Will store associates become the ultimate personalization tool at retail?
A recurring topic at the recent Future Stores Miami event was how retailers will utilize store associates to become the most important means to personalize the shopping experiences of customers in the future.
Even now, store associates have the potential to be more than just salespeople. They can become consultants throughout the shopping journey, providing a personalized experience, if properly supported, trained and enabled by the retailer. During the track session on store design and experiential retail, Chase Design presented results from their recent shopper research study that said 75 percent of responses about positive shopping experiences were based on an associate helping to solve a problem.
While training is a core element to developing store associates, technology is now taking a central role in enabling the associate of the future, especially artificial intelligence-based tools. Gene Lunger, executive VP of retail operations, Ashley Homestore, said, “There are only two kinds of retailers today — those leveraging AI to run efficient operations and drive sales and those that haven’t done it yet.”
Mobile devices and the apps used by retailers to fuel this enablement have also evolved. Clienteling applications and product information were originally most common, but these are now supplemented by messaging apps facilitating one-to-one communication with customers, full order management across online and offline purchases, workforce management and other operational task management capabilities.
Messaging apps via mobile devices were viewed as key to enabling one-to-one relationships between associates and shoppers in both the offline and online buying journey. During the Day 2 chairperson’s address, it was shown that retailers have achieved a 10-times conversion rate and a 50 percent increase in average order value when an online customer is directly connected to a store associate for assistance. This bridging of the online shopper to the store associate was described as an approach to prevent losing customers to Amazon.com.
Shari Rossi, VP retail operations & in-store services for Best Buy, said, “This is not just an investment in people and technology. It’s not an overnight change for a retailer. It’s a process.” Ms. Rossi also pointed out that the customer journey doesn’t end at the cash register, but that the post-purchase phase is also part of the retailer’s service as demonstrated by their Geek Squad associates and in-home services.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you see the role of the retail store associate evolving across both offline and online buying journeys? Are retailers investing enough in their frontline staff in terms of training, technology and process to enable them to have personalized one to one relationships with customers?