It should come as no surprise that more consumers have turned to online shopping over the last 10-15 years while some brick-and-mortar stores have taken a defensive position. Most see the Internet as a revolutionary and convenient tool we can’t live without, but some retailers see it as the scourge of a generation akin to the Black Plague of the 1300s. Brick-and-mortar stores are rightfully responding to Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday, but is that enough?
It’s true that Black Friday remains a staple of our shopping habits and Santa doesn’t come across that well online compared to the in-store experience. In spite of that, retailers must do more than focus on the holiday season and a single summer day in order to maintain and grow revenue from in-store activity.
According to several studies regarding consumer preferences between online and in-store shopping, anywhere from 37% to 70% of respondents prefer the in
-store experience. Of course, Millennials want to shop via phone and there is no prying addictive mobile apps out of the hands of twenty-somethings any time soon. That aside, in-store retail is far from dead and there are multiple reasons driving that reality. We won’t spend time breaking down the nuances of every element that influences in-store preferences, but one commonality arises with almost every shopper (regardless of whether they purchase in-store or online) and that’s an ability to handle the merchandise and have an actual experience with the item to be purchased. Marry this to the ability to ask in-store personnel about the merchandise and retailers have a recipe to engage and delight customers in a way that online simply cannot.
When it comes to sales staff, we’re not just talking warm bodies here. We’re referring to highly-trained staff deployed to ensure increased revenue and customer service designed keep the buyer coming back for more. In fact, there are 5 ways retailers can equip their staff and position them as drivers of increased revenue.
1. Hire the right people
It all starts here. For many people, a retail job can be temporary, stop-gap employment until something better comes a
long or they graduate from school. In addition, management often see retail employees as easily replaceable and having any warm body on the floor is better than nobody at all. As a result, retailers may not spend enough time vetting prospective associates.
The solution is to create a path for those highly-motivated hires and identify exactly who they are – whether they are applicants hoping to make a career out of retail or simply working their way through graduate school. For staff that may have goals beyond retail, management should understand they can help themselves and the new hire by building their work experience around preparing them for that next step. For hires who desire retail as a career, management should look for those who have the aptitude, personality and ability to truly engage customers. Making the right hire requires commitment, but the long-term rewards far outweigh the initial time and effort.
2. Properly educate your staff
According to a study conducted by Marshall Fisher, UPS Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions at the University of Pennsylvania’s the Wharton School and highlighted in an MSNBC article, more than 50% of shoppers still look for advice once they enter a store. In-store sales associates that are educated, engaged and knowledgeable about specific products, were responsible for about 69% more revenue compared to those associates who were not equipped.
Once, your staff is onboard and ready to be deployed, empower them with the right education and training. This requires more than reading a manual and a cursory overview of your products. What’s needed is comprehensive training around products to be sold, consumer behavior, making a connection, guiding the customer to the close and following up, if necessary, to ensure the customer is getting the most from their purchase.
3. Ensure your staff believes in the products they sell
No matter how knowledgeable a sales associate is, if they don’t truly believe in the products they sell or what the company stands for, that belief will ultimately be expressed in their attitude. When the right staff is hired and properly trained, it’s also worth making sure staff understands the company’s mission and the products being sold. Allow staff to experience the merchandise first-hand by taking the product home, using it in every-day situations and identifying the pros (and cons) of each item their responsible for. The key is not just getting the associate to sell, the key is to also sell the associate.
4. Help sales staff make a real connection with customers
In-store staff are the face of every retailer. The first thing a customer sees entering a retailer should be a smiling associate. A serious misunderstanding is the idea that customers don’t want to be bothered. Quite the contrary is true. Even if the customer needs time to think and is not ready to make a decision just yet, making sure a sales associate creates an emotional connection during the engagement process can mean the difference between leaving empty handed and walking out with more than they planned on purchasing.
Most retail stores are not McDonald’s, meaning customers need someone to work with them in order to help them find just the right merchandise or solve a particular problem. Ensuring your sales staff makes an emotional connection is an ideal recipe for contributing to the bottom line.
5. Equip sales associates with the proper tools
More retailers are marrying technology with personalized service. In addition, many brick-and-mortar retailers have an e-commerce presence. While customers visit stores because of a desire handle and experience the merchandise, they may not expect the sales associate to have a great deal of information at their fingertips. When associates have tools such as tablets and other devices that allow them to see a customer’s purchase history, available merchandise, delivery schedules and alternatives, the result is an in-store experience that can rival online in terms of convenience. Helpful tools in the hands of sales associates go a long way in quickly delivering solutions to customers and increasing revenue.
Sales personnel are vital to any physical retail environment. Just because customers have online options doesn’t mean savvy retailers can’t properly leverage staff to their advantage. At the end of the day, it’s well-equipped, highly-trained, informed and equipped sales associates that will help drive revenue and provide the enjoyable retail experience customers just can’t match online.