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NRF 2020: It’s the customer, stupid

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Photo by: Jason Dixson Photography

Two sessions at the NRF 2020 conference in New York highlighted how focusing on customer service results in higher sales.

In the session “Maximizing Frontline Performance,” Tony Aversa, Foot Locker VP of customer experience and sales for North America, Bob Phibbs, CEO of retail consulting firm The Retail Doctor, and Carol Leaman, president and CEO of frontline microlearning platform Axonify, stressed the importance of properly training store associates to ensure traffic and sales.

Aversa said a crucial part of training store employees to do their jobs is to collect feedback, through all available mechanisms. “So much feedback can be gathered through social media,” said Aversa. “Also ask store associates and managers what incentives they want. Your store associates may want cash and not an outing.”

Since deploying an Axonify-based training app called LaceUp, Aversa said Foot Locker has taken the “mystery” out of training. “We know who engaged with the training,” he commented.

Aversa also advised retailers to deploy training solutions slowly, and for executives seeking to implement training technology to first gather data supporting the need and then find like-minded people in the organization who will support the initiative. He also said training itself should proceed at a measured pace.

“Take it slow, build habits,” Aversa stated.

Phibbs told retailers that the real answer to solving in-store customer service issues is to focus on the human factor offered by store associates, rather than enabling technologies.

“We don’t know how to be human anymore,” said Phibbs. “I purchased medical products for my elderly father and got offers aimed at him even after he passed away. People feel more confused and alone in stores than ever before, even though stores never looked prettier.”

Phibbs also cautioned brick-and-mortar retailers that competing on price is a mistake. “There is always somebody cheaper,” he said. “All you have is the branded experience in your store. The frontline is more critical than ever."

In the session “Omnichannel Agility: Maximizing customer service and profitability,” Jim Barnes, CEO of unified commerce platform provider enVista, and Gene Bornac, VP, retail of enVista, explained how the changing path customers take to purchase requires retailers to alter how they sell products.

“Where demand is generated and fulfilled has been disconnected,” said Barnes. “Mobile drives the disconnect between physical and digital commerce.”

To make sure customers can discover and purchase the products they want, whenever and wherever they want, Barnes told retailers they must be sure that item master data is consistent across brick-and-mortar and online channels.

“Nothing is worse than walking in a store and seeing a product marked down but it’s still full-price on the site,” said Barnes. 

Bornac said that to properly provide customers with seamless shopping options like buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), retailers need to obtain a 360-degree, real-time view of inventory data.

“You need good inventory management,” said Bornac. “Where is inventory sitting on your nodes? Data flow is more important than order flow. For seamless retail to meet customer expectations, data has to move in the next few minutes, not the next few hours or when you run a batch at 2 a.m. and it’s up by 7 a.m.”

Bornac added that fulfilling store orders is much cheaper than fulfilling online orders. “In the store, the inventory is there and the customers do the work. “You should be nudging your online customers toward BOPIS,” he said. “Create incentives for customers to do what is most profitable for you.”

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