The New Role of Omnichannel Associates

Watch “The New Role of Omnichannel Associates” webinar moderated by Joe Keenan, Total Retail’s Executive Editor. Hear from Kiehl’s Retail Director, Jason Steiner and Salesfloor’s CEO, Oscar Sachs. Kiehl’s Retail Director, Jason Steiner, shares how they redefined clienteling with new store associate tools to help increase online conversions and drive traffic back to the stores. Salesfloor CEO, Oscar Sachs, provides best practices and insights from leading retailers who are empowering store associates with new clienteling tools.


3 Ways Omnichannel has Changed Clienteling

With 73% of consumers now shopping both online and in-store, retailers are on the move to adapt. Enter the omnichannel approach: an integrated shopping experience that allows customers to shop however they like, whether they buy in-store, online, or both simultaneously. The media strategy has brought new possibilities to clienteling by changing the way people shop and how businesses interact with them.

Simply put, omnichannel marketing is improving relationships with customers dramatically, and here’s how:

#1. It brings customers back to you

Over the past five years, foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores has declined, yet the value spent on each visit has nearly tripled.

Why? Google estimates omnichannel is to blame.

Shoppers are increasingly researching products, ideas, and availability online before heading over to their local store, but it doesn’t stop there—82% of smartphone users say they consult their phones on potential purchases while they browse in-store as well. According to the Harvard Business Review, this studying pays off: shoppers who conducted prior research on retailers’ sites spent 13% more in-store than those who did not.

Providing an omnichannel shopping experience not only adapts retailers to modern purchasing behavior, it also builds customer loyalty. Offering online shopper incentives such as in-store only coupons and free shipping on their orders if sent to their local store gives them options for how to proceed with their purchase and makes the brand more accessible to them.

Digital channels that feature live chat messaging applications with retail associates can especially be used to inspire customers to visit local retailers and experience their customer service first-hand. More importantly, retailers can use this virtual interface to engage with their customers online with the same level of service that they would otherwise have in store.

#2. It puts the customer first

Omnichannel considers the customer experience from their perspective, and in that, convenience is key. Customers now expect brands to be relevant, accessible, and easy to navigate no matter what or how many channels they use. In fact, according to Google, 60 percent of online customers begin shopping on one device and continue on another.

With an omnichannel interface, interactions both online and offline allow shoppers to identify themselves, access their personal shopping history and preferences, and pick up their shopping journey from wherever they left off—whether they continue shopping online or in-store. This cross-platform access gives the buyer total control over their shopping process and ensures that their experience is seamless from start to finish.

By recognizing the value of personalization, the omnichannel approach allows customers to build a relationship with brands at their own pace—anytime, anywhere—and that reliability shapes clienteling.

#3. Data is now a give-and-take

When customers take advantage of the user data saved by omnichannel interfaces, they provide retailers with their own data—behavioral data, such as when they visit the site or store, what products they’ve viewed, and which shopping channels they’ve used. Even clickable products can send in clienteling if monitored by the right omnichannel application. Predictive analytical tools can then use this data to determine which customers are more likely to use discounts, free shipping, or other offers, and then make those deals available to them.

This omnichannel marketing approach makes clienteling easier than ever; it stiffs full-blast email ads by opting for a more successful one-on-one approach that promotes specific offers based on individual shoppers’ needs. Bottom line: This data provided by customers is invaluable for retailers seeking to build a long-term relationship with their clientele.

Does your retail business have an omnichannel platform yet? Getting started now will help adapt your clienteling for the modern world. Check out Think with Google or Salesfloor for apps, articles, and tools to set up your own omnichannel experience.

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6 Lessons We Can Learn from Sephora

[title image from Flickr]

Sephora is now the #1 specialty beauty retailer in the world, and it’s all due to how they’re different from your mom’s makeup buying experience. Sephora’s success shows that when you let customers create a shopping experience that works for them, it also works for you. Here’s how you can do the same:

1. Build the in-store experience they desire

When you walk into a back-lit, booming Sephora store, you feel more than welcomed, you feel empowered. Sephora’s approach to merchandising has contributed immensely to their success as they identified all the hurdles of purchasing makeup and promptly tossed them out the door.

Sephora knows that customers are exhausted by the grab-bag quality of pharmacy makeup aisles and the competitive product-pushing found in traditional department stores. The Sephora alternative offers a more accessible shopping experience that’s designed to be low-pressure. Retail assistants are taught to refrain from the hard sell that department stores rely on and instead work with each customer holistically to find the products that match them best while stepping back as needed. This gives Sephora customers the power to choose both their products and their service; they have the freedom to explore the store as they would a pharmacy without sacrificing department store-quality brands, tutorials, and assistance.

2. Offer a personalized approach

Customers are increasingly demanding customization as part of their shopping experience—especially if they’re shelling out for luxuries like makeup. Whether it’s primer for oily skin or moisturizer for dry, Sephora recognizes that their customers require a unique and personalized approach, and they offer this through in-store swatch samplings and makeup demonstrations that allow shoppers to test different brands to be sure they’re buying the right product at the right place.

But Sephora doesn’t stop there: their personalized shopping experience extends to the web, which has been a major key to their success in keeping customers loyal to their brand.

