The Great Digital Divide Between Consumers and Store Associates
In today’s hypercompetitive retail environment, there’s mounting pressure for retailers to leverage their brick-and-mortar presence as a competitive advantage. This reality arguably makes the store associate the most important asset retailers have. Associates can provide the personal service that differentiates their shopping experience from their competitors, including online pure-play retailers. In fact, store associates that effectively engage shoppers can build important relationships with customers and ultimately drive brand loyalty.
Yet, traditionally these front-line workers are underserved, neglected and not part of strategic technology investments. Stuck with a cash register, stationary point-of-sale app and a paper black book, the majority of associates aren’t mobile-enabled, not as informed and not ready for today’s savvy customer. At Tulip Retail, we call this the great “digital divide.”
To better understand consumer in-store shopping experiences, more specifically their experiences with store associates, Tulip recently surveyed over 1,000 consumers. We came away with a startling finding: 83 percent of shoppers believe they’re more knowledgeable than retail store associates. How disheartening it must be for an employee to interact with customers and add very little value to their visit. How demotivating it must be for an associate to ask a store visitor the simple question, “Can I help you?” and not be able to help the customer in the way they expect to be helped. And how frustrating for customers that are left without direction.
These issues must be addressed by retailers, and our survey reinforces that opportunity. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents say knowledgeable store associates are “important” or “very important,” proving that retailers must invest in their associates and satisfy consumer expectations.
In fact, today’s best-in-class retailers are already addressing the “knowledge gap” and the “digital divide” between consumers and workers through mobile devices and apps designed to provide associates everything they need to better in-store shopping — e.g., product information, inventory status, customer information, order status, sales guidance and personalized recommendations. Best-in-class mobile apps also include tools to improve store employees’ effectiveness and efficiency, including self-paced training, black book management, task management, time card management, scheduling, automated follow-ups, appointments and mobile checkout.
There’s no doubt that the information-rich and convenient online shopping experience that consumers are used to has set the expectation bar very high. However, retailers can meet this bar using the right mobility technology, innovative software solutions, change management and business transformation directives. In fact, the survey showed promising progress — 72 percent of consumers that dealt with a store associate who used a mobile device to provide things like product info, credit card checkout and inventory lookup said it resulted in a much better shopping experience.
Bottom line, if you put the right tools and information in the hands of your front-line employees, they will enhance the shopping experience, meet customers’ expectations and differentiate the brand. It’s that simple. Progressive retailers like Apple, Home Depot and Bonobos have proven that providing their store associates with mobile devices and applications for assisted selling, checkout, clienteling, training and collaboration helps them sell better, sell more and build relationships with their customers.
The good news for retailers is that knowledgeable store associates are valued by consumers, and those empowered with mobile technology are delivering better shopping experiences. With the right mobile tools, associates can become beacons of knowledge, trusted advisors and drive sales. They can engage customers with confidence, assist them, delight them and have them leave the store satisfied and happier than when they arrived. The “digital divide” can be eliminated.
Bill Zujewski is executive vice president of marketing for Tulip Retail, an iOS mobile platform built exclusively for next generation retail store associates to offer a world-class omnichannel experience.