Nowadays you can buy almost anything at the click of a button. Many brick-and-mortar stores are pulling their hair out struggling to keep up with the dizzying pace of ecommerce, but some traditional retail practices are still relevant in the age of online shopping.
Take retail sales associates, for instance. Shoppers may be more informed than ever thanks to the wealth of knowledge available online. But every now and then they’re still going to have doubts about buying a physical product without experiencing it in-person.
This is where a digital sales associate comes in. Their job is to build tight-knight relationships with your online customers in order to drive more sales for your ecommerce business. Similar to their in-store counterparts, digital associates serve as experts in response to the lack of touch and feel that comes with digital shopping. In this article we’re going to show you how digital retail sales associates will play an increasingly bigger role in the future of ecommerce, and how you can use the digitization of retail workers to increase retail sales.
The Role of Traditional Retail Sales Associates
Salespeople can typically be divided between two types:
- Sales Representatives, who mostly sell to businesses (wholesale, B2B).
- Sales Associates, who sell directly to customers (B2C).
Retail sales associates are usually responsible for ringing up customers, helping them find the product they’re looking for, processing returns and refunds, and merchandising the store. As the price of merchandise increases, sales associates are also held responsible for reaching certain sales goals. Since a Sales Associate acts as the face of the brand, their role is crucial to creating positive customer experiences which in turn drive purchases. In retail settings, the way a Sales Associate treats a customer is often the deciding factor in whether they will buy again, and associates are often financially incentivized to ensure customers don’t leave empty-handed or unhappy in the form of store commissions.
Here are some of the traditional responsibilities of a sales associate:
- Greeting customers when they walk into a store and offering help.
- Listening to customers and identifying their needs.
- Helping customers find specific merchandise.
- Explaining the qualities of a product (and how it works).
- Informing customers about current discounts and promotions.
- Keeping track of inventory and informing managers of low stock.
- Recommending certain products to customers based on their needs.
- Processing payments.
- Helping keep the store clean and presentable.
- Detecting possible cases of robbery and notifying the authorities.
To manage these various responsibilities, sales associates require skills that span sales, customer service, operations, and general problem-solving.
How eCommerce Has Impacted Retail
With the rise of ecommerce, retailers have had to adapt to a new reality. But in the minds of consumers, there’s not much difference between online and offline shopping. In fact, a modern path to purchase can actually involve up to six different touchpoints across the virtual and physical world. At the end of the day, customers are looking to satisfy a need in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible. In order for traditional retailers to truly take advantage of digital, they first have to understand how ecommerce has changed offline shopping forever.
The Customer’s First Impression Is Digital
As ecommerce grows in popularity, so does the likelihood that a customer will learn about a product digitally before experiencing it in-person. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Every digital touchpoint (whether it be an email, a Facebook ad or a blog post) represents another opportunity to convert the customer or move them down the funnel toward a purchase. But to make the best of omnichannel shopping behavior, all your online assets should be cohesive with your wider brand, presenting the customer with a seamless experience.
Webrooming: when a consumer goes through much of their pre-purchase research process online before eventually heading into a store for final evaluation and purchase.
Shoppers are Smarter Than Ever
Gone are the days when people visited stores with zero knowledge. Shoppers today do their own research before they check out, and 52% feel they are more knowledgeable than a store associate. Where do you as a business owner fit into this journey? Your job is to develop the right content and sales resources that provide all the information customers need to make a final purchase decision, whether in-store or online.
Online Shopping Is Personalized
Shoppers used to have to tell Sales Associates what they needed before they were provided with personalized suggestions. But now, through site visits, clicks, and cart abandonment, your ecommerce experience can get to know customers better than they might even know themselves. Cookies track sessions and follow shoppers across the web to offer them tailored suggestions. Now a modern ecommerce website is expected to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.
Unlimited Bargains and Discounts
Shoppers are faced with endless product choices online. The advantage to the consumer is that it’s easier than ever to find the same product for the lowest price.
