The Untapped Opportunity That COVID-19 Created for Store Associates
The retail landscape looks completely different today compared to the beginning of 2020. COVID-19 has caused stores to shut down and employees to be furloughed. Retailers were already challenged before the pandemic began, and now many consumers are wary of returning to stores. Furthermore, social distancing regulations limit the number of people allowed in a store at the same time. This results in less opportunities for consumers to interact with brand and store associates.
However, sharp declines in store traffic have also presented new opportunities for store associates. Technology is helping them bridge the online-offline service gap in a whole new way with clienteling. While there may be less customers than usual in stores, there are more customers shopping online than ever before. Associates working in-store or remotely are now providing online shoppers with personalized services and experiences, similar to what we would expect from shopping in a store.
Virtual Associates Are Meeting Customers Online as They Browse
Customers shopping online are looking to be served in a personalized way while they browse. In fact, Salesfloor’s data shows a 3x increase in customer engagement online since the beginning of the pandemic, and retailers are seeing up to a 700 percent lift in sales attributed to clienteling.
Retailers that are using clienteling solutions leverage their associates as virtual product experts or stylists that can assist customers on their site, offer fit and style recommendations, and answer specific questions. This makes the online shopping experience feel less about just making an e-commerce purchase, and more like the in-store experience where they’re browsing and shopping.
Giving consumers the ability to initiate digital conversations with an associate from a local store empowers them to control when, where and how they interact with the brand. They get a more fulfilling shopping experience when they can connect with an associate from their local store, request an appointment, initiate a video chat or live chat, or interact via email or text message. Retailers are able to capture valuable customer data with each request, while associates build relationships and earn credit for online sales.
Store Associates Are Nurturing Customer Relationships Online
Clienteling isn’t just a digitized list of customers; it’s about the opportunities and actions that are recommended to associates based on shopping data in their “black book.” It involves giving store associates access to information on customer profiles and detailed purchase history, combined with the right mix of intelligent tools that facilitate two-way interactions online. Associates are able to easily toggle between preferred communication methods (e.g., email, text messaging, video, chat, etc.) to provide personalized service to their customers before, during and after a sale. They can even create their own storefront pages where customers can shop top recommended items and access shopping services easily.
Clienteling also allows the conversation between customer and associate to continue after the customer has left the store. A customer that was served by a specific associate in-store will likely prefer to connect with that same, familiar associate during their next interaction. Clienteling helps these customers find that store associate again and continue building the relationship online.
Retailers Are Embracing Technology to Help Associates Sell to Customers in the 'New Normal'
Stores are expected to have lower traffic because of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. Opportunities to interact with customers in-store are decreasing, and retailers are searching for ways to optimize their digital sales channels.
Retailers have an opportunity to leverage technology to help associates bridge the gap between online and offline. They will embrace digital tools that help associates capture more customers online, maximize omnichannel sales, and create loyal customers by forming one-to-one relationships.
Customers are also looking for ways to connect with their local store and favorite associates safely. They'll opt for digital channels and be more likely to use appointment scheduling tools, whether the appointment is online, over video chat or in-store.
The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty in retail, but it has also made something abundantly clear: as more consumers are shopping online, there's a real opportunity for store associates to bring their vast skill sets, including product knowledge, personalized recommendations, and customer-centric mind-sets, to the digital world. Retail is evolving, and the store associate has an important role to play in the future of shopping.
Oscar Sachs is the CEO of Salesfloor, a clienteling and mobile point-of-sale platform for store associates.
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