Selling From Home: Rethinking Sales Associates’ Roles in Light of COVID-19
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has caused retailers to rethink and shift their now tighter marketing budgets. Weary of investing in digital advertising and marketing that cannot be clearly measured, retailers are moving away from big branding initiatives that don't yield direct results in favor of performance techniques that directly translate to sales.
Beyond marketing spend, the pandemic has accelerated a massive change throughout the retail and e-commerce landscape toward digital transformation. While brick-and-mortar retail may never be the same, there are hidden opportunities retailers can tap into to enhance their e-commerce strategy. Consumers are smart; they’re looking to buy from people, not ads. And the answer lies in digital ambassadors.
The Impact on Retailers’ Digital Transformation
Looking back to just six months ago, few customers would believe that an in-store experience could be replicated online. And even if it could, how would retailers go about it? But with retail sales seeing a 21.6 percent decline over the past year, new solutions are necessary — and customers and retailers alike are turning to e-commerce. Online shopping has always been primarily seen as a source of convenience for consumers, and for most retailers a secondary channel to brick-and-mortar. Yet now shopping online is a necessity for safety and a key way for retailers to conduct touchless transactions.
With no certainty of when the shopping experience will return to “normal,” brands must continue to consider new digital initiatives to ensure future success. The need for shopping hasn't disappeared, but the traditional experience has, rapidly accelerating the digital transformation in retail. The burning need to go all-in on digital is causing retail brands to evaluate and rethink their e-commerce strategies, which may have been a slow-moving initiative in the past.
Let’s think of the retail space like the ocean — there’s a lot of players in the sea. Large advertising companies like Google and Facebook will sell advertisers fish, but by enabling ambassadors with the right technology, retailers can learn how to fish and gain a consistent stream of conversions and new, loyal customers.
Shifting to Targeted Performance Metrics
Under a microscope with tightened budgets, chief marketing officers can no longer afford to risk ad dollars on unsuccessful engagements or those that can’t prove return on investment. Marketing spend should translate into real sales, but oftentimes direct conversions are difficult to prove. Marketers are now taking fine-tooth combs to their marketing plans and evaluating how to shift to performance-based strategies that provide direct results. Traditional allowances for big branding initiatives are being moved to the back burner as marketers and retailers alike search for tangible solutions to compensate for the loss of physical engagement. As retailers begin looking for performance-based solutions, they must not overlook a valuable asset — sales associates.
Empowering your sales associates to connect with customers digitally and become authentic extensions of the brand can fuel future digital transformations beyond the limitation of a physical store while increasing e-commerce sales and providing consumers with a positive experience. Consumers are no longer walking through brick-and-mortar doors, therefore, sales associates must start reaching them where they are — through their screens. Enabling sales associates to reach consumers online is a direct, measurable channel for retailers that can move the needle in increasing sales, but also create better digital consumer journeys.
Implementing New Technology
Physical retailers had begun efforts to replicate in-store customer experiences online long before COVID-19. But now, it's a bleeding need for brands to show up and outshine competitors when it comes to reaching customers online in authentic ways. One of the biggest challenges is the ability to communicate with customers directly outside of written advertisements or generic videos. As brands enhance online presence, adoption of emerging technologies will become more widespread.
Luckily, the industry has seen many advancements and rapid technological movement across retail environments. Brands are tapping into tools from shoppable video at scale, to 3D object rendering for product visualization, and even augmented reality (AR) and customized video for clothing try-ons. Visualization is yet another tactic for brands to enhance digital experiences and augment online sales teams. For example, Smashbox, a leading cosmetics company, recently partnered with AR platform Camera IQ to connect with customers across social and video chat platforms.
Arming online brand ambassadors and sales associates with visually appealing and engaging tools enables online sales teams to connect with customers in more meaningful ways. The technology also provides customers with a quality shopping experience that they were once able to get in-store but are now seeking online.
What We've Learned
Retail brands are known for their products, but are remembered for their customer service. When brick-and-mortar stores are closed or customers prefer to shop from home, the shopping experience and a brand’s success is solely based on digital presence. During and long beyond COVID-19, an engaging digital journey equipped with knowledgeable sales associates will continue to be a catalyst in creating and maintaining personalized connections with consumers outside of stores.
Allon Caidar is the CEO and co-founder of TVPage, the influencer video commerce platform.
Related story: What Growing Digital Ad Spending Means for E-Commerce