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Equipping associates as digital guides through a channel-less shopping experience

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In today’s channel-less world, store associates often need to multitask through a laundry list of demands. Customers expect ecommerce-like efficiency and access in-store as well as 1-on-1 attention and responsiveness online. But regardless of tenure, skill, or expertise, store associates are still humans, not robots, and are subject to burnout, personal concerns, and lapses in memory.

So, what do associates need to guide their customers through the buying process? 

#1 – Intuitive technology to get them up to speed quickly 

New associates need to become brand experts across channels almost instantly, but there aren’t always enough resources available to help train them. The number one sales training technique relies on immersion right off the bat. This immersion can be achieved using super intuitive technology that most associates already have experience with. iPhones and iPads provide one of the best examples of this. Most users can pick up how to use them almost immediately, marking a stark contrast from traditional retail systems that require the memorization of a manual of keys and codes. The technology facilitates realistic, hands-on experience for new hires as soon as they walk in the door and ensures a quick learning curve as well as ongoing, uniform execution across an entire brand.

#2 – Instant access to full inventory and detailed product descriptions

With the retail industry trending more and more channelless, it is becoming increasingly necessary for employees to branch outside of the four walls of their store to grow sales and expertise. Associates need to be able to access detailed product information from anywhere in the store—without having to memorize it—so they can answer customer questions about what it’s made of, where it came from, and what other colors and sizes are available. Beyond that, associates also need to be able to sell products even if they aren’t in stock right now. Think about how associates at the Apple Store work 1-on-1 with customers and ship products straight to their house. This is now becoming the norm. By giving associates access to inventory online and at other locations, they can overcome a major barrier to making sales.

#3 – A simple way to connect with customers online 

E-commerce used to be thought of as a separate experience, but connecting online shoppers with in-store associates improves outcomes for both. A web page often isn’t enough to make purchase decisions. By making associates available to consult in real time, customers can get the guidance they need and associates can cast a much wider net to grow their sales. According to Gartner, live chat is the most preferred service channel for 18-49 year old shoppers. Top retailers are going a step further and equipping their associates with multiple ways to connect with virtual shoppers, including video chat for more involved or nuanced requests and social messaging (like WhatsApp and WeChat) for a more integrated and ongoing dialogue. 

#4 – Customer profiles for contextual store experiences and proactive outreach

Even when shopping in-store, the modern shopper has come to expect an ecommerce-like experience. While it’s simple for a site to track (and use) details about purchase history or preferences, it’s a lot harder in store–but no less important. Customers want answers to questions, like “What size did I buy last year?” and “Which do you think will go best in my living room?”.  Even the best associates can’t keep track of everything, especially with customers moving between channels and locations. In order to guide customers, associates need a consistent and simple way to access detailed profile information about what customers say, how they shop, and the products they like. Tailoring a personalized experience to each customer helps to build the relationship between the customer and the brand and also ensures a unified experience every time. 

#5 – Automated task lists for consistency and simplicity 

Automation when dealing with customers is often frowned upon because of the generalized, robotic-sounding output. However, the real value of automation is in surfacing and streamlining tasks, outreach, action items–not in actually completing them. Associates are important because they offer a personal touch. But when used properly, automation can actually be the key to create personal experiences and interactions, consistently and at scale. To be true digital guides, associates need automatic prompts that tell them who to follow up with, what messages to send out, and what tasks need to be completed. This way, associates can stay focused on the actual touchpoint (not remembering to do it).  

#6 – Real time performance information  

Employees want to be able to provide value, see their impact, and have defined pathways for success. Nearly half of employees state that career development and success are very important to their job satisfaction. Associates need to be able to see how they’re doing in real-time. In the past it might have been reasonable for associates to wait until the end of the day (or even the end of the week) to see how they performed. Today, having up-to-the minute performance information is almost a requirement, with forward thinking retailers putting predictive insights into the associates’ hands so that they know in advance if they’re slated to hit their numbers and get offered on-the-spot training and advice for how to improve if not. 

Putting it all together 

The retail landscape is changing drastically and quickly, and there is an increasing need for multi-faceted associates to help guide customers in their shopping experience. These changes, in combination with reality checks the pandemic inspired, require businesses to keep up with the times. That means bringing digital transformation to the business and equipping associates to be successful digital guides through the brand. The care and feeding of the employees is just as important as that of the customers, so it is vital to the success of the business to ensure they are set from day one and through their entire lifecycle, in order to retain them. 

Download the full whitepaper here to learn more about creating successful employees and other tools on how to navigate the current labor shortage.

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