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The Future Role of Store Associates

Shopping is a personal activity that fulfills human needs. It is very easy to do this from the comfort of a living room, or anywhere really, by visiting a digital store and simply picking and clicking. There are usually no sales associates involved in online transactions – just a credit account and mobile device.

However, some consumers occasionally want a more three-dimensional experience, and enjoy investing their time in brick-and-mortar retail stores to immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and smells of the physical environment and everything associated with it. These experiences impact the senses and emotions in profound and long-lasting ways.

One of the more surprising findings of the Mobile Retail Report showcases how store associates are underutilized in the modern world of digital commerce and wireless technology. In fact, their role is changing quickly and substantially, and is becoming more important, not less.

Guiding the Customer through the Process

In addition to the sensory elements of the store, customers who visit tend to enjoy the sensations of exploring the potential purchase item – picking it up, feeling it, looking at it, trying it on, putting it down, walking away, coming back. These are actions that test and stretch a person's preliminary emotional attachment to the item. The shopper starts to imagine owning the item and having it become a part of his or her life. It is an intimate moment that occurs prior to the purchase. Many what-ifs and visualizations pass through the shopper's heart and mind along the path of purchase journey.

Currently, in most brick-and-mortar stores, many individuals enjoy self-guided shopping. When a sales associate approaches and asks the basic opening question, "Can I help you find something?" the answer in many cases is, "no thanks, just browsing." When this happens, the sales associate runs a risk of becoming an intrusion into a person’s private space. Aggressive sales techniques can even close down customer receptivity and motivate them to leave the store. 

But when delivered properly, real guidance is needed and helpful. Shoppers frequently require assistance in making a purchase that matches their needs and desires. They want mentor-like advice on whether a purchase is a good fit for them, and they are often open to suggestions for additional complementary items. 

This is one of the essential roles that sales associates play in the modern retail space. Skillful salespeople do not push a sale, rather they lead the customer into a comfortable emotional place, where they feel empowered to make a purchase decision that is good for themselves. Even when the sales associate's compensation is based on commission, the odds of making a successful sale – one that does not result later with a return – are much higher when the advice appears neutral and genuine.

How Customers Feel

The sensation of being looked after by another human during an in-store retail transaction is unique and valuable in the hearts and minds of shoppers. It cannot be replicated by online websites. It connects on far too many levels for that. 

Retailers looking to bring foot traffic into their stores should recognize that their unique selling proposition is neither the selection nor the pricing of their products.

Although these are important, the distinguishing factor is how the customer feels at the conclusion of the transaction, and that is something that only a knowledgeable sales associate can deliver. It is a vital, human-to-human part of commerce based on a complete understanding of each individual shopper. 

The technology exists to help sales associates reach this level. Through a combination of apps, Wi-Fi, and diligent data usage, every sales associate can become a special expert that will make customers feel the way they deserve to feel.

It is up to management to ensure that the tools and strategies are in place to make that happen. These include deployment of apps and data gathering technology, enhanced sales training, and providing incentives for their use. 

The age of the sales associate has not passed. It has evolved into a new, higher level of professional – one that is instrumental to retail success. 

The future of retail is mobile.

Download your copy of the Mobile Retail Report and learn best-in-class examples of mobile strategies done right; along with actionable next steps on how to better compete in a mobile-first world.

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Editor, The Mobile Retail Blog

Editor-in-Chief of The Mobile Retail Blog with NewStore.

Topics: Store Associates