3. Reward loyalty

While baby boomers tend to be brand-loyal, the growing millennial market is more cost-conscious and would rather selectively pick and choose across brands so long as they fit their budget. So how do you get them to be loyal to your business? Give them the most bang for their buck: a loyalty program that rewards them and caters to their needs.

One of Sephora’s secret weapons is its VIB loyalty program, which grants members free gifts, in-store event offers, and discounts after their purchases. What makes VIB so dangerously effective is that it also requests that its members fill out their profile with information regarding their complexion, skin type, and other preferences. Sephora then analyzes this data to create a curated set of product recommendations that suit their specific needs.

The strategy is meant to digitalize the personalized, in-store shopping experience that customers have upon walking into their local brick-and-mortar.

“[We] figured out early on that if we were to get the basics right, we should ask the questions as if we were standing in the store,” Bridget Dolan, VP of Interactive Media at Sephora, shares with Forbes. “What skin type do you have? …If she tells us that she has dry skin then the product that she’s going to receive in an email will have that attribute.”

Evidently, all that tailoring works—Dolan says that a whopping 80 percent of Sephora’s transactions now run through VIB and that clearly, “It’s a win-win.” [Source]

4. Think mobile and digital first

Much of Sephora’s success is due its digital customer experience, which is interactive, multipurpose, and totally on-point. Nearly half of Sephora’s digital traffic is through its mobile interface [source], which features almost all the accoutrements of its desktop site, including a user-friendly layout that conveniently highlights all product news on the front page.

But Sephora didn’t just build their website around their customers’ desire to shop—it also accommodates their pressing need to ensure quality before they buy. This is why is revolutionary for providing sections for user-generated content such as BeautyTalk, a forum for casual customers and experts alike to discuss products, and the Beauty Board, a space for customers to post pictures of how their Sephora-bought cosmetics fare out in the real world.

5. Collaborate with the culture

If your customers aren’t already shopping through your website, they’re still likely to research your products online. Beauty bloggers on YouTube and Instagram are gradually replacing counter clerks in educating consumers on the best makeup brands and application lessons. Sephora embraced this culture by partnering with such key influencers, and their collaboration has indirectly increased the brand’s engagement with all other consumers online.

The reason why is simple: word-of-mouth continues to be the best way to market, and these big-name beauty bloggers are trusted by even the most discerning customers. Bloggers will speak plainly when they feel a product is expensive or reliable, and because customers crave this authenticity, they’re more likely to follow their advice than that of expert cosmeticians. Sephora now owes a great deal of its brand awareness to these bloggers who preach the quality of their products; their promotion has helped increase traffic to Sephora’s online storefront and cultivate a positive reputation on social media.

Speaking of social media…

6. Be truly social

Customers hate feeling that they’re speaking to a marketing department; they want brands with an online presence that’s personified, humorous, conversational. This is why being interactive with consumers via social media is crucial in giving them the experience that they want.

Along with actively liking, commenting, and responding to customers’ posts, Sephora frequently uses their Instagram to share looks posted by their fans. The prestige that comes along with this promotion has since encouraged thousands of users to tag #Sephora in their posts for a chance to be featured on their page. It’s Sephora’s sincere, mutually beneficial, give-and-take relationship here that keeps their customers engaged and their social media truly social.


Combining the best of both in-store and online shopping is what makes Sephora shine in the industry. The beauty brand knows that digitalizing the in-store experience is the new market tactic, but it’s no secret—and it’s applicable to all retailers.

Want to bring your customer service to the mobile world, too? It’s easier than you think! Get started now with a retail app that works for you.

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Creating a Customer Community for your Brand

Some of the most coveted brands in the world all have one thing in common: they have active, dedicated communities that help spread the word about the brand in an organic, authentic way. Lesser brands try to chase this success by trying to find shortcuts to building community, and they often fail. Just like in friendship or love, you can’t use gimmicks to force your relationship to grow.

So, how do brands go about moving from a transaction to building and supporting customer communities? Well, just like in interpersonal relationships, the best way to get them started and help them grow is to be helpful and offer the other person something they need without asking for anything in return.

Let’s look at how some famous brands have created and maintain great communities.

#1. Offer Free Workshops

It seems counter-intuitive to have a store dedicated to one specialty and then assume the person shopping there has no knowledge or understanding of your specialty, but that’s exactly what the Home Depot has done. The Home Depot were early adopters of workshops in their stores, teaching people everything from how to make a birdhouse to how to replace a toilet. Even children can learn DIY basics in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. Why is this important? People visiting hardware stores have a wide variety of skill levels, but everyone can learn. Learning the latest methods for completing projects makes a customer feel confident, and more ready to tackle the project at hand (and come back to the store to purchase what they need to complete the project.) Some of these customers will be “bitten by the bug” and let their desire to learn guide them back to the store with higher frequency.

#2. Create a Place to Gather


If you’ve ever been to the Apple Store, you understand why Apple waited so long to get their retail experience just right. On any given day, if you visit an Apple store, you will see a high percentage of customers visiting just to hang out. Visit Frank & Oak’s bricks and mortar stores on any given day and you’ll hear the whoosh of a Cappuccino machine and smell old fashioned shaving lather at their dedicated cafe and barber shop. Giving customers reasons to drop in and experience your brand when they’re not looking to make a purchase helps keep your brand top-of-mind. Giving customers a place they can invite friends to visit helps spread positive brand association and build new customer relationships organically.

