Why Retailers Are Rethinking Store Associate Communication

The Internet changed how people shop. Mobile changed how shoppers interact with retailers. Now a nimble and sophisticated new mobile associate communication platform – mACP – is changing how retailers educate, inform and evaluate their most powerful and expensive asset: their in-store associates.

E-commerce sales continue to rise yet 85 percent of consumers still prefer shopping in stores, according to a Reuters report. Only those retailers who invest in effective associate training and evaluation strategies, and in providing up-to-the minute, on-floor communications, can keep their employees one step ahead of today's demanding, tech-savvy consumers. Knowledgeable associates help to highlight the benefits that only in-store shopping can provide. With ongoing and motivating sales and brand training, they create the enjoyable, effective in-store experiences that instill loyalty and lure consumers back to the physical store.

Most brick-and-mortar retailers recognize this truth and its challenges. But many aren't spending the resources necessary to empower customer-facing associates to best leverage the physical store's unique benefits and thus generate stellar consumer experiences. Many retailers have yet to move beyond outdated back-room LMS methods and HR-owned associate education, even though the VP of Stores now answers to associate performance, and the multi-function iPad permeating the sales floor can fortify associate impact, a benefit that also broadens tablet ROI.

Stores and associates remain a critical revenue driver
Customers value the personal experience of the physical store, and often do their research and discovery online, then go into the store to get help with their final purchase decision. While online shopping provides 24-hour shopping convenience, consumers still want to see and handle products, interact with a knowledgeable associate to discuss their personal needs, and get the instant gratification of walking away with their purchases.

Retailers must respect their stores as a key link to business success, not just a place to make transactions. They need to give customers a reason to visit for an experience they cannot get via online or mobile.

Online shopping can leave buyers unsatisfied for several reasons. Physical interaction with products is impossible, pages can be difficult to navigate, there is no instant gratification, and there is a distinct lack of knowledgeable assistance available.  It is interesting to note that several online-only brands have opened physical brick-and-mortar locations.

Retail associates must keep on training and honing their skills with engaging, on-floor, immersive content, and constantly be kept abreast of competitive factors; product introductions; new up-selling and cross-sell opportunities; problem- solving techniques; professional and management development; the latest corporate announcements; and other communications. Instantly an employee's receipt of these communications must be verifiable, and their achievements as well as areas for improvement identified, based on real-time metrics.

The void finally filled
The business case has been strong for app-based, interactive mobile training and communications technology deployed locally or globally to strengthen the product knowledge, selling and conversion skills of individual sales associates, without taking talent off the selling floor.

With the recent introduction of next-gen apps, the industry's new Mobile Associate Communications Platform category has been established, marking a major shift in single iPad users' training and communications.

Use of low-bandwidth technology
The ability to use low-bandwidth training is a major factor in iPad app popularity. Keeping the multimedia content local allows for a great user experience with almost no impact on bandwidth. Apple designed iOS around the bandwidth constraints of mobile environments. The design also benefits multi-unit retail chains that deal with the similarly limited bandwidth connections for credit card authorizations, register polling, internal email and additional mission critical operations.

High-quality visuals = high impact
Communications work best when there are strong visuals.  iPads allow for high-quality video and audio, allowing for great apps to be created.  An iPad will provide a rich media experience that gives associates selling support by providing instant access to product information and specs. There is no need for adding sound cards or worrying about how video content will play.  Photos, videos, reviews and other information can be obtained for a customer quickly, easily, and at a low cost.

Control of content
Unlike an intranet site, companies are using iPad apps to deliver curated information to only the people who are required to act on it.  People are accustomed to receiving only the information they want or need in their daily lives.  Similar to a news aggregator that provides information on entertainment, international news, or sports, so too can companies provide customized information to the users that will benefit the most.  This is especially useful for associates that have been working for the company for different lengths of time, or work in different departments and require specific types of training.

Action on the message
As employees undertake brief quizzes on the short training modules they've completed on the sales floor, in between customer time, hierarchical real-time reporting – down to the specific question – provides field managers with leading indicators to drive performance, impact KPIs, reward successes and identify improvement areas.   Real-time metrics are so targeted to the district, store, employee and question levels that some high-profile retailers are using them to change their compensation models. In addition, real-time data metrics also can indicate if in-store merchandising strategies are effective; if not, they can be switched out then reevaluated instantaneously.

Time for reinvention: mACP
Retailers can be proactive in ensuring that sales associates are able to engage and create loyal customers through the use of mACP and cutting-edge technologies. Evaluating and boosting the core competencies are crucial to the success of front-line associates; moving retailers forward to continually develop their in-store workforce; and training a mobile workforce at scale are the very proficiencies highlighted by this new category of employee communications.

David Harouche is founder and CEO of Multimedia Plus. Harouche has been developing innovative, technology-driven programs for a broad range of clients for more than 15 years. He has helped make Multimedia Plus the foremost provider of learning and communications solutions, and a resource for market intelligence.