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The Real heroes of retail

Fast moving consumer goods retail has held on firmest to the physical store, and whilst e-commerce is growing, it remains both a small percentage of overall grocery sales and the most expensive route-to-market.

The overused notion of “omni-channel” is more accurately described as Always-on or Anywhere retail. You can shop for most goods from multiple platforms and an ever-expanding proliferation of Apps. To bring these closer together, technology and the digitisation of the physical store is the number one priority for retail today. There are multiple drivers, but at the heart of these is the race for the delivery of superior customer service.

What continues to be overlooked is the critical role that frontline staff play in shopper and store experience and ultimately store productivity. They are the custodians of this experience and directly responsible for up to *71% of the quality of this experience. (*PWC – Future CX Survey)

With the rise of accessible technology, the face of physical retail is changing. E-commerce was projected to be the death-knell to physical retail, but traditional retail has emerged more resilient than ever. It must remain agile however to remain competitive and continue, against the odds, to offer some form of differentiation. Value pricing, offering multiple integrated channel shopping options and even loyalty programmes have become ubiquitous. Everyone is doing it. Some better than others, but only until they are caught up. What about the people serving in-store? Covid cast them in a new light, and they went from invisible to being regarded as real heroes in ensuring a critical service. But their importance goes far beyond this.

Forbes reported that in 2021, brick-and-mortar sales grew faster than their e-commerce equivalent. Consumers like shopping in stores, and this is, in large part, due to the assistance and overall interactive experience they receive there. Efficiency, convenience and friendly and knowledgeable service come out at the top of the list of what shoppers want, making all frontline staff integral in delivering brand value and loyalty.

Store staff deliver a human touch in an increasingly digital world. Digital channels provide consumers with endless amounts of information, allowing shoppers to make highly informed brand and purchasing decisions. This has elevated consumer expectations as shoppers expect interactions with brands to be consistent and unified. Well-trained, empowered frontline staff are a critical element in realising this.

A Mindtree study found that around one-third of shoppers across all age groups interact with sales associates to gather information before making a purchase. On average, approximately 80% of these shoppers found this information helpful. When interacting with store staff, the majority of shoppers seek information on product features, location, offers, and discounts – these are key areas of information all directly influencing the final purchase decision in front of the shelf. When store associates can accurately and enthusiastically offer this information to shoppers, they are helping drive sales.

Another one of the primary tasks of a store associate is to validate a decision that a customer has made already by comparison shopping online. This is especially pertinent across categories with higher price points. In stores, staff can start browse-to-buy conversations by engaging with shoppers and sharing their wealth of knowledge about specific products as well as the store itself.

Associates also help get back the “the lost shopper,” i.e.. a shopper that has considered the brand or product but who has not converted. They can help to educate the shopper, invite functional comparisons overcome objections or even contribute to converting interest into sales.

Savvy shoppers have the facts, so frontline staff need more than this. They should be brand evangelists, offering a helpful opinion to shoppers who have already got basic information. Frontline workers have become full-time de facto brand ambassadors and advice-givers, offering fact-based endorsements to shoppers as a means to drive purchase intent and basket value. Shopping is inherently emotional. Humans want to connect with other humans in ways that are sincere and valuable. So, these types of helpful, confidence-bolstering interactions lead to a positive association with the brand, which increases the chance of future store visits.

Customers rarely remember simply walking into a store, getting what they want, and then leaving. However, they will remember the times when store staff have gone out of their way to help them, be it with product recommendations, ordering out-of-stock items, or even just making the effort to communicate deals or promotions.

In many cases, associates are the starting point for exceptional customer experiences. And this applies to all store-based staff. It is the people who pack and replenish the shelves, who manage the categories and departments, those who keep an eye on the wait-times at the check-out que (or not), the cashiers, the folk who help shoppers pack their purchases and those that manage the trollies, who have the potential to make all the difference. To make an impact for both brands and retailers. When retailers can create an engaging, consistent experience across all their venues, customers are more likely to return again, and again.

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