#3. Help Your Customers Find Customers

Everyone probably has a pair of Lululemon yoga pants at home, but there are some people for whom Lululemon’s athletic wear is part of their vocation. Lululemon realized early on one of the secrets to getting their brand to grow was to provide special services to those in Yoga and other athletic instruction trades. Lululemon’s Ambassador program is a massive endeavour- they partner with hundreds of instructors and athletes, providing them with free gear and promotion, while working with these athletes on hosting free events, from Yoga classes to run clubs. Instructors get exposure to pre-qualified customers who are interested in learning more about a sport, and in turn add clients to their rosters. Lululemon is able to build and galvanize their reputation as *the* athletic outfitter by associating with the best instructors and athletes.

#4. Connect Your Customers Through their Passions

Make up has always been a word-of-mouth business. It’s the reason that the same 3 dollar tube of mascara (Maybelline Great Lash) has been the top seller for decades and why Kiehl’s has been around since 1851 (long before advertising). When make-up wearers and artists find something they like, they are vocal about it. Make up is also the type of purchase that is expensive enough that if you have an adverse experience with it, you’ll want to warn others not to try it. Enter Sephora’s Community Page. This page is for everyone – from the novice to professional make-up artistc- to share tips, tricks, product recommendations, suggestions for dealing with specific issues (covering a birthmark for a graduation photo, etc) to learning how to correctly cover a pimple or under eye circles. Makeup is a personal thing, and people feel more comfortable making purchases once they have some authoritative advice on which product to buy and how to use it. This helps Sephora sell more products, and keep people happier with the purchases they choose.

#5. Create a Platform for Your Customers to Share

Youth fashion brands survive on one thing alone: being cool. ASOS saw the success of hashtags like #OOTD (Outfit of the day) and realized that if they could encourage their own customers to use a hashtag like that, they could show people how people from all over the world were styling and accessorizing their products. ASOS created #AsSeenOnMe.  Visiting this page on the Asos website is like visiting a store with an impossibly cool friend. All the looks suddenly seem achievable. You can get a sense of how to replicate a look, or even build a similar look for yourself with similar ideas. For ASOS, it’s a chance to see fandom in action, but also get a deeper understanding of what their customers like, want, and how they use their products, enabling ASOS to get better at building their lines every year.


Community is increasingly important to brands to help keep customers thinking about your brand even when they don’t need to make immediate purchases. The keys major brands have used to build communities can all be implemented by smaller or medium sized brands. All you need to do is think about what your customer needs, and you have the building blocks for a great community.


5 Ways to Take Customer Experience to the Next Level

We live in a world of convenience, where almost anything is available at the click of a button. We’ve gotten so used to this behavior, in fact, that we often forget that when it comes to things that require human interaction, like selling on a retail floor, there’s no button. This sounds discouraging until you realize that this presents a huge opportunity for retailers to understand, anticipate and delight customers just by paying attention to their needs.

While for some, price will always be King, for most shoppers, finding retailers they can trust, and revisit is incredibly important. According to a 2015 survey, trust in retailers was more important to respondents than price. Customers know what their time is worth, and time not wasted on bad experiences is worth the extra price. The experience, to them,  is worth the investment.

Providing excellent customer experiences is easier than you think to implement. You don’t need gimmicks- you don’t need to put out cupcakes or do expensive giveaways. You just need to look at the retail experience from the position of the customer.  Think about the last time you had a great retail experience. You probably remember something about the salesperson you dealt with-  Now think about the last time you had a TERRIBLE experience. The deficits in the bad experience were probably down to a few things: Feeling like your needs weren’t being heard, salesperson indifference, or inexperience on the part of the salesperson. Most problems stem from these areas. Here’s how to make sure your company rises above the rest.

1. Anticipate your customer’s needs

In all good relationships, observing the preferences of another person and proactively catering to those preferences is a powerful thing. Imagine while talking with your customer, you find out that he has a daughter who is turning 14. Make a note to call him when prom is coming up…make him a hero! Does a customer come in with their dog all the time? Write down the dog’s name and have a few treats or a toy for them the next time they visit.

There are already tools that help associates keep track of a customer’s purchase history and help them to follow up directly from their own mobile devices.

2. Keep track of your customer’s favorite things

Observation is key. Is your customer drawn to certain designers, shapes, cuts? Make note of them in the aforementioned tools. Have they ever come back in the store wearing an item they bought? Make note of it. Understanding the cues customers give you and acting on them- by suggesting items that fit their preferences shows you’re thoughtful and can solve their problems. The last time your customer was in the store, she mentioned her weakness for yellow accessories and you just got a pair of yellow boots. Drop her a note with a picture.

