The Post-Pandemic Retail Sales Associate
“May I help you?”
It’s a phrase uttered by thousands of retail store associates every day. But as post-pandemic in-store shopping picks up, the greeting has become an anachronism. Customers expect personalized interactions and meaningful experiences during their in-store visits, a responsibility that largely falls on the shoulders of retail associates. Today’s physical-store shoppers are often stepping outside their comfort zone, and many are reticent to return to stores for reasons related to convenience and health concerns, so they expect to be rewarded with an exceptional level of customer service.
A 2021 Zendesk trends report shows that 80% of customers will leave after more than one disappointing service experience. The post-pandemic retail associate can not only make or break a sale, but they are also the retail operational linchpins who can cultivate shopper loyalty or provoke a negative online review.
These expansive demands call upon retail associates to up their game. And many have. Enlightened retailers have transformed the role of retail associates into on-the-ground brand ambassadors and product experts. Empower associates to deliver an optimal customer experience and you’ll have happy customers and a happier workplace, too.
If you can answer “yes” to these four questions, your retail associates are on the right track to meet customer expectations and become sales superheroes.
>> Are your associates properly onboarded and trained in all aspects of the job?
Retailing is admittedly in a state of flux. The associates you hire must be ready to adapt to change. But before stepping onto the sales floor, they need a clear understanding of their tasks, their objectives, and how their duties relate to the operation of the store as a whole.
Since many customers come into the store after extensive research, associates must know everything they can about your product line or brand. A Bluecore study shows that 74% of retail customers are one-and-done buyers. Converting even a small percentage of these to repeat customers can significantly improve revenues. In contrast, according to research for RetailEXPO, 64% of shoppers say that knowledgeable sales associates make them more likely to visit a physical store, and 75% are likely to spend more after receiving high-quality service from staff in-store.
Onboarding should also thoroughly familiarize associates with the tools and technologies that support customer connectivity. Ongoing training, even a few minutes a day, can cover data necessary to make human interactions more effective and efficient and ultimately to improve customer satisfaction and sales. Digital training apps are available that can make training fun and accessible for new hires.
>> Are your associates ready to help build your brand?
The ideal post-pandemic retail associate has a long list of responsibilities that extend far beyond the routine tasks of receiving and shelving merchandise, keeping the store clean, and guiding customers to product departments. They represent and reflect your store, your company, and your brand, and this makes them essential players in strengthening your brand’s reputation and enhancing the customer’s brand experience.
To assure they are comfortable in the role of brand champion, make sure every one of your retail associates…
… understands and has a passion for your brand and its distinctive features
… knows your corporate or product “story”
… can articulate your brand’s differentiating factors in a way that resonates with customers.
For instance, if social consciousness is a part of your story, associates can play it up. Your beliefs and values count with both associates and customers.
Are your products made with recycled materials? Do you donate a portion of profits to a charitable cause? Consumers have shown a desire to interact with such brands. According to a 2021 Stifel report, 71% of U.S. adults ages 18 to 55 care more about product sustainability than they did a year ago. Similarly, in a study by Compose[d] and MaCher, 84% of adults say it’s important to buy sustainable products, and nearly 90% believe companies should look for ways to make their products or services more sustainable.
Of course, sharing stories is a two-way street. Encourage associates to take note of customer interests, shopping habits, and product interactions. This is the kind of consumer research you can’t get any other way. Says Sucharita Mulpuru, senior analyst with Forrester Research, “From a market research standpoint, [a store] pays for itself. The amount of market research you gain just by observing people, it’s the equivalent of 100 focus groups.”
>> Are your associates equipped with the right digital tools?
Omnichannel retail has morphed into a unified whole. It’s all just retail, now. However the customer chooses to take their buyer’s journey, and whether a purchase ends up being online or in the store, associates must respect the choice and support it when and where it makes sense to the buyer.
Research from Suzy™ reveals that 70% of consumers expect a retailer to offer them the same level of personal service whether they are shopping in a physical store, online, or on their mobile device.
As they welcome customers into the store, associates can be more productive when they are digitally enabled. This could mean arming associates with iPads and smartphones that have mobile apps and other software that puts product details, inventory status, and prior customer purchasing history at their fingertips. In a 2021 survey by YOOBIC, 76% of frontline workers said they would feel more connected if they could access company communications on a mobile device.
Both digital-only and in-store-only shopping have limitations, but a fruitful in-person conversation can complement digitalized data, expediting the customer’s purchase decision. A retail associate who is well-versed in a product category and knows the customer’s product preferences can suggest solutions that are of greater value to the customer and more closely match their true needs compared to the limitations of online browsing.
Taken to another level, retail associates are well-positioned to provide live chat and video support to remote customers. Answering specific product and availability questions, suggesting related products, conveying a brand’s advantages in response to a customer’s nuanced requirements, and clarifying pickup and delivery options can easily lead a customer to make a purchase or compel them to explore product options by coming into the store.
>> Are your associates able to easily engage on a human scale?
Customer centricity is a concept that often entails complex processes to implement digitally, but it can instantly come to life with in-person interactions. This is the chance for your associates’ communication abilities to shine!
Retail associates can make shopping easier and more pleasurable. And that takes more than a friendly smile. It takes someone with the guts to start a conversation. Sales associates should also have a genuine interest in people and concern for the customer as an individual. A welcoming greeting starts things off, followed by inquiring as to the customer’s needs, both for now and for the future. The retail associates must be sensitive to the customer’s verbal and physical cues as to whether they want to be left alone to browse or would benefit from help finding a particular item with certain features.
The associate who is authentic, who can listen and build rapport, will often spot opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling and the customer will be more receptive to their recommendations. The result? The customer has renewed confidence in their buying decision, is more satisfied, and has the potential to increase retail revenues.
Ultimately, your associates are responsible for delighting customers with an easy, pleasurable store visit that will assure they return. An article by Kearney puts it this way: “In light of all that has happened, we see a surprising key to brick-and-mortar’s resumed success. Joy. Going forward, successful brick-and-mortar retail will need to deliver a distinctly positive human experience, one that lifts people out of their gloom. And joy is the most uplifting experience you can offer.”
Could your brand use a little more joy to boost sales and revenues? Bring it on with MarketSource. LET’S TALK>>