Shoppers want help and aren’t getting it

Discussion
Nov 20, 2014

Consumers who research products online get many of the answers they need before shopping in stores, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any remaining questions. They can turn to sales associates, but many wind up questioning that decision shortly after entering stores, according to new research.

According to 2014 Sales Associate Interaction Study by Tulip Retail, 40 percent of shoppers say getting help and advice is the most important reason for them to shop in physical stores. Unfortunately, 74 percent of those report their biggest frustration comes from speaking with associates who do not have the information they need.

According to the study’s respondents, only 36 percent found associates "very helpful" in answering their product questions. Only 34 percent said associates were "very helpful" when it came to answering questions about inventory.

The research found a direct correlation between levels of help and consumer purchases. Ninety-two percent of shoppers who said the service they received was "very helpful" made an in-store purchase and 97 percent wound us spending as much or more than they planned as a result. Sixty-eight percent of shoppers who did not find sales associates to be helpful did not make a purchase.

"Sales associates are earning a failing grade on even the simplest of customer service requests," said April Dunford, COO of Tulip, in a statement. "Without this basic foundation, associates can’t begin to offer the next level of customer service, like recommendations."

Why do so many customers complain about the level of service they receive from sales associates? Are retailers prepared to make the changes necessary to address the issue? For those that are, how do they go about doing it?

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16 Comments on "Shoppers want help and aren’t getting it"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Retail salespeople were never able to be entirely knowledgeable about all the SKUs in a store. Now it is expected that if a customer found something online, any employee should know as much. That really isn’t practical.

However, the real money in retail is in being able to have the wisdom to help the customer make a decision. That means they have to want to engage a customer. They have to want to make a connection. They have to be trained.

Again, product knowledge is something consumers are able to get anywhere. To succeed, better retailers are developing the soft skills of talking to another person.

Don Uselmann
Guest
Don Uselmann
7 years 6 months ago

Customers complain because in too many stores, sales associates are inadequate in number, under-trained and poorly equipped, and often lack a service and selling motivation. Solutions seem costly but can generate significant ROI through driving increased loyalty, share of wallet and average unit sale. And the alternative, disenfranchised customers, is even more costly.

Retailers need to develop and implement appropriate compensation/incentive programs that drive adequate levels of floor coverage concurrently with engendering selling and service behaviors focused on relationship building. They also need to provide sales associates with training and tools to enhance service and access greater knowledge. Finally, if they can inspire sales associates to find purpose in what they do, improving their customers’ lives through the service they provide, they will have a winning formula.

Ian Percy
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Bob’s got it right again. First of all, with a few exceptions, service generally sucks. No other way to put it.

There are two levels in the buying experience: 1) Economic and 2) Ecological. Economic—the nomos—refers to the facts and figures like price, material, size, etc. As Bob says, people can get that information anywhere.

The Ecological—the logos—is where most sales people haven’t a clue. This refers to the emotional and spiritual meaning of the experience itself. Does this store care about me? Do they make me feel important? Do they really “hear” or “see” me (as they put it in the Avatar movie)?

The retail world generally knows only the economic realm, which is why they are racing to the bottom over price. What customers are missing is the ecology. Think about it. How many stores make you feel better about your highest “Self” and the world you’re trying to make the most of? Not many.

Graeme McVie
Guest
Graeme McVie
7 years 6 months ago
Consumers have more information available to them than ever before and as a result they are more informed than ever before. But for a large number of shoppers there is still a need or desire to be able to speak to an informed individual who can help them make their final buy decision. In-store expertise is one of the great weapons at the disposal of brick-and-mortar retailers in the battle against showrooming and e-commerce pure-plays. If a customer finds that expertise to be missing or lacking in-store then it’s no surprise that a shopper will buy from a competitor or buy online. Other than instant gratification, this raises the question of “what’s the value-add of going to a store rather than buying online?” On a personal note, in a recent visit to a consumer electronics store, I asked an associate a question and he pulled up the company’s website and read me the content on the website. When I indicated that I had already visited their website and read the available information (as well as… Read more »
J. Peter Deeb
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

First you have to find an associate. This is more and more difficult in most large stores including DIY, department, box and warehouse stores. Once you find them, many are under-trained, under-compensated and under-motivated to help. The answer lies in more associates, better selection, better training and better compensation. All of these require a commitment on management’s part to create a blueprint that works for them and then relentlessly following the plan. Easy to say, difficult to accomplish.

jack crawford
Guest
jack crawford
7 years 6 months ago

Customer service will only exist where the salespeople are paid well and feel some degree of respect in their job. Presently sales jobs are taken when nothing else is available or something is needed to fill in until a “real job ” is available. To think anything will really change under these circumstances is just plain silly.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

The problem is the customer’s knowledge base. 15 years ago the expert about the store’s products was the sales associated. That person was only an expert by default. The customer had little to go on.

