Another day, another industry disrupted by the e-Commerce giants. One thumb-scroll down we read the closure of yet another retailer — most recently seen with the news of Toys ‘R’ Us and Bon-Ton. As these stories become the day-to-day reality of retail in the digital age, legacy brick-and-mortar retailers must make a choice when it comes to differentiation. In a world where store location doesn’t hold a candle to two-day shipping in the battle for convenience, and price wars favor big box giants like Walmart and Target, niche retailers must carve out their own space in the market.
To survive in this climate, retailers have looked for ways to create operationalized value, cutting costs by tracking units with shelf monitors, cheapening marketing collateral and lessening the number of sales associates. But no one ever wins when looking to enter a race to the bottom — the race to have the lowest price has driven retailer after retailer into the ground. While technology can be invaluable in creating efficiency, it’s not able to replace the personal touch that humans in a store provide.
For brick-and-mortar retailers, the personal shopping experience is more important than ever. The key to thriving in this new climate is to create an in-store culture and superior experience that caters to the customer and is unique to that store. With this, sales associates (or lack thereof) will make or break success for retailers. Customers who know they can click twice and have an item shipped to their home will do so standing in the aisle of your store if they have to so much as crane their neck to find an associate. I, myself, am guilty of this.
However, simply flooding your sales floor with more associates isn’t necessarily the answer. Customers need to feel a connection with the store’s brand, which stems from their experience with the sales associate — this is done through provided value, interpersonal connection and a feeling that the associates are connected to a larger purpose, and all within a short amount of time.
To get sales associates who can provide this level of service, retailers need to trust their employees, train them on the product, and ensure they are comfortable and confident in the ways to best engage with customers. When it comes to leveraging technology, retailers should look beyond efficiency gains to how sales associates can use technology as a tool to help engage with shoppers in a meaningful way, rather than pushing shoppers to use technology to find their own answers or cheaper prices.
The key here isn’t to choose people over technology, rather to use technology to make personal interactions more valuable, efficient and personalized. This can be applied in a few different areas to enhance the customer experience:
Training on the Fly
With stores running lean to try to offset revenue and traffic losses, the onboarding process for new hires often gets short changed and new associates have to learn on the job. Mobile-first sales enablement solutions can provide flexible, personalized curricula to help sales reps get up to speed when they start, and also stay educated on product updates and new service offerings. 87% of learning is forgotten in 30 days, so the ability to recall in context is essential.
To keep the conversation moving on the sales floor, associates must be able to continue engaging with the customer while pulling up the information that drove them into the store to begin with, like whether that shoe comes in patent leather, and if so, does the store have a size eight in a narrow fit? Multitasking in a high-pressure situation like hitting a sales goal is no easy feat — however, if the information is accessible in a format like their own devices that they access 18 hours a day, the process is much more natural. A recognizable and intuitive user interface allows sales associates to be their usual charismatic selves.
Maintaining Customer Relationships
As customers return with questions about the product or want to deepen their engagement with the store or organization, associates must be able to facilitate that deepened relationship. The right platform will automate content delivery across mobile devices to help the organization streamline processes and automate paperwork, CRM data entry and other tedious tasks that slow down customer services and subsequently lower satisfaction rates. Similar to the selling aspect, this can be done though a well-designed user interface that provides subject matter expertise on demand for the representative, allowing her or him to focus more on the customer and less on searching for answers.
Whatever path you take toward empowering an engaged and informed sales force, be sure it is well implemented and has a simple user experience, which will drive adoption. Once the team is able to lean on the platform as an extension of their own knowledge, they’ll be able — and excited — to make the personal connections with customers that keep them coming back.
Ben Row is Industry Lead, Retail at Bigtincan. He works in Strategic Accounts, developing deployments and partnerships in the fortune space to deliver measurable productivity, sales growth and collaboration through a mobile-first lens. He focuses on Retail and Financial Services, drawing off his experience as a Field B2B and Retail Leader for Apple, Inc. Sales & Retail Enablement from Bigtincan is more than an operational tool; it’s a tool to build a single platform of truth for all departments to collaborate through, on content, resources, learning and training. Applying Row’s advanced knowledge of mobile architecture and deployment methodology, with a focus on solution adoption, is helping some of the largest enterprises in the world find new value in this mobile-first world.