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Trained Sales Associates Will Be Critical for Making Stores Feel Safe

When stores reopen, they won’t operate as they did pre-pandemic. Individual businesses are determining how they want to adjust the brick-and-mortar experience to accommodate their consumers, and they will need to train their associates to make that vision a reality.

“There’s so much uncertainty around what foot traffic is going to look like in-store and what revenue projections are going to look like across stores,” said Jordan Ekers, co-founder of Nudge, an employee engagement application. “You are likely looking at retail establishments that are going to be reopening in a staggered approach with less labor on the floor.”

But many retailers are operating with reduced budgets and, as a result, have furloughed —– if not laid off — employees. Of those furloughed staff members, not everyone will return to work, so employers might need to recruit more associates before they can roll out their new protocols, which may delay their opening date.

In order to reduce the impact of a furloughed team, Ekers recommends using the time before reopening to stay connected with employees. Whether through specialized sales associate apps or via email, retailers can keep their staff updated on company developments, which is more likely to foster loyalty and encourage a return to work when the time comes.

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There are also programs to help retailers begin to roll out their new training. At Nudge, they are working with their customers to develop in-app guides and quick onboarding protocols, so that employees can hit the ground running with all relevant information.

“Every brand right now is going to rely on their front line to bring the new brand experience to life,” said Ekers. “These are the individuals who are going to be learning what works and what doesn’t work through every customer interaction.”

Previous studies have shown that while the majority of customers are ready to return to stores, there are concerns about traditional store associate interactions. Based on conversations with its customers, Nudge has observed that establishing a sense of psychological safety for both shoppers and employees is a common priority in a successful reopening.

“In my interactions as a consumer, such as when I went to a store over the weekend, it was the informed associate who could communicate what that brand was doing to deliver an experience that is safe that was so important,” said Ekers.

Currently, individual retailers are defining their own specific requirements around sanitation, the number of shoppers in-store and approved levels of engagement, often based on the blueprints provided by government officials and the NRF. But disseminating this information clearly and concisely, particularly through associates, is something that all retailers will want to focus on, said Ekers.

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