Are Store Associates the Key to Competing with E-Commerce?

As someone who has worked in all levels of retail, from a store associate all the way up to general manager, the results of a recent Tulip Retail survey caused an audible gasp, followed by a groan.   The survey reveals that 83% of shoppers believe they are more knowledgeable than the retail store associate.  That’s right; more than four out of five shoppers think the store’s associate isn’t capable of adding value to their shopping experience.   On one hand, while the survey criticizes retail associate’s knowledge, the same survey states that 79% of shoppers say that knowledgeable store associates are either important, or very important, and that these knowledgeable associates are valued by the shopper.  After the initial shock of the survey results, I started thinking not only about my own experience in retail, but also about the strategies I’ve seen my retail clients undertake over the years.    

What the results of this survey tell me is that retailers have a real opportunity to improve their customer service interaction and overall customer experience.  What I find even more interesting is that store associates are a built-in inherent advantage that traditional brick-and-mortar stores have on their e-commerce counterparts.  If 79% of shoppers find value in a knowledgeable associate, I would wager a guess that at least 79% of shoppers would also prefer that same knowledgeable associate over an internet bot.  Could a well-trained, well-informed store associate be the key to competing with e-commerce?  The results of this survey would suggest yes.      

In my own experience, we would send store managers to tour production facilities to get a better understanding of the product they were selling.  They would return back to the stores to tell the associates about how the product is made, and ultimately how it gets to the store for final sale.  This created a strong culture of knowledge, and I often witnessed associates telling customers all kinds of interesting facts to our customers.  This worked great in my environment, but retailers selling numerous products may find this an inefficient and cost-prohibitive way of educating store associates.  Another strategy I’ve seen successfully implemented is comprehensive new-hire trainings for all associates, specifically aimed at product education.  This is not your typical orientation filled with H.R. policies and procedures, but rather a true product education course over the course of several days.  Another emerging trend is to provide associates with tablets or other mobile devices to enable them to quickly look up information about a product, inventory levels and customer reviews that they can share with the customer. 

Retailers should take a hard look at the overall knowledge level of their store associates.  What value are they bringing to your customers?  You may find an opportunity to further educate your associates to bring best-in-class customer service that e-commerce just can’t complete with.  

For more information on how store associates can help your business compete with e-commerce, contact us

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