The Physical and the Virtual Are Merging
There was a time when people felt the need to hold and inspect a product for themselves before buying it. While that is still more common with pricier items (e.g. cars, houses), it’s a declining trend (just as Carvana). 360º videos, augmented reality and virtual reality are closing the gap between the online and offline world. You can now overlay 3d models of furniture in your home to see if it fits your aesthetic. Companies like Zeekit are even developing ways for us to virtually try on clothing, eliminating the need for fitting rooms. All these developments have had a growing impact on foot traffic at retail stores.
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Why eCommerce Would Benefit From a Digital Sales Team
As ecommerce continues to grow in popularity, retailers and salespeople alike may be wondering what the role of an associate is in the new digital world. Ecommerce brands have implemented chatbots that customers can ping for help, and algorithms can tell customers what products they should buy based on data. Indeed, while customers may not be able to touch and feel the product, they can certainly see how it moves and even see the same product on various body types and skin tones thanks to video PDPs.
But does all of that mean this the end of the retail associate? In fact, quite the opposite. While salespeople certainly have to change with the times, their contribution is perhaps even more valuable online than it is in-store because of the level of personalization and customer attention that’s embedded in their role. Here’s how ecommerce companies can use salespeople to increase revenue and lifetime customer value.
Convert potential customers
Your marketing team has no doubt done an incredible job bringing a new audience to your ecommerce site thanks to the power of social media and SEO. But if we compare all of that marketing to a beautiful storefront that catches a customer’s eye, what happens once the customer "walks in the door" for the first time?
Ecommerce sites face an uphill battle when it comes to actual on-site conversion – the typical ecommerce site has a 2.4% conversion rate and a cart abandonment rate of about 58%. If either of those numbers were to improve, revenue overall would soar.
Just like in a store, a digital sales team can be counted on to actually initiate a conversation with a potential customer, taking the time to look into the data you’ve already collected, and deliver a personalized, informative message that boosts the customer's confidence about purchasing. A strong sales team empowered with tools like Endear can do much more than a chatbot can, by sparking conversation and continuing to engage with this customer one-on-one over any channel she wants – livechat, email, text or anything else. Better yet, all communication gets consolidated in the form of a helpful human who knows the brand's products inside and out. Through outbound outreach backed up by real-time data (also known as clienteling), a sales team can turn potential customers into actual buyers.
Retain repeat buyers
Once a customer has purchased, the name of the game is retention and lifetime value. All the money your marketing team spent on acquiring that customer is measured entirely on how long she sticks around and how frequently she spends. A sales team can help dramatically increase customer lifetime value through clienteling and making each customer feel special and unique. Especially for customers who only have access to your brand online, providing them with a point of contact who they can speak to and rely on for information helps to alleviate concerns about future purchases and also ensures that these customers have the most relevant info shared with them directly (rather than through a generic marketing email). Every time a customer purchases, your business is collecting additional data. A salesperson is in the best position to incorporate this data in an ongoing basis instead of lumping this customer in with the rest of your marketing subscriber list.
Deter a lapsing audience
Over time, you may notice that some customers stop purchasing as often or as much as they used to. Most marketing that targets this group is all about discounts – we’ve all gotten the “Hey Name, here’s 40% off just for you!” email. But rather than trying to win back customers with discounts, a sales team can help you pinpoint exactly what would motivate one customer to re-engage versus another. The answer might be changing up which products to recommend, or which channel you use to contact them. But a sales team can more quickly adjust the strategy in order to change a customer’s mind when armed with the right details.
While shopping certainly looks different from ten or even one year ago, the move online has actually created more space for the retail sales associate, allowing her to stretch her responsibility into a new channel where she’s needed even more. Whether you’re operating online, in-store, or both, it’s never too soon to invest in the right sales process and sales team to increase your customer lifetime value.