New Study Names Favorite Retailers, Shows Impact of Associate Engagement
If you were to Google "hot topics in retail," you’d get a long list of articles outlining how to engage customers with mobile optimization, social media, omnichannel, loyalty programs and the Internet of Things. While no one disputes these are very important aspects of today’s retail businesses, a recent study from Market Force Information reminds us that increased sales are also driven by engagement of another kind … associate engagement.
The annual study ranks top fashion retailers, reveals retail technology trends, and provides insights into consumer spending intentions and habits. Market Force Information conducted the study online in December 2016 among a pool of 10,714 respondents, of which three-quarters were women.
The study revealed relatively strong consumer confidence — 40 percent of respondents believe the economy will strengthen in the next year, 28 percent believe it will remain static and 31 percent believe it will weaken. Additionally, 81 percent of consumers expect to spend the same amount or more on apparel and footwear this year compared to last.
Nordstrom Named Favorite for Fifth Year in a Row
Respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with their most recent fashion retailer shopping experience and their likelihood to refer the brand to others. The results were averaged and the retailers were ranked on a Composite Loyalty Index. For the fifth year in a row, Nordstrom, well known for its exceptional customer service, ranked as the nation’s favorite fashion retailer. Dillard’s made large gains to rank second, and T.J. Maxx moved up into third place. Tied for fourth place were Ann Taylor, Kohl’s and Nordstrom Rack.
Nordstrom, Dillard’s and Ann Taylor performed especially well in the attributes that are shown to set retailers apart. Nordstrom ranked first for value, atmosphere and ease of finding items, while Dillard’s scored highest for creating a look and the ability to find correct sizes. Ann Taylor ranked in the top three in all of these categories. T.J. Maxx and Ross tied for first in merchandise selection, and American Eagle won for quick checkout speeds.
Shoppers Flocking to Physical Stores
As Amazon.com and other e-tailers are coming to realize, brick-and-mortar stores are still extremely relevant. Consumers are actually visiting them more frequently than they’re going online. Forty-two percent of consumers said they had visited their favorite retailer’s website in the past three months, and 68 percent made a purchase. On the flip side, the study found 80 percent of respondents had shopped at one of their favorite retailers’ physical stores at least once in the past 90 days, and over half shopped in-store at least three times in that period.
Associates Ring Up Sales
Sales associates are the front-line representatives for retailers, and how they engage with consumers can make or break the shopping experience and impact sales. Market Force’s research shows that 90 percent of customers who were assisted by a sales associate bought something, but when customers weren't assisted, only 82 percent made a purchase. That 8 percent difference in conversion rate is a key reason why fashion retailers need to invest in their sales staffs. Some unsettling news? Just 42 percent of consumers said they were assisted by an associate during their last shopping experience.
Brands such as Nordstrom have built a reputation for outstanding customer service, and that bears out in the study. Satisfaction rates were highest for Nordstrom’s sales associates, and shoppers said that Lane Bryant’s and Nordstrom’s associates assisted them most often.
So what does it take to be a favorite retailer? Google will tell you it’s a high tech world out there, and it’s not wrong. However, based on this research, don’t underestimate the power of associate engagement to drive brand loyalty and in-store sales.
Kelly Massey is vice president, strategic relationships at Market Force Information, a provider of location-level customer experience management solutions.