How the Role of Sales Associates Is Changing as Shoppers Keep at a Distance

Though stores around the country are beginning to reopen, many consumers remain wary of venturing out. So a number of retailers are turning to digital solutions to reconnect their shoppers with sales associates.

Store associates are a retailer’s best ambassadors,” said Adam Levene, founder of retail video call platform Hero. “They are the people who know the brand and products inside and out, but until recently, their expertise has largely been limited to the four walls of the store they happen to be working in.”

Chat functions on e-commerce platforms are able to provide simple customer service, but many shopper queries require human guidance. Enter: clienteling solutions. Once the domain of luxury retail or department stores, these digital programs are becoming more ubiquitous as retail tries to re-create the in-person experience online.

Specific features vary, but most applications involve live-chat components, supported by audio and video for a more human interaction. Sales associates can access customer data, such as purchasing or browsing history, to inform personalized communications and relevant follow-ups.

Pouneh Hanafi, VP of marketing and partnerships at clienteling solution Tulip, noted that with these tools at their disposal, associates have the ability to create a positive shopping experience even during uncertain times, by serving clients in whatever way is needed. For instance, customers who are nervous about entering a store might want to book a video appointment for guidance. Others might simply want to be updated directly by a trusted associate when an item is in stock.

This flexibility of service is particularly useful while retailers roll out alternative fulfillment programs, like curbside pickup. And it is increasingly important as shoppers become more digitally savvy.

Video call on Hero App to Sell Shoes
The Hero App lets customers call a sales associate at the store and have products demo-ed live on camera.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Hero

“A growing number of consumers are discovering, researching and even paying for merchandise before they arrive at the store,” said John Swords, head of customer experience at personalization platform FindMine.

That lack of in-person interaction can erode customer loyalty, warned experts, because customers revisiting a store rely on consistent and familiar service. But the experience can be replicated online, giving a boost to brick-and-mortar businesses as the store journey changes. Nitin Mangtani, CEO of mobile commerce platform PredictSpring, believes retailers with “robust, mobile native apps will be in the best position to engage with their most loyal customers.”

Through such apps, employees can offer styling advice, facilitate orders and keep consumers informed of new, relevant product. Not only does this intimacy encourage more tailored and valued service, but it can also improve the effectiveness of other digital campaigns that retailers might be running.

“Many nonessential retailers have been announcing discounts and sales to attempt to counter the revenue lost,” said Oscar Sachs, CEO at sales associate app Salesfloor. “Consumer inboxes are filled with email blasts promoting these sales, [but] they will be more prone to open a communication from a store associate they know and have exchanged with in the past.”

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