The demand for personalized shopping experiences has many retailers now scrambling to mimic the experiences once exclusive to luxury shoppers. With this new demand comes new expectations of sales associates, meaning that an employee on the sales floor might now also be expected to help with wardrobe styling.
FierceRetail talked to Oscar Sachs of Salesfloor to discuss the changing role of sales associates, and how retailers can empower their associates with tech tools to meet the evolving demands of shoppers.
FierceRetail (FR): Please explain how the role of a big-box sales associate is different today than it was five years ago?
Oscar Sachs (OS): Five years ago, sales associates were solely focused on servicing in-store shoppers. They were very transactional focused—looking up inventory, checking out shoppers—and could only make sales during their shifts. Modern-day sales associates now need to service shoppers across all channels, including in-store, online, via social media, mobile devices, etc. They are also required to wear many hats, and their role has evolved from transactional to influential. They are a personal shopper, stylist, trend forecaster and more. Finally, they have access to different technology tools that allow them to provide personalized service and drive sales 24/7. Digital tools like Salesfloor now allow associates to engage with shoppers whenever they’d like and earn commission through online sales.
FR: How will that role continue to evolve in the next few years?
OS: Shoppers will want even more personalized experiences, so in the future, technology will evolve with associates to give them the means to connect and communicate with customers when they want, how they want and about what they’re most interested in. We’ll also see retail stores becoming more “experiential,” so associates will need to realize their job is more than just driving sales—it’s also to create an experience for shoppers, even if they don’t end up making a purchase. In this sense, they will become more brand ambassadors than retail associates.
FR: Do you think sales staff feel threatened by technology?
OS: Overall, no. We find that sales associates now have the ability to be more entrepreneurial and use the technology at their disposal to do their jobs better, which they value. With the help of digital retail platforms, sales associates are able to build stronger relationships with their customers, even if they are not physically in the store. Technology also offers an opportunity to make sales 24/7, while strengthening personal relationships with shoppers. Salesfloor was developed with this in mind. When associates use our platform, they feel more empowered than threatened.
FR: For those that do feel threatened, what do you say to them?
OS: Technology is not a threat, but rather a resource to help them do their jobs better and make more money. Face-to-face engagement is still incredibly important, but technology bridges the gap between in-store and online, allowing store associates to personalize the shopping experience for customers anywhere, anytime. Retail will never completely go online, and there will always be a need for sales associates. Shoppers will always want that human connection, so the goal is to really make sure associates are well equipped to do their job in today’s digital world, using technology as an asset, not a replacement.
We also make sure to really show them the benefits—our technology provides new ways for associates to build relationships with customers through direct text messaging, digital storefronts and clickable products. Though they may be resistant to change, we find that once associates are trained to use the technology effectively, they find they are able to do their job more efficiently.
FR: Does the incoming of new tech advances mean a lot more training for sales associates?
OS: As with any new tool, there is absolutely a learning curve and a period of adaptation for both sales associates and management. Piloting in limited stores allows retailers to iron out a lot of the kinks and ensure that newly implemented programs are successful.
Based on our experience, we designed Salesfloor to be extremely user-friendly, so any challenges we’ve had have revolved around ensuring associates fully understand the benefits. That’s key in eliminating any hesitancy associates may feel when incorporating tech platforms into their process. New programs should be positioned as tools that will help and assist the associate, not further complicate their work or take over their position.
FR: Do you think this new technology changes what retailers are looking for in a sales associate?
OS: In some aspect, yes. Retailers today are seeking sales associates who are open to the idea of implementing new technologies into their practices, even if they don’t consider themselves very tech savvy. A willingness to adapt, in that sense, is essential.
FR: What are the challenges of creating a personalized sales experience in 2017, and how will that evolve moving forward?
OS: Some of the biggest challenges in creating a personalized sales experience are centered around “how.” How do you gauge what level of personalization a customer wants? How do you balance the convenience of technology with the personalization of an in-store experience? Finally, how do you scale and personalize experiences for a growing number of shoppers? We’ve figured out a way to address these questions, simply by giving sales associates a platform that allows them to create their own personalized version of the retailer’s e-commerce site, with various ways to communicate with shoppers—through text message, email, social media, etc. There’s no one way to best approach shoppers in the digital space, but having these options allows associates to make authentic connections while customizing their approach based on the customer’s need. A bit of trial and error helps, along with survey data, which we use to determine how best to interact with customers. As the retail industry continues to evolve, we believe that it will become easier to determine how to create these experiences.