Sales Associates as Digital Sherpas

Despite how autonomous and savvy shoppers have become, there is rarely an instance where customer satisfaction doesn’t ultimately lie with a store associate. With the influx of incredible technologies that can connect staff with shoppers in an instant, the role of the sales associate is on the cusp of a major shift. How sales associates communicate and provide value to shoppers is constantly changing, and implementing technology in the right context can create new opportunities to capture value in retail that, before, was not possible.

Traditional sales tactics interrupt the modern retail experience. Echoing the comments of Jeff Simpson, Deloitte director and co-author of Digital Divide, in a CMO Digital Forum article, almost every other point of the shopper journey happens digitally, from initial research to eventual purchase, and associates that are not digitally equipped break that experience, which can be jarring to customers. Because today’s shoppers are omnichannel shoppers, the role of associates in facilitating the shopper journey must also be omnichannel.

As technology is evolving the traditional retail experience, store associates will need to adopt a “digital sherpa” approach, not only helping customers navigate the in-store experience, but also the digital experience. Just as shoppers have digital embedded in their path to purchase, so too should store associates so they’re able to reach and be reached across channels in real-time. Although smart technologies are excellent at streamlining each point of the journey, they’re not replacing the store associate; they’re integrating with the associate’s core functions, facilitating quicker, more accurate interactions. Together, they create something truly powerful.

In a nutshell, the job description of the sales associate is two-fold: Guide in-store shoppers digitally and provide in-store experiences to digital shoppers.

Guiding In-store Shoppers Digitally

Store staff should be equipped with technology that makes their job easier and helps them adapt to today’s more knowledgable customer. For sales associates, it should help them sell more efficiently and build more personal relationships by providing store and brand data as well as shopper data. For shoppers, it blends the in-store experience with the digital experience they’ve likely already had in the past.

Staff apps like Radial or Magento help sales associates be more present and informed while on the floor, so they’re spending less time searching for inventory or looking up answers to questions and more time interacting with shoppers. The quick response times of digitally empowered associates helps the process feel more like a conversation that feels personal which ultimately leads to more loyal customers who spend more and contribute better data.

Providing In-store Experiences to Digital Shoppers

Being able to offer shoppers a local store and associate without having to actually enter the store is useful because it furthers the omnichannel needs of modern shoppers. Maybe a shopper just wants an associate to show her an item while she browses on her phone or let her know if it’s in stock before she goes through with click-and-collect; maybe she needs help building an entire collection from her desktop. To be able to connect with a local store also creates a more personal bond between the shopper and the brand.

Technologies like Hero.CX and are working to connect digital shoppers with in-store associates, giving customers the option to interact with a local representative of a brand. Where call centers are often siloed and hard-pressed to get callers off the phone in a certain amount of time, working digitally with an actual sales associate makes that digital experience feel more like an in-store one.

One of biggest drawbacks of integrated tech for sales associates is the notion that they may lose out on commissions if they help a shopper in-store but that shopper purchases online later. At CloudTags, we solve this issue with Connected Commissions: a smart badge used to track downstream sales that occur online after the customer leaves the store, and attribute the credit back to the sales associate.

As the retail tech industry grows and evolves, the function of the sales associate will become one that’s digitally-enabled and apt to work across both digital and physical channels. Currently, we see a lot of splintered options (live chat here, video calls there, etc) that will eventually become something like a suite that herds many channels into one smooth communication. The same we make the blending of digital and physical channels a priority for the customer experience, we must do the same for staff so they’re able to do their best work.