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Service With A Smile And A Touch Of Technology

Posted on October 9th, 2015 by

Heightened Shopper Expectations Force Organizational Adjustments
Heightened shopper expectations are forcing stores to transform their identities, thinking and in-store endeavors. While initially some industry pundits and retailers themselves perceived stores to be a liability, they are today at the core of one’s omnichannel vision. Retailers must make important choices about the services they offer, the underpinning technology that supports shopper needs, as well the technology that will be utilized in the stores to provide superior shopping experiences. The role of the associate has also changed and shoppers welcome a more informed associate where cultures and training must now be put in place to meet the demanding needs of their dynamic customers.

This will not be accomplished overnight, but rather something that will take place over a longer span of time. Success will be predicated on an organization that is strategic in its thinking, having both a clear understanding of their brand and respective customer bases. The only certainty is that this is a work in progress that requires time and the perseverance to create cultures and infrastructures that can fully realize omnichannel’s potential.

Self Service Is the Shopper’s Preference

The e-tailing group, with sponsorship from B2C Partners, recently conducted a survey of 1106 shoppers. When asked about in-store service preferences, 84% indicated that self-service would be their approach of choice.

Not surprisingly, 56% were honest reflecting that while they prefer self-service, they sometimes find themselves needing help. Retailers should pay particular attention to these numbers as shoppers simply can’t solve all of these problems on their own. The survey’s only open-ended question gave shoppers a chance to speak to both positive and negative omnichannel experiences. Many of the positive comments included reference to visiting a store and making a better shopping decision with the help of an informed sales associate. Three are cited below:

  • “Cabelas has a very helpful staff when you have trouble deciding between products that you’re not knowledgeable about.”
  • “I used the web to research what retailers had the items and at what prices, also to review features, then when I went to the store, I had pretty good idea as to what I wanted to buy, but the sales associate did help me in the final decision.”
  • “I ordered some camping equipment through REI.com and picked up in the store to get first hand instruction from an associate and the combined ease of ordering and picking up with in-person instruction was phenomenal.”

It is a balancing act where both self-service in-store tools coupled with well trained and supportive associates should be available to support a variety of consumer concerns.

Associate Interactions Elevated

Having spent over a decade working in retail prior to moving into ecommerce in the early nineties, the universal perception of retail service was on the decline, particularly as ecommerce began to make inroads into store sales numbers. It was with frustration that we watched the in-store shopping experience spiral in a downward trend. It’s ironic that it would be mobile and the customer’s omnichannel journey that pushed savvy retailers to upgrade their service. Sales associates from Target to Walgreens now inquire if one has found everything they need and big box players appear to understand that the associate is more than someone who could check out a customer. Shoppers seeking inventory transparency need help checking for inventory across the enterprise. Those consumers seeking to find the lowest price need associates armed with scanners to ensure they consummate the sale in-store and not at Amazon. Some retailers are adopting tablets to enhance the shopping experience so its effective usage among associates is now a requirement. Consumers are asking more questions than ever about products, their locations at retail and how to use the new devices that are becoming more readily available at retail. While associates can help solve some of the problems, their performance can go a long way to fostering relationships with shoppers. While it would be ideal to have associates involved in every customer visit, the economics suggest that technology will play an even greater role than ever before.

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