Omnichannel Retail: 3 Keys to Enable In-Store Associates
Technology innovation has been the primary stimulus for the boom in omnichannel retail strategies. However, people remain at the core of every great omnichannel agenda – both from the supply and the demand sides. This is because physical stores are still key touch points in omnichannel retail strategies. The role of associates to not only perform critical tasks, but to deliver additional omnichannel value, has never been greater.
Associates have full power to affect the brand experience once a shopper walks through the door. But how can retailers ensure that their emphasis on omnichannel consistency and experience shines through when managers and executives have little real context for ensuring their production?
1. Offer The Choices Customers Actually Want
Customers today are highly demanding, because they can be. The old adage of ‘the customer is always right’ is much more complex than in the past. It now extends far beyond customer service and product disputes to include the realm of fulfillment. The real-life needs of people vary wildly, so it’s essential to make any scenario they face as catered to their needs and preferences as imaginable. This is possible by offering options such as: buy online pickup in-store; buy online ship from store; reserve online and pay in-store; buy online ship to store and so on. The revenue generated by retailers through an omnichannel retail strategy is growing at a much higher rate. Critically, omnichannel consumers expect associates to know about, or have insight to, not only the products being sold in stores, but also the full off-site assortment.
2. Technology Helps Associates Walk the Walk
If they ever did before, now, shoppers really don’t want or expect store associates to sell them products. Much more likely, due to their reliance on Internet research and consumer reviews, what they’re looking for from the associate is unique insight from an independent, expert source on products they already are there for. To that end, Deloitte’s 2015 report, Navigating the New Digital Divide, found that one-third of customers still like to discuss a sale with an associate. No one likes buying items without being fully informed, and the internet offers so many claims; they just want someone to either clarify or debunk their own conclusions.
Empowering the store associate with digital information will help retailers stay relevant in the face of consumers’ desire for digital data. It will also help capitalize on the desire for seamless omnichannel experiences. What does this technology look like? It comes in all sorts of varieties, from in-store kiosks that provide complete inventory visibility and the ability to buy on-site, to mobile apps that associates can use to greatly increase the speed of product intelligence and customer support.
Technology Traits You Want
There’s no one in-store technology that solves all problems, but most should share the following traits:
Familiar: For better or worse, employee turnover on the retail floor is high. Store associates should not have to figure out how to use a complicated system. It should be intuitive, based on the technologies and interfaces that associate and customers use in their daily lives. If they can just pick it up and go, they’ll have the power to quickly help a customer, provide the right information, and help convert the sale.
Customizable: Installing a system to meet your omnichannel needs must make it as easy as possible to promote your omnichannel capabilities. This is true whether a system is being operated by an employee whose been tasked with promoting those channels, or a consumer who is only just learning what those new channels are. Having the ability to tailor a system precisely to your needs, that grows and adapts with your business, is key.
Mobile: Tablets and smartphones are everywhere, and a critical part of the modern shopping experience. Associates will know how to use them through experience. And consumers understand their value and convenience factor, and will be more likely to feel comfortable using them.
3. Money Talks
While it may be obvious, this does need to be addressed as the strategy most likely to incent associates. Retailers who realize additional profit from omnichannel sales that originate in-store but are converted online, and who optimize their assortment efficiency by offering alternative fulfillment options need to pass some of the earnings to the people who make it happen. Basically, employees are marketers to a segment-of-one for your omnichannel capabilities. You track referral links in marketing collateral to judge effectiveness and allocate budget. You can do the same on an individual product or basket level with associates.
Retailers who develop compensation initiatives that incent associates to treat omnichannel sales as a priority will motivate employees to push traditional shoppers to explore a retailers’ brand online. Shoppers who have always thought going to a store or shopping online with ship-to-home were their options will appreciate the enlightenment of these new options. Retailers now earn their trust and loyalty while making investments in those areas more rewarding.
Go Forth and Prosper
Through investment in comprehensive fulfillment options, in-store technology and associate compensation strategies, retailers will realize the full potential of the modern omnichannel retail environment. Expanding the relationship the retailer has built with customers through the physical store improves the ability of that retailer to convert a sale. Both now and into the future, through whatever channel the customer is most likely to use.