Before the lockdown across Europe, retailers and brands were already talking with Operations, HR and IT about how the store associate’s roles and responsibilities were having to change to accommodate the new consumer, the consumer that browses and shops seamlessly and often unpredictably across channels.
Retailers recognised that traditional in-store roles would need to change and that staff would need greater support from the tech industry to automate many of the tasks that were distracting them from serving customers.
Many retailers had started to make these changes, and were both recruiting and training differently to build a new generation of store associate. The current pandemic has clearly accelerated this process, as stores have closed, as well as demonstrated to other retailers the need to make changes more urgently.
Here then are the 7 powers of today’s modern day superhero, roles that they must adopt to serve the new consumer, now and post pandemic.
Recently, between the store and online, some retailers have been using store staff to deliver orders to high value customers, all of course at a safe distance, but allowing them to have a conversation. This will inject new life into the existing Click & Collect concept and see retailers create new spaces, systems and processes to manage the collection of online orders.
Some staff are working ‘kerbside’ as well as store side; In the US, Nordstrom is offering contactless kerbside pickup services in most full-line stores. Customers are notified online that their purchases are ready and store staff will put them straight into the boot of the car.
Other staff are working in the call centre to support online sales that have boomed while stores are closed. They may even be managing the retailer’s social media feeds.
A sales associate must be a product and service expert, particularly as customers are now so well-informed. This will enable the store associate to help the customer to find the right product, and this must cover products in store as well as online.
Every store associate can now be a personal shopper, equipped not just with product knowledge, but the tools to manage the whole experience, which will almost certainly mean a connected personal device that can see online catalogue, enable ordering (endless aisle) and payments, set up deliveries and returns and access relevant promotions, loyalty accounts and bundled offers; with a level of automation that enables the associate to keep selling.
The store associate may also be connecting to a customer who is at home via a video call, showing products, explaining prices, warranties, delivery and add-ons; or launching new products via a live stream on Instagram. In China, using live streaming, some retailers found that they were selling more in three hours than an average week.
Or a supply chain executive or logistician, now that fulfilment is so much a part of the whole shopping experience, and can mean the difference between a sale made and a sale lost. Capabilities will include Ship from Store, Click & Collect, and even pay in store, deliver to home, particularly in an ‘endless aisle’ scenario where stock is strictly for demonstration purposes only.
And the associate must be a store experience provider, able to fix clients appointments, selling ceremonies, particularly in the luxury sector, demonstrations and personalized assistance. Able to work across the whole experience arc, store associates will effectively become brand ambassadors and content creators in their own right, connecting to customers in new ways and at a much more personal level, which in turn will engender greater loyalty.
Not to forget that in the current climate and beyond, a sales associate must be a warranted safety officer, able to ensure safety measures are being respected, including social distancing, hygiene, appointment possibly outside the store and contactless payments. To take advantage of distancing, store staff may also use tools such as Augmented Reality that will give the customer an immersive product experience without the need to touch and feel.
Such a persona already works for you; it may simply be a question of training, equipping and rewarding them differently. Training will encompass both hard and soft skills – talking to and serving customers as well using software and devices with facility so that they are an enabler of service rather than creating friction.
Rewarding this ‘renaissance’ persona will not simply be about paying them more money, but about greater recognition for their role, offering them more flexible shifts, and possibly the chance to work in other parts of the business from time to time. A key motivation of course will be the fact that they are valued not just for their skills but their personality; in the new retail, many of the traditional formalities fall away enabling staff and customers to connect more profoundly.
These are just a few new roles that store associates are playing, some of which will continue after stores open again, for the simple reason that customers are quickly getting used to new ways of shopping, particularly now that so many retailers are adding new products and services in order to ride out the pandemic and retail the new way.