As retailers and manufacturers are scrambling to find and grow alternative revenue streams as a result of their failing core businesses, there is a solution hidden in plain sight. It’s not what retail executives have been saying. Their typical solutions and innovations proclaim, “We invested in stores across the country to augment the customer experience and create a more vibrant shopping destination.” What are their innovations? Enhanced lighting, elevated fixtures, a more flexible layout and the other predictable band-aids.
We are overwhelmed by cliched buzzwords and phrases including, “rich customer experience,” “elevated offerings,” ‘innovate,” “data analytics” and more. What we don’t hear enough of is “WE ARE INVESTING IN OUR SALES ASSOCIATES!” What we hear all the time is “We’re cutting costs by reducing our headcount of sales associates.” So how is that working for them?
Here’s the new normal: Customers walk into brick-and-mortar stores and are not welcomed or acknowledged by a sales associate. They can’t find what they’re looking for. Why is it acceptable for customers to have to ask for help or to shop from a display that looks like bomb went off? Is the new normal to frustrate the customer? How are we going to get customers to come back if we treat them like inconveniences?
We Need a Call to Action
Customers are literally voting with their feet. According to a recent report from the data analytics firm Thasos, “Overall, the foot traffic growth that U.S. malls experienced starting in late 2017 has peaked and begun to reverse course in recent months.” So, why would anyone want to go a store that has long checkout lines, is out of stock inventory, has long wait times for customer service, sees unmaintained displays and, worst of all, is ignored by unhelpful and uninformed associates.
Businesses need to think of the consumer as their business partner. Let’s face it, the most important touchpoint in the supply chain is the customer. The retailers that are going to thrive are the ones that listen and learn from their customers. They’re all in it together.
So, what is the right new normal? “We are investing in qualified people in our stores.” Robin Lewis is one of the biggest proponents of this. When sales decline, the kneejerk reaction is to reduce sales headcounts. Marshall Fisher of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote “Setting Retail Staffing Levels: A Methodology Validated with Implementation.” He states that reduction of personnel “leads to a spiraling effect: a low sales forecast leads to reducing labor which leads to lower sales and so on.”
At Your Service
No matter how beautiful the store is, it won’t matter to customers if they feel stranded and ignored. The most fundamental “rich customer experience” has to include knowledgeable and helpful sales staff. Think of it this way, customer engagement has to be as high in quality as the product they provide. To their detriment, many companies have recently invested in everything except the one-on-one, person-to-person, in-store customer experience.
It’s time to ignite a discussion on a few basic principles:
- The value of time-tested, core strategies of engaging the customer through well-executed initiatives.
- Inventive, persuasive merchandising presentations.
- High-quality customer assistance.
We need to provide a compelling environment where the merchant’s product strategy is fully maximized. Yes, you may get a customer into the store by new lighting schemes and nicer fixtures, but we have to give them a reason to come back! Reboot your business with a highly knowledgeable Brand Ambassador/sales associate that is on-site to actually help, provide education and guide the consumer through their in-store visit. The sales associates should know more than the customer — which is a challenge in our digital marketplace.
When the customer experiences a sales associate who is knowledgeable, able to determine the customer’s needs and provide an environment that is pleasant and inviting, sales increase. Not just a little, a lot! Case in point, our firm, Retail Assistance Corporation, provides Brand Ambassadors to train the store sales associates on our client’s brands and products, provide compelling merchandising presentations and also sell our client’s products during peak traffic periods. Recently, we provided our Brand Ambassadors in nine stores of a national retailer on weekends for one month to ensure that the product presentations were perfect, and customers were greeted. They assessed a customer’s overall needs and provided knowledgeable advice and assistance with their purchase. I am sure that it isn’t any surprise that sales in these stores increased dramatically. The numbers are consistently overwhelming; in this case, sales soared 64 percent versus control stores without any support!
We need to consider going back to basics. The practice of reducing sales and backroom support at the store needs to be balanced with the needs of the customer. Help customers feel welcomed in an environment that is attractive, clean, logical and visually stimulating. Show them that you are interested in understanding their needs and then guide them, with an educated professional, to the products that you offer.
If we don’t help the customer, the customer will decimate us!