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Confessions of a retail associate: Focus on the floor

What you need to relieve inventory discrepancies 

Store associates are invaluable and underutilized resources when it comes to retail strategy. They are on the floor day in and day out, executing operations and seeing firsthand what works and what doesn’t. They have a finger on the pulse of the customer experience, and hear and see everything from inventory shortages to skepticism on associate product knowledge.

We sat down with seasoned retail associates to get an inside scoop of current obstacles in the retail experience. The following stories take a deeper look into three real world examples of how inventory issues disrupt the customer experience, and how to combat them.

Associate product knowledge should be ready and apparent

I work in a beauty and cosmetics store in Los Angeles. I always greet customers when they walk in and see if there is any help I can offer them. Recently a customer walked in, said she didn’t need any help and started to browse. About 5 minutes later, I noticed she was juggling several different products, comparing the labels, and returning them to the shelf only to pick them up a few moments later. When I offered my assistance again, she was still hesitant to accept, even though it was clear she wasn’t sure of her purchase decision. 

83% of shoppers believe they know more than the associate. Which is understandable given that a customer can pull out their phone and look up product information, ingredients, and reviews. Associates need to be able to match this level of expertise and then some, they need to be seen as trusted advisors, rather than salespeople. 

Only when customers can actually see your depth of knowledge, are they able to fully trust you. Product knowledge is invaluable. Saying “this is nice you should get it” isn’t enough. Associates need the ability to tell a story on why that product is the best one for your personal needs, and to create and deliver a brand experience that supports the merchandise. 

In-store inventory should be visible outside the stockroom

I work in a large, 2-level luxury store in New York City. The upper floor is our stock room, where all the extra merchandise stays until it’s purchased. The bottom floor is where the magic happens, where I get to make sales. Having a large store is great for accommodating many customers, but running up and down 2 flights of stairs to check sizes and availability is exhausting. Leaving the customer hurts the momentum of the sale. In the 5-10 minutes it takes to run up, check for a certain size or color, and run back down the customer could get tired and leave, or be scooped up by another associate. 

Especially in luxury stores, where the bulk of the merchandise is not on the floor, the customer experience can become very disjointed since the relationship building is disrupted. Leaving a customer to wait while you check inventory is never ideal, especially as it consumes a lot of time.

Customers who are just popping in to grab a tried and true favorite item spend on average only 13 seconds locating and selecting it for purchase. So, they don’t want to spend extra time waiting on their associate to return with answers or merchandise. Associates need to be equipped to check store inventory and call on the correct items to be brought out to the customer without ever leaving their side to create a consistent and personal experience.

Omnichannel inventory should be accessible to in-store associates

I work in a luxury boutique in a department store in Toronto. One day, at the end of my shift a customer came in looking for a cashmere scarf. She had been to numerous other boutiques throughout the day and couldn’t find what she was looking for. Browsing our store, she found the perfect baby blue cashmere scarf, and the last one at that. As I went to ring through the scarf, I noticed there was a snag in the cashmere. At that moment, I knew in good conscience I couldn’t sell a damaged item for nearly $2,000. She left the store without the scarf, and with no other way to make a sale, we both felt defeated.

With modern supply chain issues, every item won’t always be available to show or sell in store. Retailers lose $9B-$17B of revenue annually to inventory issues. Having omnichannel visibility to merchandise helps associates save the sale. Being able to identify which locations have the right item in stock, gives the customer the option to pick it up same-day. 

When associates recommend alternatives to out-of-stock items, customers may need more time to think. Being able to send a link to the customer’s mobile device ensures there is no pressure to buy on the spot, while the associate can still get credit for their influence on the sale. Associates need to have the ability to drive sales, even in an inventory deficit.

See how Tulip’s SaaS checkout and fulfillment solutions help world-class brands evolve as quickly as customers’ shopping habits by breaking down barriers between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar. 

Contact us to see how you can transform your stores today!

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