BrainTrust Query: Consumers Trust Strangers Over Store Associates
The following is a summary of a point/counterpoint discussion held at the recent NRF show covering some of the hot topics in retailing. The series was sponsored by Alert Technologies. A transcript of the discussion is available at the Retail Doc blog.
A survey late last year by Cisco Systems asked 1,000 U.S. consumers to rank their top three influencers in the buying process and who helped them buy. Sixty-eight percent said online reviews were one of their top three influencers whereas only 13 percent indicated store associates.
For store associates, that’s down from 21 percent in a similar survey taken in 2010. Even friends and family were losing notable ground as purchase influencers, down to 41 percent from 60 percent the year before.
Paul Schottmiller, senior director, global retail and consumer products, Cisco Systems, said that although the results skewed toward the young, "quite frankly, even in the middle age and up categories, more and more interest and initiative is around using the technology channels."
Asked whether this far greater trust in basically anonymous online reviews devalues the role of store associates in the shopping experience, Mr. Schottmiller said, "The question is: What’s your value proposition to the consumer?"
He elaborated: "If it is qualified labor in the store, then you really need to make that a focus, and you need to spend the time, the energy, the money, and the talent to develop that. If you don’t, other people will and you’ll be replaced by these technology sources."
He added that mobile pricing apps, such as Amazon’s controversial one, only increases pricing transparency and exacerbates the consumer’s fixation on pricing.
"If you can catch people earlier in the decision process, in phases we call discovery and inspiration, then if you’re providing them that guided selling, either in person or through some of your online tools, it does somewhat alleviate some of the pricing pressure that we’ll see otherwise when people are simply shopping," said Mr. Schottmiller.
While retailers need to understand the appeal of the digital component of the shopping experience and invest on that side, the human component remains essential in some segments and categories.
"If that’s part of your value proposition, you need to make sure that you’re not kidding yourself in terms of the investment in that area … training your employees and paying your employees," said Mr. Schottmiller. "If you do, just like if you’ve got a higher price, it’s going to get exposed by the technology very quickly."
- Top Retail Trends 2012 – Who Do Your Customers Trust? The Surprising Answer – Retail Doc
- Retail Trends at NRF 2012: Who Do Customers Trust? – YouTube
Discussion Questions: Are online reviews undermining consumers’ trust in store associates? How will the growing appeal of tech-enabled sales-help options such as online reviews and mobile apps alter the role of the store associate?