Article originally featured in: Multichannel Merchant
In an increasingly competitive shopping landscape, brick & mortar retailers have a unique opportunity to leverage an advantage that none of their web only competitors have; their store associates. Retail associates are the driving force behind the in-store experience and the personalized service shoppers need to not only make purchases, but also become repeat, loyal shoppers.
While all retailers acknowledge the power of their people when it comes to their brick-and-mortar locations, they’ve practically ignored their most important asset when it comes to online shopping. Who better to personalize the online experience and serve the online customer than the associates that do it everyday in-store? Although sales associates are what should connect the in-store experience seamlessly to a premium web experience, they have been excluded from serving the online customer.
This doesn’t make sense, especially considering the numbers. It’s shown that store associates are the best converting channel, with 20 to 40 percent conversion rates on average. Online is a retailer’s biggest traffic channel, converting at 1 percent on average. So why aren’t retailers combining these two to get the best of both worlds?
The role of a store associate should be to serve their local online customers just as much as their in-store customers. These omnichannel associates can provide online shoppers with a much better experience and can bring retailers the following three benefits:
Delivering personalized service to the online experience
Currently, shopping online is a very impersonal experience. Shoppers are left to sort through hundreds of product pages and have limited expert guidance. They only have customer reviews and vague product detail blurbs to rely on when making a purchase decision. This lends to a poor customer experience that causes shoppers to ultimately make their purchase on whichever site they can find the product on for the cheapest. Little to no service online has a major impact on conversions and average sale value.
Bringing sales associates online to help shoppers on their path to purchase creates a more compelling customer experience. Instead of asking for help from the traditional customer call-center, shoppers can get product recommendations and expert advice from real associates, from local stores. By connecting store associates to customers online, retailers close the gap between their web and store experience.
Building relationships with customers at scale
When it comes to developing relationships between shoppers and retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are second to none. In-store sales associates are already trained to foster a connection, provide expert advice and create a superior experience that will turn the shopper into a repeat customer. When it comes to online, it’s more challenging to sustain these relationships. Currently, the only personal interaction online shoppers have with the retailer is when they call someone in the support call center. Even then, this isn’t a true relationship between the customer and the retailer, and the call center agent isn’t a person the customer can visit in store the next day.
By providing store associates with their own personalized versions of the retailer’s e-commerce site, retailers can create a new place for customers to shop online with local associates even after customers have left the physical store. What’s more, they’ll be able to create similar relationships with the millions of online shoppers who maybe have never set foot into their store – opening up a new customer base by increasing contact acquisitions. This means the associates are no longer limited to their physical sales floor or to having the customer in the store. They can sell anytime, anywhere, because associates can market directly to specific shoppers and transact online 24/7.
Retaining top talent and evolving the role of today’s associate
It’s not just customers that benefit from retailers integrating in-store sales associates online. Retailers, themselves, benefit immensely, as well. By giving their associates the opportunity to broaden their customer contacts and sell in a way never before seen, retailers are redefining the traditional role of an in-store retail sales associate. They make selling more interesting and exciting by giving associates more potential to make an impact on the business.
Additionally, retailers who are able to do this successfully will be seen as innovators in their space. The skill sets of today’s generation rely on texting, instantaneous communication and the integration of the internet in all facets of their everyday lives. By bringing these skills to life in sales associates’ everyday job roles, retailers are setting up their employees for success and giving them the power to leverage what they know best in order to drive the most sales they possibly can and create meaningful relationships with their customers.
It’s clear that the most effective way to connect with web customers is to bring store associates online so that they can serve customers with their expert advice and personalized product recommendations. Empowering the associate to provide real personalized service online allows them to grow their relationships and make an impact on the business online and in-store.