The sales assistant can save our stores…but only if they’re given right tools
How can physical stores best compete with their pureplay rivals? When it comes to convenience, price, and fulfilment, ecommerce disruptors have generally got it sewn up — especially for commoditised consumer goods. So, rather than going head-to-head, bricks-and-mortar retailers need to find another battleground.
Earlier this Summer at the Future Stores event Simon Russell, director of operational development at John Lewis, said legacy retailers need to focus on ‘what Amazon can’t’ (WAC) and top of the list is first-class customer experience delivered by a human.
Consumers are emotional creatures, driven by rational and irrational decisions during the path to purchase. They seek a mixture of responses while making purchasing decisions in-store (ranging from product information to reassurance and validation) and humans are best placed to interpret these signals, react to them, give the best advice and nudge the customer towards a sale. Chatbots and data-driven recommendation engines are among the solution digital disruptors are using in this area but, at least for the moment, humans do a much better job in-store.
John Lewis is leading the way on the WAC factor, wrapping its retail offering with a range of complimentary services and experiences, up and cross-sold by in-store staff. These experiences include in-store style and fashion advice, gin tasting and offering the services of 400 curtain and carpet fitters nationwide.
Telecoms company Three UK is another business with great takeaways for the retail sector. Three has broken down the barriers between off and online, enabling staff to enrich digital experiences, while directing online customers in-store, boosting footfall. It has achieved this by launching a video streaming solution which enables online customers to watch live in-store product demonstrations shot by store staff. Customers are invited to watch and ask questions in real time. The retailer broadcasts product demos on the hour, every hour from inexpensive in-store studios and even on the shop floor, presented by store staff using a selfie stick. If customers have more detailed questions, they’re put through to an associate at their local store who can livestream a personalised demo, add products to their online basket or invite them in-store for a hands-on session.
With recent Vodat research showing that 75% of customers more likely to buy from a company that knows them by name and can make recommendations based on previous purchases, personalisation has been the ace in the pack for online retailers for some time thanks to big data. But now store staff are able to trump online if they have the right tools.
These tools include a wireless networked device, such as a tablet, connected to a real-time single view of customer, stock and order, showing their previous purchases, likes, browsed products, average order value and size details. With thousands of SKUs in each store, and increasingly clued-up customers, staff need fast web-based access to detailed product information to bolster the knowledge they already have. Armed with this information, staff can deliver a much more nuanced personalised experience than any ecommerce platform, while also accessing the retailer’s full universe of available stock to seal the sale.
A recent report by conversational commerce specialists iAdvize shows that physical retailers are aware of the transformational potential of store staff and they are taking steps to empower them.
Nearly two thirds of retailer leaders want to equip store assistants with a single view of stock across in-store and online inventory, according to iAdvize’s research. Meanwhile more than half of retailers want to ‘digitise’ store staff, giving them access to online ordering and click-and-collect and personalisation etc. A similar figure (51%) are considering giving staff a 360-degree view of the customer in-store and online.
The vast majority of retail leaders (more than two-thirds) want to combat the threat of Amazon by focusing on market-leading customer experiences and exactly half (50%) say that human interaction is not only physical retail’s unique differentiator but also its key to success.
Giving store staff the tools, they need to personalise customer experience, increase their product knowledge and equip them with real-time visibility of customer, stock and order will help reinvigorate the bricks-and-mortar model and deliver a bigger ROI on staff overheads. It will also give omnichannel retailers new and exciting opportunities to include store staff interaction online infusing all their channels with rich, insightful human interaction.