3. Notify your customer when something they’ve been eyeing goes on sale

We have all been there- you’re shopping for something you like, but you’re on your way to dinner so you think you’ll pick it up later, and you eventually forget. Consider the power of proactively making note of customers’ “cart abandons-“ items they seemed to like but had to leave. He came in and tried on that leather jacket that just went on sale this month…and you still have his size. He’ll be surprised when you send him a note  offering to put it aside. A sale at a lower price is still a sale and that thoughtfulness is another way to reinforce your relationship with that client

4. Give your customers a jump on the new releases

You only need to look at the news when a new mobile phone is launched to understand the power of being the first to get something exclusive. Building your relationship with high value customers means delivering on perks. You know this is going to be the hot toy or a must-have coat for this holiday season, so let your best customers know and get a jump on it. Treat the experience like you would treat giving a “just-because” gift for your close friends. They will love you for it.

5. Remember their past purchases

Hair stylists and bartenders who are great at their jobs excel at this. Understanding what your customers like and dislike is key to strengthening the relationship. Last season, your customer bought those white palazzo pants you recommended and the same brand has just released patterned crop tops that would go perfectly. Send her a message to let her know.

BONUS: Help them be a hero

Not all purchases are made for one’s self. Listening to customers talk about people they purchase for, and asking follow up questions can help put you in a position for being a “gift fairy” of sorts for them. If you can help select the perfect gift for their loved ones, you can cement your position with them as being a go-to for gift advice because you solve an important problem for them. If they mention their husband is hard to buy for and needs a new coat, you can be the one who finds the perfect coat and proactively sends the info to them, saving the day for the husband’s birthday.

The keys to great customer care are the same as they keys to any good relationship: Listen, observe, and offer consideration and help when it’s most needed.


How Retailers are Harnessing Data to Increase Sales and Make Happy Customers

Data data data. Seems like everywhere you turn these days, it’s being thrown around as the answer to all of your woes, but when you dig deeper, it’s impossible to figure out how to leverage it to solve anything.

Most retailers these days don’t have a problem with data – they have plenty of it! With more and more technology, we have data about our supply chain, sales numbers, customer preferences, and much, much more. The problem is how do we harness this data to make meaningful changes in our customers’ lives?

We think about that a lot, too, so we’ve put together five examples of retailers that are harnessing customer data to increase sales and create happy customers.

#1. Improve Merchandising – Modcloth

If you aren’t familiar with Modcloth, it is an indie fashion site, carrying a mixture of vintage and vintage-inspired fashion. Or, at least until it was recently acquired by and Walmart, it was.

Either way, it has a strong community of users that buy up their new arrivals faster than they can post them. The reason that they have this level of commitment and success is due to their incredible openness to customer input in their merchandising program.

Up until the recent acquisition, they had a feature called “Be the Buyer” on their site that invited their customers to vote on the items that were to be added to the store:

This popular feature worked two-fold: they were able to improve their merchandising as well as sell products before they even hit the site. Those that voted on items would be notified when they were available in the store.

#2. Leverage Your Customer’s Passions – Sephora

Reviews and star ratings on a website are quite often more confusing than helpful, but Sephora is a retailer who has learned to leverage the right kinds of reviews to tip confused customers in the right direction.

I’ve often looked at a lip color online and wondered how it would look on me – with my fair skin and hair. Enter Sephora’s Beauty Board, where tens of thousands of customers have uploaded themselves wearing various lipsticks, eyeshadows, blushes and more:

#3. Guide and Empower – Harry Rosen

Some sales are lost because the customer is just plain overwhelmed with choice or an inability to do something as simple as putting an outfit together. Harry Rosen solves this by connecting their online customers to in-store advisors through Salesfloor Connect™. This allows them to increase customer engagement by integrating their own links, buttons, banners or other call-to-actions within product pages as they look native to the site (as seen below). Recent results showed that service requests by customers increased by up to 50% after retailers integrated Salesfloor Connect directly within site pages.

This means that a customer who comes to the site and feels a little lost can reach out to their closest associate. They can start a conversation, search for an advisor and explore their profiles to see one whose style suggestions match their tastes, and get the help they need to make the right decision.

They can even request an appointment to go into the store to get full-service help and reserve products in-store with click and collect. This has been a successful strategy for Harry Rosen. All in all, the in-store sales impact of associates serving the online customer is that for every $10 sold online by associates leveraging Salesfloor, $4 in sales was driven in-store..

#4. Uncover the Latest Trends – Saks Fifth Avenue

For customers who are more about browsing and discovering hot new items, data is useful for this, too. Another Salesfloor customer, Saks Fifth Avenue, is using an associate Storefront, which gives them access to the newly released Most Recommended feature to further customize recommendations to their clients.

How it works is that the Salesfloor’s Associate Data Cloud pulls in data from activities across all stores in the network and displays to shoppers what the most recommended products are that day. Displayed in order by the number of recommendations, the section is automatically populated with the product name, image and price and updated daily. When a shopper clicks on the image, they are navigated to the product detail page on the retailer’s website. The shopper can then continue to shop with their associate as the footer is accessible across the site. They can also live chat or send an email at any time.

[according to these recommendations, it must be Spring dress shopping time!]

What this means is that the customer will get recommended the hottest new items fresh every day. If you are a customer who loves to discover the latest greatest, this use of data will definitely excite you.

#5. Predict Their Next Move – Target

Though the media has made it seem like a bit of a boogeyman to customers, predictive analytics is more useful than nefarious. Almost everyone is familiar with the story of how a father found out his daughter was pregnant through Target’s predictive algorithm (this may or may not have been a viral hoax), illustrating how far predictive analytics has come. Though you never want to move into creepy territory, understanding what your customers are buying and mapping buying patterns in general may help you to better serve your customer’s needs.

