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Sep 12, 2019

The Importance of Store Associates in the Retail Tech Revolution

The most important piece of bringing more tech advancements into retail is the store teams at the center of it all.

By Casey Drake, Head of Sales @ Endear

The past decade of technology used in brick and mortar stores has seen some incredible advancements. Inventory management tools have eliminated the need for runners and allowed for BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) and BORIS (buy online, return in-store) programs.

Mobile devices and applications now ping customers when they enter a store with the latest updates, promotions, and special offers. The latest in AR technology has powered brands to take "retail-as-an-experience" to the next level. 

However, left behind in this retail tech renaissance has been the store associates and store managers that power it all. The truth is that none of these solutions work without a well-trained and confident team placed at the center.

The Downfall of the Store Associate

Store associates were once the essence of the shopping experience. Both knowledgeable and passionate about the brand, they ran back and forth from the dressing room to the sales floor, offered up recommendations, built friendly rapport with their customers, and served as the best brand ambassadors. 

As online shopping and pre-purchase research grew, however, customer knowledge outpaced that of store associates (at least according to consumers) and the false narrative that shoppers would rather not be bothered by associates started to circulate. Many retailers responded poorly further removing the associates from the experience by investing less and less in training and professional development.

But the truth is, shoppers love interacting with store employees — just not poorly trained and uninformed ones. A study conducted by Grail Research found that shoppers are 43% more likely to make a purchase and spend 81% more if they interact with an associate. 

Conversely, 40% of shoppers report being unable to find an associate when they needed help — and leaving because of it. What's more, shoppers are 12% more likely to revisit a store after an associate interaction. 

Associates aren't the problem — it’s the resources they’re provided that need improvement. The same survey found that 91% of retail associates agree that their help drives higher conversions, yet 94% feel they don't have the proper tools and training to do their job to the best of their ability.

The Modern Store Associate

So, how does the store associate — whether part-time or full-time — fit into the modern tech-dominated retail store? 

Even with these modern enhancements, associates are in the perfect position to smooth out the experience and increase the return on tech investments, especially as customers are just learning how to incorporate these new bells and whistles into how they shop. 

Let’s unpack a few common tech investments and how your retail sales associates can work alongside them to create a remarkable customer experience.

1. Self-Check Out

One of the biggest advancements changing stores everywhere has been self-checkout. Self-checkout improves convenience and cuts down on wait times for shoppers but, most importantly, it allows your teams to spend less time with the mindless task of scanning items and taking payment. 

Associates can now repurpose this time by assisting customers who might need that last little confidence boost or nugget of information to convince them to buy. Self-checkout doesn't lessen the need for a well-trained and prepared store team. Instead, it further increases the importance of educating your team so they can better market and upsell your products as well as provide excellent customer service.

2. BOPIS and BORIS

BOPIS and BORIS, or the systems in place that allow customers to pick-up or return their online purchases in store, have gone a long way in connecting the e-commerce experience with the brick and mortar one. On the surface, this seems like purely a customer experience advancement. What does the store/brand have to gain other than a happier customer? 

The best store teams understand that these programs are put in place to increase foot traffic. An in-store shopper spends more money and converts more often than an online shopper. Adding to this, impulse buys are twice as likely to happen during an in-store visit. Training your retail staff to understand the opportunities will improve the impact of these programs.

3. Store Apps, AR, and VR

Nike's new NYC flagship allows shoppers to scan items through their app as they shop and have them added to a fitting room waiting for them. 

Beauty brand Sephora uses AR technology in some stores with their "magic mirrors" that allow customers to see what the products would look like on them. 

Fashion retailer TopShop put VR into their London flagship store that allowed shoppers to sit front row at their London Fashion Week runway show. 

These are some examples of how brands have used cutting edge technology to turn a visit to their store into an experience greater than shopping alone. If properly taken advantage of, customers can have an incredible visit. The problem is, these advancements are all so new and complex, and it takes guidance to achieve the desired outcome. 

In this sense, the store associate serves as a much needed knowledge resource for your customers to get the most out of all you are offering.

Technology advancements in retail have made the buying journey and customer experience much more seamless and enjoyable. As we see more breakthroughs and interesting uses, it's important to remember the importance of the human connection that sits at the center. 

While it is great that retailers have heard customers' complaints and made changes to improve, it's time for them to do the same for their employees. A knowledgeable and happy store staff that feels they are an important part of the brand they work for is the fuel that keeps the rest of the retail machine functioning at its best.

Endear can bridge the gap between your retail store associates and various technology investments. With features that track store sales across multiple channels, allow your team to build personalized lookbooks for customers, and help them re-engage your customers through email or SMS, Endear can equip your team to work on the front-line, alongside your retail technology to create the best shopping experience possible. Start your 14-day trial today.