Mobile-Empowered Sales Associates Key to Competing With E-Commerce Titans

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As seen on TotalRetail.

Increasing innovation in technology means more disruption, and the retail industry isn’t immune. With the online pure-plays continually cutting into the market once dominated by brick-and-mortar, retailers need to come up with new strategies and tactics to compete. One not-so-obvious answer may be to leverage one of the their most unique assets — store associates.

According to a new survey conducted by Tulip, a mobile platform provider that empowers store associates, providing front-line workers with mobile devices like iPhones and iPads helps them drive greater sales and positively impacts the shopping experience for customers. The data showed that 39 percent of the associates were using a mobile device to help them do their job in a variety of ways. For example, 71 percent access product catalog and product information, 35 percent stay in touch with customers through email and text messages, and 24 percent use mobile devices to collaborate with co-workers.

More importantly, the survey showed that associates that used a mobile device believe mobile apps providing access to the product catalog and clienteling tools help drive business results. Forty-three percent believed the mobile tools saved a potential lost sale, 61 percent saved a customer time, and 66 percent said it improved the customer shopping experience.

These promising results illustrate that a mobile-empowered sales staff could be the key to physical retailers staying relevant and differentiated. Ironically, our survey results show that 61 percent of sales associates still don’t have access to a mobile device in-store. In addition, 51 percent of respondents did say they resort to using their own mobile device to access information. However, this is leading to “rogue clienteling” where the retailer has no visibility into employee activity.

For retailers that issued mobile devices to store associates there were still shortcomings. Tulip found that nearly a third of associates don’t have the ability to look up store inventory in real time, and 40 percent can only look up inventory that’s currently in stock in their physical retail location. This diminishes the associate’s ability to better serve customers. It also highlights the missed opportunity to order in-store to save sales on out-of-stock items.

The survey also polled associates about their use of mobile devices to interact with customers once they leave the store. Only 17 percent said they were interacting with customers and expanding the relationship outside of the four walls of their store. A simple email or text message can update the customer on an order status, notify them about the availability of something previously out of stock, or be used to simply check in on satisfaction. This is another opportunity missed by retailers to improve service and help build better customer relationships.

Although most stores aren’t taking advantage of employee mobility, the use of mobile-assist devices is accelerating. We know shoppers want the in-store experience to rival the convenient, informative and individualized engagement they get online. Yet the majority of store associates still don’t have access to information and tools to rival online experiences.

The good news for the industry is that this is changing. Most retailers are aware of the benefits of mobile-empowered front-line workers, and it appears it’s just a matter of when they start rolling out mobile devices to support their sales staff, not if. Stores are accelerating their digital transformation of the in-store experience, and their associates are now at the heart of it.

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