(Article originally featured in: Multichannel Merchant)
The holiday season is arguably the busiest time of year for retailers – both in store and online. Last year, holiday sales grew to more than $626 billion, and it’s predicted to increase again in 2016. Retailers have a unique opportunity to capture new sales and customer loyalty during the holidays and sales associates are the key to achieving this success.
Sales associates have a great impact on customer relationships and help form their overall perceptions of the retailer’s brand. Eighty-seven percent of shoppers are more likely to buy an item recommended from a sales associate and 73 percent said that sales associates who remember their personal preferences impact how much they buy.
With the level of influence sales associates have on today’s omnichannel shopper, how can retailers offer their online customers the same experience and benefits that they get from an associate in-store this holiday season?
1. Integrate sales associates into the online customer experience
Retailers should help current customers avoid the in-store shopping rush and provide them with ways to be served online by their favorite associates the same as they would in stores. The holidays are hectic for most, and associates should help alleviate this by offering clients a way to see personalized sales associate recommendations for holiday gifts, new arrivals in-store and suggested looks to wear for the holidays all online.
There is an abundance of new technologies available to retailers that allow shoppers to connect with associates online, ask questions on products and have the convenience of personal associate interaction without visiting a store. Technology platforms like Salesfloor, for example, help associates create their own online Storefronts where customers can connect to service and shop online. Instead of navigating crowds in store and tracking down an expert sales associate, shoppers instead can visit the online site on their own time and leverage messaging services to immediately access a local sales associate who can recommend products, answer questions and, most importantly, sell at any time.
2. Empower associates to engage with customers in advance of store visits
Retailers who wait for shoppers to come in store to find out what they’re looking for and then provide service are missing a critical initial engagement opportunity. Stores are already extremely busy during the holiday season – this Black Friday, in-store foot traffic increased almost 65 percent – making it difficult for associates to service each shopper to the best of their ability.
Instead, retailers should empower associates to send shoppers personalized email messages about gift ideas, deals, the latest trends and more, based on that shopper’s specific preferences. Creating a promotional calendar is a great way for associates to execute various online promotional campaigns throughout the holiday season, which increases engagement even before shoppers step in store. This not only helps customers with their shopping decisions, but it also allows associates to understand their shoppers better, including what they’re looking for. There is new outbound clienteling technology now available that professionally displays retailer branded emails, social posts and text messages, with full-size images of products that customers can click on and easily purchase online.
3. Connect anonymous online shoppers with local stores and associates
There are many first-time shoppers researching and purchasing gifts during the holidays. According to a study, 77 percent of consumers shop with stores or websites during the holidays that they don’t usually. This gives retailers a chance to create relationships with new customers and drive traffic to their stores by introducing them to their local associates via their national website.
Retailers can embed technology onto their sites that allows shoppers to message their local store in real time or send a request to receive product recommendations or book an in-store appointment with a local associate. This means shoppers don’t have to worry about wandering around the store looking for service during the busiest shopping period of the year. This aspect of localizing online shopping helps create more personal connections between shoppers and associates, giving them a reason to come in store.
This holiday season, retailers need to ensure they’re using their sales associates effectively – both in store and online – to drive sales and provide a superior customer experience. Giving sales associates the support and technology they need to succeed and empowering them to find creative ways to sell and service customers is critical for a successful holiday season.
By Oscar Sachs, co-founder and CEO at Salesfloor