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Why are retailers still debating store associate devices?

Retailers are having a hard time accepting the idea of sales associates carrying and using mobile devices while on the clock. Perhaps an archaic bias against technology comes with a distrust of employees and leads to the fear that sales clerks will ignore customers, preferring to iMessage with friends, peruse Instagram, or even play games. Or perhaps store executives feel they cannot afford to spend money on new technologies.

It should not go unnoticed that the majority of sales associates more closely resemble their customers than they do their managers. Associates, like the majority of Millennials, have been trained by apps like Snapchat, Facebook and Uber to be able to learn and adapt to using a smartphone. So why is it that the most powerful tool for clienteling has yet to be allowed on the store floor?

It’s A Mobile World

The ubiquity of mobile is something that should be carefully observed and considered as corporate intelligence resources and strategic assets. Mobile usage offers a window into the psyche of target consumers. Do they like to use apps? Is the iPhone more popular than Android? Do any of the sales staff use buy-online-pick-up-in-store elsewhere? How have their experiences been in returning an incorrect shipment? What sort of payment options do they prefer? This might be useful to know.

The fact that all store associates carry their own phones is great news in solving the mobile deployment problem. It is easier to deliver crucial customer data directly to a sales associate’s device than it is to purchase more display tables. But according to our own research, 90 percent of store associates are discouraged from possessing a mobile device in-store.

Associates can be extremely tech-savvy. They know how to use apps. When customers walk into a store, their profiles, including past purchases, browsing history, favorites, and dislikes, can be immediately transferred to the sales associate, eliminating the awkward dance that has traditionally dominated retail sales.

Customers are expecting and demanding a higher level of tailored service. The apps and the data are there, simply waiting to be used for that purpose.

Widespread Technological Competence

Is it bad optics for sales associates to be using smartphones on the job? No, not in this age. Of course, if they ignore customers in favor of swiping through Tinder, then we have a problem. But don’t stand in their way by discouraging the use of technology that will undoubtedly help your business and boost sales.

Most consumers have experienced the pain of standing in line and waiting at a counter while clerks answer convoluted questions on the telephone from customers who chose to call in. The bar has been set low in some cases. In others, consumers have become accustomed to a certain level of experience when working with knowledgeable, friendly (and not to mention eager to make a sale) associates. Tech-savvy sales clerks — meaning nearly all of them — are quite capable of switching back to live conversation in an instant. They will not be as trapped inside technology as their rotary-dial predecessors were.

Modern Work Ethic

There may also be trust issues. Are employers confident that their staff will use technology responsibly? This question has arisen with every great technological leap forward, most recently with the first big mobile phone, personal computer and workplace Internet access. And who knows, maybe motor vehicles and the first office telephones were too, decades ago.

Members of management, often not quite as savvy with new technology, are quick to assume the worst and envision their companies’ fortunes dashed against the rocks by employee misconduct. In reality, most employees today really want to do a great job, and they can be trusted. If they can’t, you don’t have a mere technology issue, you have an employment issue.

Sales associates take great pride in their work, and their pre-existing comfort with mobile technologies offers employers a significant forward step in the rollout of remarkable new ways of engaging with modern-thinking customers. The combination of sales associates and smartphones will be a winning combination in this mobile era.

This article originally appeared in Women's Wear Daily.

Stephan Schambach, Founder & CEO

Stephan is a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record of creating and growing successful tech companies in the United States and Europe. Under his leadership and vision, he brought Intershop and Demandware to IPO's with multi-billion dollar market caps. As Founder and Chief Executive Officer of NewStore, Stephan is setting out to change the market once again. This time by solving the omnichannel problem facing so many retailers and brands.

Topics: Store Associates, mobile

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