customer relationships and can market their products most effectively. Conversely, even candidate’s expectations have changed: they would advance their education and are seeking out opportunities to help expand the business, learn continuously and grow into other roles.
Retailers should then invest in training their employees. It is essential that store associates embrace corporate culture totally, that they have an in-depth knowledge of the brand and the customer and that they become experts in narrating the products’ values, contributing to actively spreading this organizational culture and its qualities.
Combining technology with new skills can offer a more pleasant, complete and transparent service, which can increase consumers’ confidence and trust. Not only: it can even allow retailers to collect data from their clients, in order to better understand and predict their needs and to provide a more customized experience in store. Store associates can now play a central role in delivering this positive customer experience and are necessary to the omnichannel evolution.
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Mindtree, Grail Research (2016), Sales Associates Play Pivotal Role in the Shopper Purchase Journey: New Mindtree Study, www.mindtree.com
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