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Retail’s (Sales) Force Awakens for Holiday


The idea of pure play retail has evaporated. Retail’s continuing transformation and complex landscape now centers on the convergence of digital and physical channels, otherwise known as “digical.” The industry can no longer talk about analytics in isolation anymore – the shopper’s journey is channel-agnostic and retailers are in catch-up mode.

Disruptive change ordinarily would be problematic for brick-and-mortar retailers in Holiday 2015, but with the proper deployment of an empowered staff, it could just as easily deliver plentiful opportunity. With a nod – and proper reverence – to J.J. Abrams and his upcoming movie "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens," the prescription for retail holiday success and year-over year is to let the (sales) force be with you.

While the ante into the highly competitive retail environment may be product differentiation, what separates winners from losers is shopper experience. In physical retail, the in-store experience is the best (and often last) opportunity to create magical memories for customers, and as holiday 2015 approaches, developing your Storm Troopers (functional soldier-like sales associates) into Jedis (masterfully skilled and insightful sales associates) requires reducing the knowledge deficiency gap, providing technology tools, smoothly executing on “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) and closing the loop with empowerment.

Reducing the knowledge deficiency gap

Closing the knowledge deficiency gap, where shoppers, armed with rigorous research, enter stores with more product/service knowledge than sales associates, is critical. Retailers need to level the playing field and provide associates with the knowledge that empowers them to succeed, switching the paradigm from intimidated order-taker to value-added, informed consultant. Training in-store associates on product and policies, and even empowering them to match prices, if necessary, goes a long way with shoppers.

Providing technology tools

When retailers facilitate the shopping journey by using enabling technologies to connect shoppers and associates alike to digital offerings and additional selections, shoppers become delighted fans. Enabling technologies are indispensable selling tools for sales associates. However, it’s important to make sure that any technologies deployed in stores meet the following criteria of the “four(ce):”

1. Sales management is committed and engaged, and consider technology the key to higher sales and increased loyalty;

2. Sales associates understand technology is there to help, not replace;

3. The technology is reliable, and;

4. All associates have been trained on functionality and use.

Executing on buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS)

A recent Cognizant/RIS News Shopper Experience Study revealed 30% of consumers BOPIS once per month, and of those, 65% purchase additional items when they go into the store to pick up their initial purchase.

Unfortunately, of the 30% of shoppers who do use BOPIS, 60% report some sort of service problem, with top failures being long waits and items not prepared and ready for pick up. This gives rise to two opportunities for retailers to better empower their sales forces:

1. Clearly explain the reasons for a BOPIS strategy, and

2. Invest the resources and training to flawlessly execute BOPIS. The sales and support staff should be fully aware of the procedures, process and logistics of how BOPIS works in their individual stores (why we do it, where is pick-up, how to know if order is ready, strategies to add to the order while customer is in-store). BOPIS is an excellent winning example of “digical,” but the industry needs to improve significantly on the execution side.

Seriously, BOPIS works!

Closing the loop with empowerment

Armed with knowledge and tools, the sales force can better be unleashed to serve shoppers. But to truly surprise and delight – and return results for the retailer – empowering processes need to be established for sales associates so they can drive positive shopper experiences.

A trained sales force raises service levels, but an empowered staff making the best decisions at the point of contact with the customer is a true differentiator – it’s the catalyst for “the force awakens.” From a cost perspective, guidelines need to be established, but retailers should ensure empowerment is openly discussed and reviewed. For their part, the sales force should fully understand when they should step in and make “winning” decisions that either make a profitable sale or build customer loyalty.

Rest assured, “digical” holiday 2015 will be a challenge, but it will also be great source of highly energetic fun for us retail professionals. Today’s shopper has less time, less money and significantly less patience, all the while being more knowledgeable, more demanding and more empowered. But, in-store, the sales force have opportunities to create inspiring shopping environments and magical shopping experiences.

The time is now, before the Holiday, to empower staff to awaken the force. As Yoda taught us all, “Do, or do not; there is no try.” May the (sales) force be with you!

Happy Holidays 2015, and good luck!

Shelley E. Kohan is VP of retail consulting at RetailNext.

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