The sales associate has NOT gotten dumber. The customer has gotten smarter. The customer has tremendous access to information and is willing to spend time researching. In the old days the sales associate could sound like an expert with BS. They can’t get away with that anymore.

Rarely do I say, “there is no solution.” But in this case, within the current retail structure, there is no solution.

Lee Peterson
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

I think retailers are screening wrong. Experience on a sales floor does not necessarily qualify you for more sales floor work. We should all be looking for people who like people! I know, it sounds nutty, but they’re all over if you are looking for that vs pure experience. Many industries do nothing but look/find people that like people: hospitals, schools, restaurants just for starters. Look there. Entice them into a better job.

Another thing is training. Let the sales team have some fun. Look at Southwest Airlines, they have a blast. I’ve always had this motto; work hard—have fun, and I believe a little of that would go a long way on the sales floor too. Have some fun! You’re just talking to people all day, it’s a great job!

Kevin Graff
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Here’s what I know for a fact: The retailers who’ve begun to make a significant investment in their staff, rather than essentially just ignoring them, are getting better results for every hour worked.

Look, if customers are more knowledgeable and demanding, it only makes sense that your store staff need to “up” their game. If you want to survive as a brick and mortar retailer, you better improve the shopping experience provided via your staff.

Arie Shpanya
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

There are many issues with customer service in-store, as well as online. Employees aren’t perfect and especially when it comes to big stores, it’s almost impossible for them to know everything about every product.

I think comprehensive and on-going training are the key to having a knowledgeable workforce. Apple does this well with its helpful employees who seem to know so much about the products (either as specialists or generalists). Even as new products launch, Apple keeps its employees on their toes with new training to be able to answer any question about the latest product.

On the other hand, having an app like Macy’s, or digital tools like tablets within stores can be a big help. Being able to look up product specifics is a great way to answer questions, even when sales associates are busy helping other customers.

Lee Kent
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Duh, if you pay the sales associate minimum wage, do not incent them and do not give them any tools, what do you expect?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that retail has to pay top dollar for every associate, but they do need to look at who the customer is, what their purchase journey might look like while they are in the store and make sure they have adequate touchpoints that will keep the customer moving along that path.

Perhaps you are a fashion retailer and your customer would like help from a stylist. Do you have a sales associate with this skill? Maybe the stylist can be accessed on a kiosk?

It’s time for retail to start embracing journey mapping in order to create customer experiences that deliver the customers desired result from the brand.

For my 2 cents!

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

I agree with most of the earlier comments. Yes, the customer has gotten smarter. No, the sales associate has not gotten dumber; but neither has he or she gotten smarter. You can’t expect more when the salary level and training are poor.

Marlon Rodrigues
Guest
Marlon Rodrigues
7 years 6 months ago

Retail transformation is going to move through many stages while it catches up to shopper expectations (itself an evolving target).

We shouldn’t expect a cure-all.

What we can expect is for retailers to support their sales associates in answering the most basic shopper questions around product information, inventory levels and store policy. That’s a meaningful start to earning a shopper’s trust.

It would be impractical to expect all sales associates to be familiar with every SKU in a store. A more achievable approach is to have tools for the sales floor (like in-store mobile devices) that allows associates to quickly level-up in a conversation with a shopper.

Simply having access to this information in-hand would raise the confidence of the associate, making them more likely to engage with a potential customer. Many retailers have already started experimenting with this technology in their stores and are seeing results.

After all, we know the future is already here—it just not very evenly distributed.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Minimum wages neither have nor will ever receive or support more than minimum efforts.

Shep Hyken
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Depending on the company, the problem starts in the hiring process. Hire the right people that have the right personalities and the right background to start. Then train them, which is the next problem. Companies may do a short customer service training when the employee is hired. But, any type of training, including customer service training, shouldn’t be something you “did.” It’s something you do—ongoing.

So, hire right. Train appropriately. And to support the customer service efforts, come up with some good “self-service” customer service and teach sales associates how to teach the customers how to use it.

Kai Clarke
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

This is nothing new, and proper training to ensure that consumers get help, when they need it, from well-informed sales associates, is one of the marks of a successful retailer. Great training, happy employees, working in a well-informed, marketplace ensures that customers get the help they want, but also in an atmosphere of trust and reward where they customer will come back to shop at that retailer.

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