If someone buys a bathing suit in winter, you can probably infer that they are planning a warm vacation. It makes sense to follow up that purchase with other items frequently purchased for a winter getaway. If someone starts looking at maternity clothes, it’s pretty safe to say they’ll need baby items in 6 months or so.

As long as you don’t push your boundaries too far – like sending a congratulations note – your customers will feel better served.

These are just a few examples of retailers using data to make happier customers and, ultimately, drive more sales. If you have any other examples to share, let us know.

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5 Ways to Stop Showrooming in its Tracks

It seems like every day, there is more news about the demise of retail stores in America. Some of America’s stalwarts are faltering under what’s being dubbed the Retail Apocalypse. JC Penney, Sears, and Kmart are all companies closing more than 40 stores each in the coming year. Traditional wisdom held that there would always be room for the big players, but these numbers tell a different story.

What’s at the heart of the shrink? A number of factors, including online ordering, reduction of sales floor staff at locations, leading to customer dissatisfaction and a phenomena which 10 years ago changed the electronics and tech retail space: Showrooming.

Showrooming is when a customer interested in buying a product visits a store to interact with the product, ask questions and decide between available models with the express purpose of going home and purchasing the exact product online for a cheaper price.

10 Years ago, you could witness this happening at most electronics stores, but with the expansion of SKUs available online and increasingly attractive delivery options, like same-day delivery in major markets, it’s becoming easier than ever for people to get any item they want delivered, which has led to an expansion of this showrooming behavior.  

Is there a proven way to combat showrooming?

There’s no magic bullet to stop showrooming, but companies that have managed to slow and stop it altogether share at least one of these five approaches:

#1. Acknowledge It Directly (and non-defensively)

Just recently, I was standing in front of a shelf full of printers at Staples with my iPhone out, scrolling through reviews to get more information to help me make a decision. The prices that were coming up on Amazon and other sites were slightly more competitive, but it was the next action that drove me to buy in-store that day.

The sales associate in the printer department, who had noticed me checking my phone against the various printers walked up and said, “If you find a price online that beats ours, let me know and I’ll match it.” And then he added, “And if you are still having a tough time deciding, let me know what you are looking for and I’ll help walk you through your options.”

Honestly, the online reviews weren’t making my decision any easier, so I took him up on his offer. He skillfully walked me through the various options – naming off the pros and cons of each printer. In the end, I picked out a much more expensive model than I planned to buy because of price to quality and he made good on his promise to match the price to Amazon as well as gave me the Costco-bundled rate for extra printer cartridges.

However, because of his non-defensive approach, I would have gladly spent the extra $40 I saved that day. Sales Associates who approach customers checking their phones for reviews and price matching in a non-defensive way open up the opportunity to make the sale on the spot.

#2. Make it Personal

Think about the local butcher shop. Their business isn’t about beating a large grocery store on the price of chicken breasts, it’s about building relationships. The local butcher will ask you questions about your meal plans, and steer you in the right direction, let you know what cuts you might want to try, and even give you tips on how to cook items if you’re looking to try something new.

That’s the way you should look at and approach your business. If you position yourself as a friend with good advice to give, and you manage those relationships every time you deal with a customer, you will bypass their desire to shop around, and they are more likely to shop with you, because you’ve made them feel confident about their decision.

Looking back at my interaction with the sales associate at Staples, this same rule applies. He helped me feel more confident about my decision. Personal touch and human interaction are two things a person pushing a “Buy Now” button can’t get. These are your strategic advantages.

#3. Give Them A Good Excuse To Follow Up With You

There will always be times when you can’t make a sale in the moment, but good sales teams and owners understand how they can still win the day. If you have a rapport going with the customer, find ways you can still accommodate their request.

If you are out of stock in the item they want, offer to call them when it comes in. If you can’t beat a price in the moment on an item, see if they would be interested in being contacted when that item goes on sale. The Salesfloor app makes this incredibly simple for the sales associate to set up instantly:

If someone isn’t in urgent need, and you’ve spent the time interacting with them already, then you should have built trust enough to get their contact information and service the client when they’re not even there. This is a small effort for you that could build strong relationships and lead to future return sales.

#4. Follow Up. Make Good On Your Promise.

It goes without saying that if you take a customer’s contact information, you have to follow through on what you promised: updating them on the status of their request even if the update is bad news. Building rapport is one thing. Building trust is a bigger, better thing.

If you build trust with a customer, they might shop with you or send other people to you because of their connection to you and not for any other factors. That’s important, because there is no digital equivalent of having a person’s trust and delivering consistently excellent customer care.

#5. Anticipate Their Future Needs

Finally, what better way to stop showrooming than catching your customers BEFORE they even head to the store?

The skillful associates at the Saks Fifth Avenue makeup counter have a knack for knowing when I’m about to run out of my favorite products every month and send me a helpful email, letting me know that they can either set aside the products for me to pick up or help me with an online order. This ensures that I don’t even think of walking into another department store or do a search online for the products.

By anticipating your customer’s needs, you can get ahead of their showrooming and make them feel taken care of.

