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Tech Guest Viewpoint: Adaption Critical to Retailers in Digital Age


In this ever-changing, fast-paced world, it is no wonder that retail businesses must adapt to how consumers shop. With smartphones, online shopping and detailed comparison sites, shoppers are now more informed than ever about what they want. This evolution has impacted the role that retailers play in assisting consumers in their shopping experiences.

Today, the evolution and diffusion of technology allows shoppers to search for product information and gain increased knowledge before they even walk into a store. Thus, the retailer may no longer be the most educated person to talk to when shopping for a new car, laptop or dress. Customers now have access to an infinite amount of information at the touch of their fingertips.

This begs the question: Is an in-store salesperson or retailer necessary in today’s digital age?

Although shoppers are using social media and Web recommendations to search for products, there is still a role for salespeople in the retail environment. For example, while shoppers may have greater access to information than they’ve once had, that does not necessarily mean they have access to accurate information, or won’t require human assistance in-store.

Recent retail research about the global omnichannel consumer suggests the Internet has changed the way we do business and how consumers view and treat retailers, yet the retailer’s job is more important than ever.

In fact, research shows that retailers who are able to customize the informal needs to each shopper are more effective than those who present the same information to all buyers. Adaptive selling, or the change in selling techniques to fit the specific needs of an individual based on what they may or may not already know, offers retailers the opportunity to truly offer a customized shopping experience.

So, the question shouldn’t be if a retailer is necessary in today’s digital age. Instead, we should be asking: How can we better train today’s retailers to succeed in the evolving industry?

The first step is to gauge how much interaction retailers will need to have with consumers based on how much they think consumers already know.

A salesperson can no longer use the same sales approach and presentation with every customer. Instead, we should be training our retailers to alter their sales behavior when interacting with a customer based on how much knowledge that customer already has. The ability for a salesperson to adapt his selling approach can motivate a buyer to make a final decision.

While the Internet and other channels supply general product knowledge, it is more difficult for other channels to replace a salesperson’s skills of persuasion and adaptability. It is these skills that allow connections with the consumer through the ‘personal touch’ that leads to increased trust.

From a consumer perspective, expectations of salespeople are increasing, and bad customer relationships are often due to lack of a salesperson’s knowledge. The key takeaway from this new research is that selling techniques such as asking questions and responding to those questions with product recommendations, identifying trends in customer traits, and devising strategies to deal with those customer traits are the most effective strategies salespeople should employ in a technological retail environment.

In an industry that affects so many people, businesses and schools need to recognize this digital economy shift and pave the way for future retailers by providing them with the right training and education needed to engage and motivate the consumer.

The effectiveness of adaptive selling as a retail skill highlights the importance of today’s retailer. Instead of becoming obsolete, trained retailers can be very influential in persuading shoppers to purchase at the retail store. Today’s consumer desires control, thus we need to train our retailers to nurture these feelings and influence purchases.

Fiona Sussan is Research Chair at the Center for Global Business Research at University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies.

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