Empower the Store and Improve the Customer Experience

Imagine a young woman entering a shoe store. Perhaps she is looking for the perfect shoe for her perfect dress. The store associate at the POS counter says to the young woman, “Let me know if I can help you find anything!” The customer locks eyes with the employee and nods. After exploring the stacks, the customer shrugs her shoulders and sighs. Turning around, she heads for the door. The store associate watches her leave.

The shopper who just left the store probably has a general idea of what she wants. Unfortunately, the store associate does not know what the customer wants, and worse, assumes that the merchandise showcase on the floor will adequately sell for her. Many store associates believe it is their job to just greet the customer, pull the right (and available) inventory from the back room, and ring up the sale at the counter.

No wonder in-store showrooming is a pervasive practice with shopper/store associate scenarios such as the one described above, and when the only significant difference between the store and alternate channels is the customer’s ability to touch and feel the inventory

The customer’s ability to access company, product and competitor information, anytime and anywhere, has steadily increased over the years. Retailers have made great strides towards collecting customer data. However, in most cases, customer insights are leveraged to define marketing and merchandising strategies. These insights are not pushed downstream to the store associate.

Now imagine that same shopper and store associate, but in this scenario, the store associate has been empowered with a tablet with access to real-time store merchandise data:

A young woman enters a shoe store and browses the stacks. After a few minutes, the store associate approaches the potential customer, with tablet in hand. The store associate can access style trends, merchandise available for home shipping, new styles available in the next shipment, all via the tablet. Better yet, they can also access customer history, including attribute preferences, to perform a custom search for the right merchandise for that shopper – even being able to determine whether the product is currently available or available for pre-order.

Now the employee is empowered. With apps to access real-time insights on the floor, the employee has the right information at the right time to truly sell.

Now, let’s imagine a different scenario. This time, the customer enters the store to examine a specific product. The customer is armed with her smartphone to access her handy Amazon app. As an Amazon Prime member, she is one of the masses of U.S. smartphone users that regularly engage in the practice of showrooming.

Again, the store associate calls from the POS counter, “Let me know if I can help you find anything!” The customer locks eyes with the employee and nods. The customer finds the desired merchandise and reviews the shelf tag. She scans the UPC and reviews product and pricing information via her Amazon app. Turning around, she heads for the door. The store associate watches her leave.

In this second scenario, the store associate again does not possess the wherewithal to adequately address the customer’s needs. She again defaults to the typical smile, find backroom inventory and run the credit card type of service. The store associate does not know that this particular customer is looking for value.

In a scenario like this, employees are not empowered to change price. Therefore, in the event the customer can locate a better price online, the store will have missed the sale. This is another opportunity for associate empowerment.

Many retailers do not maintain consistent pricing and promotions across all operating sales channels. Making this more difficult, these retailers do not provide complete promotional and pricing visibility to store associates. Consequently, the store associates cannot influence price in order to make the in-store sale.

What if the employee were empowered to change price? Going back to the previous scenario, what if that same store associate had a tablet armed with product promotion information? After discussing the merits of a particular product with the smartphone-wielding customer, the customer mentions that she can get the item cheaper on Amazon. “Let me see what I can do for you,” responds the store associate. She reviews channel pricing and active promotions on her device and is then able to make an offer based on a current email promotion. The customer accepts, purchases and signs up for the email list.

Knowledge is power. And perhaps, it just might help your in-store sales.

Kevin Walker is senior vice president and general manager, Americas for Manthan Systems.
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