Showrooming will never end as long as there are consumers who are motivated solely on price. However, you can combat showrooming effectively by embracing this lesson: deliver a human experience that caters to the specific needs of each client.

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Creating an Endless Aisle for Your Brick and Mortar Store

My veterinarian has a tiny showroom area with barely enough room for more than a couple of patients to wait for their appointments, let alone hold shelves filled with products. I, like many pet owners, rely on specialty food for our furry friends that we can only buy at the vet clinic, so it was becoming a real hassle to arrive for our appointment and be told they are out of the product we need. Even calling ahead didn’t always guarantee they would have the items I needed in stock, which would lead to me having to drive halfway around the city to find that special brand that my (fussy) pup loves.

Busy waiting rooms are common at small clinics. There is just no room for excess merchandise.

But in the past year, my vet came up with a great solution to extend their physical space and make it even more convenient for me to spend money on high-end pet food: they found a virtual pet food supplier to create an endless aisle. From the comfort of my home, I can order my dog’s food, treats and accessories easily through a storefront branded for my vet clinic, and if I happen to be at my vet’s and they are out of the products, they just enter my order into their system and it arrives on my doorstep a day later.

Even better, my vet has the record of what I’ve ordered on my file, so if my dog runs into problems, they know what they’ve tried and can suggest something new.

Lots of retailers, even beyond vets, are now transitioning to having zero inventory and putting excess inventory in an online shop to create an endless aisle for their customers. With an endless aisle, the customer can make individual purchases or set up regular deliveries for food and personal care items on a cadence that works for their lifestyle. Knowing you can get what you want without having to consciously remember every month to make a purchase is a convenience that most shoppers crave and in some cases are happy to pay a premium for.

For retailers, the gains from offering an Endless aisle are obvious and immediate: for every customer you sign on for a subscription to products, the more passive income you can count on every month when looking at your sales targets. The more customers who receive their goods regularly and frictionlessly will feed into your intake funnel through referrals, organically adding to your bottom line.

There’s another reason to offer an endless aisle, which is the same reason grocers have gum near the point of sale: impulse items. In setting up your subscription service, you’ll look at a wide selection of items and might decide to add a few smaller things. Your cart might be nearing the magical number to receive free shipping, so you add some items you know you will need in future just to escape the shipping charge.

Just because consumers have set up a frictionless delivery schedule doesn’t mean you can’t expect an increase in these impulse purchases. Every time someone greets the delivery person at the door or sees the box on their doorstep, your brand has made a touch with them. They will momentarily think about your brand. If your brand hasn’t considered creating an endless aisle, now might be the time to, as the benefits are numerous.

The Endless Aisle can also help you capture shoppers who forgot to complete a transaction in store, but still have a need. Often, these customers are lost to competing companies closer to where that customer lives, works, or is already running errands. Knowing they can visit your store in a convenient way on their own schedule keeps them loyal to you, and physically out of competitors’ stores.

Online shopping isn’t your competition, it’s your store extension

You may not know this, but Salesfloor can help your company set up an Endless Aisle easily. Customers can log on, shop, even receive shopping advice, customized offers and receive the kind of care they would be used to in store, all from within the site. Once they’ve completed their purchase or set up their delivery schedule, you can gain insights into what they’re looking at and how regularly they are using your services.

Understanding how often customers purchase is as important as understanding what they are most likely to purchase. Customers will often walk away if they are feeling upsold in a store, but if you are walking them through their purchases and helping them at the exact time they have a need, they are less likely to shop elsewhere and more likely to recommend you to friends and family.

People like to recommend brands that solve a problem for them without them having to invest a lot of time and energy on research or comparison. Your integrated sales team, combines with analytics and purchase cadence knowledge is an unbeatable combination that could help you acquire customers, keep customers, and develop customer evangelists, the holy grail for retailers.

The advantages of the Endless Aisle are too numerous for retailers to ignore, just like the siren call of a store that customers trust, with excellent sales help, available at their convenience is nearly impossible to ignore. Even people who love to shop have items they simply hate or resent having to shop for, not to mention how busy everyone seems these days.

If you’re continuously solving problems for customers, leaving them with positive experiences, you’ve set up one of the most powerful marketing systems in the world: word of mouth referral. The combination of word of mouth referral with subscription based deliveries could transform your bottom line.

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How to Compete With Amazon

Most people who shop online have bought something from Amazon. It’s a site that has everything from Oprah’s favorite books to canisters of elemental metals. If you can’t find it there, the legend goes, you probably can’t buy it online.

Yet, many in-person retailers continue to thrive. How do they do it? It really comes down to the reasons people shop, or seek out shopping experiences. So here are five keys to competing with your brick and mortar store against the behemoth that is Amazon.

#1. Have Knowledgeable, Well-Trained Associates


When you click on an Amazon item, there is a limited amount of information available to you. There are often only one or two images available, but  the images are not in situ, meaning you can’t get a sense of scale of an item next to something like a floor lamp or a coffee table. This has resulted in people purchasing items like a toy tent instead of a tent that fits adults. You can’t tell the quality of construction of an item by a description of an item. You can only make a guess as to whether an item or its competitor is more suited to your needs, or more durable. Sure, there are comments on items, but comments can be useless, as people use them to air unrelated grievances. Knowledgeable staff can give concrete answers and advice.

