By Tom Erskine, One Door
From the poshest designer boutiques on Fifth Avenue to the airy aisles of big-box stores, sales associates are the front line in customer experience. They are your customer service specialists, brand ambassadors, sales closers, advice givers, in-store problem solvers, and quality controllers. And no matter your size, segment or store count, they are tasked with the all-important job of ensuring a positive shopping experience for the customer, which, in turn, is the most impactful and profitable retail touchpoint at your disposal.
But their job doesn’t end there. In today’s hyper-competitive retail climate, brick-and-mortars are more pressed than ever to excel in visual merchandising to meet the demands of an increasingly savvy clientele — that is, by curating, placing, and displaying products to optimize conversion rates.
According to One Door’s customer survey of 250 retailers, almost half indicated their store teams spend more than 11 hours per week, per store, on merchandising activity. That’s over 1 million hours per year for a retail chain with 2,000 stores. The myriad tasks involved in in-store merchandising fall to — you guessed it — the already overburdened sales associate.
So how do smart retailers keep up with the rigors of merchandising while ensuring customer service doesn’t fall through the cracks? Here are three ways to give your sales associates the support they need to create and maintain beautiful displays that increase sales in retail.
Empower Associates With Digital Tools
As consumers, we shop online from the comfort of our couch and carry a supercomputer in our pockets. We stream our movies and TV shows on-demand. We’ve even started to experience the other side of the world through the lens of a virtual reality headset.
But, as retailers, we give our store associates printed binders, email, and spreadsheets. These methods don’t support efficiency, and certainly don’t allow stores to compete with online players. Delivering a guided experience with printed materials is nearly impossible, especially as brands launch more products and promotions, faster.
It’s time to give your associates a tablet. Digital tools allow visual merchandisers to communicate easier and more often with their store teams about current and upcoming merchandising initiatives. They’re perfect for keeping track of inventory, guiding the placement of products and promotions, logging merchandising compliance, collecting and analyzing data on store sales volume and performance, and providing access to an endless aisle of products.
In other words, digital tools are the best solution for helping store associates reach their full potential.
Provide Associates With A Guided Experience
Put yourself in the shoes of a store associate, seasonal or otherwise. You’re handed a binder with instructions for the placement and promotion of new smart devices. This time it involves three brands of smart speakers and a dozen smartwatches, merchandised across fixtures and tables that don’t match the ones in your store. There isn’t much time before the store opens, so you pick one or two devices, eyeball their placement, replace signage and call it good enough.
If you’re a visual merchandiser, reading this gives you anxiety — and it should. Most retailers believe there is a direct correlation between proper execution of merchandising directives and an increase in sales conversion rates. Randomness is the enemy of merchandising success.
So, instead, provide store associates with a step-by-step guide to merchandising. Help them localize instructions to their individual store, and prioritize fixtures when time is tight.
Encourage Associates With Rewards
There’s a ton of research out there about the effects of rewards on motivation. This works in a retail setting too. Investments in step-by-step guidance and new digital tools are a waste without rewarding employees for a job well done.
In addition to providing associates with a competitive hourly wage and work-life balance, consider incentivizing merchandising and customer service quality with bonuses and sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs). In the traditional model, associates are rewarded with commissions for sales only. But research shows that 79 percent of retail winners are more likely than competitors to enable store teams to earn bonuses for the completion and quality of their merchandising. This could include merchandising fixtures correctly and in a timely manner, or consistently spotting, reporting and remedying out-of-stock merchandise.
Underutilization of store associates is a problem worth solving. By giving them the power to do their jobs better, we can build store operations teams that are more invested, enthusiastic and able to contribute to their store’s success.
About The Author
Tom Erskine is CMO at One Door, the leading provider of cloud-based merchandising execution software. He has over 20 years of experience developing, and successfully marketing innovative software technology applications. Follow @onedoorretail.