How Retail Workers Can Be Leveraged as Effective Brand Influencers

After two years of online browsing, consumers are eager to get out of the house and into the store. And as consumer discretionary spending continues to grow, retailers and brands around the world are exploring new ways to capitalize on the next wave of in-person shopping and experiences.

So what’s the plan? How can businesses position themselves to attract consumers and deliver an exceptional in-store experience that builds customer loyalty and drives sales? The biggest opportunity isn’t on TikTok or Instagram; retailers’ most valuable influencers are already on their payrolls. In 2022, businesses with brick-and-mortar channels should be looking to invest in their frontline talent: the influential in-store sales associates who advise, educate and delight every customer who walks in the door.

Frontline sellers hold powerful influence over customer purchasing behavior. They are product experts, conversing with countless consumers a day where their recommendations and guidance carry meaningful weight with customers — at the point of purchase. As digital marketing trends evolve, leading retailers and brands are rethinking the meaning of “influencer” and reallocating budgets to harness the influence of their most valuable brand ambassadors.

Challenges of Digital Marketing

Over the past year, small- and medium-sized retailer chains, along with new CPG brands, have seen abysmal conversion rates. For every $92 spent on marketing, only $1 is converted to a sale. The combination of fierce competition for ad space and a reduced ability to target high-intent consumers has made it increasingly difficult for businesses to get the return they need to justify the spend.


As a result, many businesses have turned their attention to a more “organic” means of reaching customers online: the influencer. Studies indicate that 49% of online shoppers rely on influencers while making purchasing decisions. The takeaway here is clear: consumers trust a human recommendation from someone they respect and are less inclined to be convinced by a generic advertisement that shows up in their feed.

Still, these influencer recommendations do not come cheap. While influencers’ rates depend on multiple factors, such as followers and engagement, on average a brand can expect to pay upwards of $5,000-$10,000 per sponsored post from a credible online influencer with a decent following.

That’s a daunting price tag, especially when you consider the challenges associated with measuring ROI when working with online influencers. Fortunately, there are ways businesses can still effectively drive sales at a more affordable price, and with predictable results: by activating in-store employees to act as brand influencers.

Consider the times you have walked into a store with just a general idea of what you’re looking for, and walked out with a purchase that was prompted by the employee’s recommendations. You trusted this employee to help you make an informed decision based on your specific needs, and not a one-size-fits-all approach you see with traditional advertising and influencer marketing. Employees are not recommending for the masses, they are helping consumers with their specific needs.

How Brands and Retailers Can Implement Incentivization Programs to Empower Sales Teams

The key to empowering frontline sales teams and steering their influence to serve your business’ growth lies in proper incentivization. Fortunately, there are many ways a business can implement an incentive program to encourage sales teams to upsell, cross-sell and drive sales in-store.

Sales games are a great way to not only engage and encourage employees to sell more, but to have fun at work as well. Working as a frontline sales associate doesn’t have to be boring, and implementing creative team and individual games that also drive sales is a great way to keep employees motivated, engaged and focused while on the floor.

A commission model, paid for by either the manufacturing brand or the store, can also be tremendously motivating. Aligning incentives for your team and business will result in employees seeking out product education on their own time. After all, if there’s money on the line, you can be sure that employees are going to put in the work necessary to speak intelligently and convincingly about those products. Ultimately, this results in greater customer satisfaction and higher average baskets — a rare win-win-win for your business, your team and your customers.

How In-Store Influencers Can Increase Employee Retention

At the end of the day, retail workers feel undervalued and overworked. According to a recent survey, 54% of retail workers feel underappreciated and 63% feel underpaid. In addition, 46% of retail workers say that they would leave their current job if a better opportunity arose. Incentive and rewards programs are a way to let your employees know that you value their hard work and are willing to give them a piece of the pie they’re helping to grow.

By reevaluating your compensation model for retail workers and collaborating with brand partners to sponsor employee incentives, there is no doubt you’ll see tremendous gains in employee satisfaction and retention. Workers want to feel valued by their employer. By treating them like owners with skin in the game, businesses can expect to see vast improvements in employee engagement as they take the initiative to expand product knowledge, sharpen their selling skills and go above and beyond for every customer that walks through the door.

Implementing an in-store incentive program for your employees allows them to invest in their jobs as they would with long-term careers. It’s a subtle reframe, but investing in your team and positioning them as critical frontline influencers will help employees to feel so fulfilled, valued and adequately compensated that they will think twice before seeking opportunities elsewhere.


The store environment of tomorrow looks very different than it did yesterday. Here, employees are true product experts. They have the development and financial support that they crave and are eager to be prepared and knowledgeable on the sales floor. They have the confidence that for any consumer that comes in the door they can provide a personalized product recommendation based on their specific needs. Employees are happier to be at work because they feel valued and appreciated, eager to show up every day to maximize their take home pay and drive sales for their store and the brands they carry.

Retail workers hold the most underrepresented value when it comes to impacting the consumer experience, and a well-trained and properly incentivized employee is the most valuable asset in a brand or retailer’s marketing toolkit.

Andrew Duffy is the CEO and Co-founder of the employee incentive management platform SparkPlug. Before founding SparkPlug, Duffy worked at Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, where he studied labor economics and implemented investment theses based on research into human behavior. Leveraging deep industry experience in finance and retail technology, Duffy has been instrumental in shaping SparkPlug’s mission to fix the broken hourly labor market, deliver actually actionable data to brick-and-mortar businesses and motivate retail and restaurant employees with performance-based rewards. Since its inception, SparkPlug has delivered over $1 million in supplemental income to frontline hourly employees. Duffy holds a BA in Behavioral Economics from Harvard University.

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