I’ve been reading tons of articles about the future of shopping, the growth of mobile in the shopping experience and how major retailers are taking advantage of technology to transform their stores. Not only is online shopping the new normal, but even in-store, many shoppers prefer to get product info from their phones (PDF) rather than a live salesperson.
It’s enough to make a retailer worry that shopping in a physical store with help from a sales clerk is becoming as obsolete as using a typewriter.
But there are still some things that your retail salespeople can do better than computers. One of them is gathering information from customers that you can use to improve the in-store experience.
Below are some ways your retail salespeople can help shape the future of your store:
Engage with Customers
Encourage salespeople to go beyond the perfunctory “Can I help you?” to chat with customers and ask them questions. Of course, they’ll need to be sensitive to when customers prefer to be left alone, and when they’re in the mood to talk.
Conversations with customers can glean useful information such as who most of your shoppers are buying for, the purpose of their shopping trip, what products they’re looking for and more.
Focus on the End Point
Clerks often say goodbye as customers leave, but they could do a lot more. By paying attention to a customer’s progress around the store, they can spot when customers may be about to head out.
Instead of just saying goodbye, they can engage customers near the exit to ask if they need help finding anything or if they found everything they need. This is a good opportunity to help a customer who may have missed something you have in stock.
I’m not suggesting you hit customers over the head with a barrage of questions when they’re trying to browse or check out. However, if there’s something you have a particular question about, you could have all your salespeople quickly ask that question at the point-of-sale and track the results, or walk around the store and ask each shopper the same question.
Salespeople can learn a lot simply by keeping their eyes open. Ask your staff to be observant about what customers are doing. Such insights can tell you what’s working for your store and what isn’t.
Does every customer who enters your store make a beeline to the sales rack at the back? Maybe your price points are too high for your market, or you’re marking down merchandise so often that no one wants to pay full price. Do customers all peruse one particular display while completely ignoring another? Maybe you need to remerchandise the display or stock more of what people are drawn to. Do people look in the window, but seem reluctant to come in? Maybe your store looks intimidating and needs friendly touches such as music and smiling salespeople.
To make the most of the intel your sales staff gathers, hold regular meetings, at least monthly but preferably weekly, where the whole team shares information about what they’ve observed. This is a great way of spotting trends that you may not have noticed. For example, if one salesperson at your shop mentions that lots of customers ask for more items in black or in bigger sizes, and everyone chimes in, you know you’re on to something.
In order for this strategy to work, you need the right type of sales staff — friendly, but not pushy, people who are naturally curious and alert. If some of your salespeople don’t measure up, you might need to either put those people in more background jobs or let them go.
Salesperson Photo via Shutterstock
#4 is a hard one, because often times a retail salesperson is making a low hourly wage, yet this is a skill that requires full mental awareness and effort. Make sure you’re incentivizing this type of behavior.
Also, I often ask to speak with customer service reps or salespeople when building online advertising campaigns because I want to know how customers describe their problems and ask about solutions. Not the way management talks about them.
Customers nowadays appreciate caring (but not pushy) salespeople. When you approach them with care in mind, you’ll be surprised on how they will respond and how they may even purchase something just from the mere appreciation of your kindness.
With all the attention given to employee engagement it is only a natural outcome that attention is now drifting into customer engagement. Properly engaging customers is the bet way to create long-term sustainability for your business.