Only sales staff know that item A has been returned more often than item B. Investing in experienced staff and training them can make a world of difference to customers, and they will return.

#2. Create an In-Store Experience


Amazon can do a lot of things, but it can’t give you a hand massage, or show you how to accessorize an outfit. It also can’t invite a string quartet to play or have an author read their book to you in person.

In-store experiences are impossible to replicate digitally. Connecting people in a shared environment is the killer advantage of the bricks and mortar experience. Stores that put this at the forefront of their marketing efforts succeed where others don’t. Think about ways that will entice customers to make the effort to see you.

#3. Accentuate Your Physical Advantage


There’s a reason people don’t buy cars or bathing suits much online: you have to be in them to know whether you’d want to spend an afternoon in one. Bricks and Mortar stores still have a huge advantage when it comes to the shopping experience: experiential learning. Customers being able to interact with any item in the store is one of the main reasons it’s impossible to get near an Apple Store any day of the week.

Think about ways you can make your in-store experience more tactile and experiential. Consider having samples of your materials available for people to touch and interact with. Train staff on explaining how jeans are made while they demonstrate stitching on a pair of pants.

#4. Offer Pick-Up In-Store


In retail, it’s important to reward those who are brand loyal and want to shop with you but have specific needs. One of those needs is often the desire to pick up a specific order and not have to search the store or wonder if it’s in stock in their size. This is where pick-up in-store solves a key gap in the shopping ecosystem. Sometimes, a store location is near their work or home, and picking up an item in-store is easier for them than worrying whether the postal worker or UPS person will drop their item off on time, or send their package to a depot.

Pick-up in-store offers customers peace of mind: their items are waiting for them, without hassle, and often incorporating any promotions that are offered online.

This would be a good time to tell you about the Salesfloor Click & Collect feature coming in the near future. 😉  With this feature, customers can request a product from a local store and once an associate confirms it is ready, the customer can visit the store for purchase.

#5. Offer Real, Not Automated Recommendations


Amazon’s recommendation engine is a great example of computer intelligence not approaching human intelligence. If you’ve ever bought a romance novel for your aunt, a wrench, and a printer in the same month from Amazon, you’ve seen the strange phenomenon of wild recommendations. Amazon can only predict which items are similar to items you’ve bought or items that people have bought most often together. It cannot approach the level of knowledge a brand and sales associate combination can provide.

Only a real person, armed with their own experiences, training, and data about the customer (the Salesfloor app helps augment this) can tell you that if you liked this cardigan, the V-neck that is in the same knit is also right for you. Amazon simply can’t replicate it.

There are so many reasons why an in-store shopping experience is better for customers than sitting on a couch attempting to navigate an endless set of options. The most important thing to focus on is the customer’s overall experience. Thing sensually- appealing to the senses is the easiest way to differentiate yourself from Amazon.

AdobeStock 104447564

Retail Associates Through the Decades

If you’ve ever seen the television show Mr Selfridge you know that retail used to be an entirely different business than it is today. Harry Selfridge was seen as a vulgarian when he decided to open a retail store in London and allow buyers to see the goods before they were prepared to make a purchase.

Selfridge caused a retail revolution by understanding customer behavior. He allowed the goods to be put on display and also trained his retail staff on the art of finding the suitable item for any given buyer, thus beginning the first true democratization of the retail experience.

[Wikicommons: Selfridges in the 1920’s]

While the idea of keeping goods under a table is ludicrous to us today, we’ve seen an equally large shift in how retail works and the role of the sales associate. Since then much has changed, and only companies that can see which way the business is going will be able to thrive in the future.

But as much that has changed since the early 1900’s, the pace of change has only accelerated in the last 30 years – especially in the role of the sales associate.

The 80’s: Retail Companies Go From Monolith to Personal

[image: Michael Galinsky/Steidl/ from his book Malls Across America]

The 1980s were about conspicuous spending and cachet but also focused a lot on the large, department store experience. A good example of this is how many movies in the 1980s involved large department stores.

[Film still from Valley Girls]

Going to a place like Macy’s was seen as a way to get a lot of shopping done at once. Customers put trust into large department stores. Even if an item could be purchased cheaper across town, you were already at the department store, so you were more likely to make the purchase. People used to buy televisions and computers at Sears.

There was another strategic advantage for a customer in the Department Store experience: consistency. You could feel safe knowing that the sales staff were all trained the same way, and were all able to deliver a specific kind of customer care. This was comforting to the person making several medium and large purchases.

The 1980s were part of the era of the Monolith in retail. Employees were given specific instructions on how to dress, down to the type of hosiery and jewelry in some cases, and how to wear their hair and makeup. Training was administered according to one prototype. There wasn’t much room for improvisation. Keeping the standard was important. Sometimes, this came at the detriment to the customer. It was seen as the best way to communicate the brand at the point of sale.

It largely worked. It wasn’t until more competition entered markets and stores specializing in one type of good (for instance electronics, cosmetic, or shoe retailers) began to challenge the authority of Department Stores that we began to see a loosening of the rules.

Department stores had to adapt to the “eager specialist” model from the “monolith” model it had been employing.

Department stores began to ramp up loyalty programs, and engage more with customers in a service model that was more focused on the customer’s wants than how the monolith could fit into the customer’s stated need. More choices were made available across departments at this time in order to further suit customers that didn’t fit a certain box. It was the beginning of the larger trend of personalization in retail.

The 90’s: Stores Move From Approachable to On Demand

The 1990s were the last great heyday of the mall experience. Before e-commerce changed the game for consumers, the mall was still the place where most people went when they needed to shop.

The era ushered in a lot of very specific types of stores: No longer were there “teen clothing stores” there were now “teen pajama and underwear stores.”  There were stores dedicated to movie posters. There were stores that only sold various products to scent your home.

On the other side of this was the rise of the specialized Box Store. The idea behind this concept was to provide a seemingly limitless supply of options to a customer for whatever need in a specific vertical (Office supplies, Housewares, Home Improvement, for instance.)

Both of these approaches served the same trend: being an exhaustive, on-demand place to serve customers’ needs. Yes, the candle store wasn’t going to be able to capture sales away from the stationary store that also sold candles, but it was the only place you could get that one kind of French candle, so it captured a certain kind of clientele. The specialty box store was able to scoop up customers who weren’t happy with the selection of 3 doorknobs at their local hardware store by supplying 30 options, and while you were there, you might be enticed to get some paint, caulk, and lighting fixtures.

Sales associates were encouraged to look and be themselves more in these environments. Often there were core pieces of a “uniform” but hair, makeup, and other items were left up to the associate. In box stores, associates were often encouraged to personalize smocks or aprons that were parts of their uniforms.

[Just some of the creative ways uniforms are personalized at the specialty box stores]

Sales associates also had to have an exhaustive amount of knowledge about hundreds of SKUs to hold up the brand promise that their store was the only place to go to get exactly what the customer really needed. They were the font of product knowledge and people often revisited specific sales associates they had good relationships with on subsequent visits.

These stores succeeded by providing the most tempting array of options for consumers to choose from, and gave them empowerment in knowing they could choose from 30 items and not just the 3 they were accustomed to. The 1990s began the era of on-demand retail.

The 00’s: Retailers Transition From “Available to Answer” to Proactive

[gif: Mean Girls 2004]

In the 2000s, commerce began to hit its stride. Now, customers were able to get ratings and reviews on products right on the page they could purchase the product from. There were entire sites devoted to just reviewing retail purchases that shoppers could visit to arm themselves with information. If a certain type of vacuum tended to fail at 6 months, you could find that out within seconds of looking at it online.

Price comparison also became an obsession for consumers. If you can spend 10 minutes of your time instead of hours in a car to find a retailer that could save you hundreds on major purchases, why wouldn’t you?

[Elvert Barnes – 08.Downtown2.WDC.11dec05 on Flickr]

The challenge for bricks and mortar stores and their online counterparts became how to be proactive toward consumers to get them to spend money in their stores instead of at a random online retailer?

The answer was two-fold: Become proactive, and deliver on trust. Retailers put money and effort into making their stores more welcoming. They put sales associates into the aisles to proactively talk to customers and provide product knowledge, and made sales associates on demand (Lowe’s famously had ‘doorbells’ in their aisles to summon sales associates) The Apple Store took this one step further by putting sales associates on the floor to encourage customers to play with their product offerings while they explained the benefits and comparison between models in a proactive, but non intrusive way.

The era of “me retail,” (retail centered around the individual) began to take shape. In-store, customers were encouraged at the point of sale to sign up for newsletters that would gain more and more intelligence as they were deployed, allowing retailers to customize these touches and bring more customers in-store.

Companies like Target used their loyalty programs to proactively suggest items in their customized newsletters to customers in order to increase purchase frequency at point of sale. Customers got used to receiving tailored offers.  

What’s Next

Tailored offers have their limits. If you shop for gifts on Amazon, and then log back in, you can see the suggested “items for you” are not “for you” as much as “similar to things you just bought for your uncle.” There are limits to what you can do with data outside of a human touch.

“The next great leap in retail will be in-store clienteling.”

That’s why companies like Salesfloor are investing in what we call in-store clienteling. The evolving role of an associate is an empowered associate, no longer limited to sell and connect with customers in-store. They can connect with their customers online, via email, over chat and through social media any time of the day or day of the week. In addition to this, associates now have a lot of data about customers they can leverage, coupled with point of sale data that show trends like “customers who bought A will be happy with B” or “customers who buy C will return in a month to buy D” but data is nothing without insights to go with it.

Customer preferences and behaviors aren’t generally as cut and dried as we’d like them to be. A person might be primed for a sale based on data, but when they enter a store, they might not be in the right frame of mind, or may regret a “reckless” purchase later, and return it. The beauty of in-store clienteling is that it allows the associate to reconnect with the customer when the timing is better. If the customer isn’t in the buying mood in-store today, they can come back to the interaction a few days later online via the associate or local store’s Salesfoor storefront via URL given to the customer to ‘think about it’.

All of this points at the future of the sales associate being a combination of sales, stylist AND therapist.

[retail therapy is totally a thing…in more ways than one]

Retail is a living, breathing industry and it will always need to reinvent itself to meet the needs of the customer. The ability to marry good data with highly trained people poses the best possible future for retail success.