Retail Sales Staff Training: Your On-Site and Online Secret Weapon
A user-friendly site. Chat features. Strong images. E-commerce retailers have been using these UX tactics and more to humanize the online shopping experience. But all told, in the realm of personal warmth, human interaction, humor and caring, e-commerce can’t stand toe-to-toe with the in-store experience…and it probably never will.
You may say, shopping today is only about price, variety and convenience. If that were the case, brick and mortar retailers would have folded up years ago – and e-tailers wouldn’t be opening permanent stores at breakneck pace. People still like, want and crave the shopping experience. They want someone to listen to their concerns, generate ideas and help them find what they need.
[bctt tweet=”Sales staff training is one of the most pressing topics in retail. Gone are the days when retailers were happy for a warm body to stock shelves and ring the cash register. The in-store service bar has been elevated.” username=”medallionretail”] Both retailers and shoppers expect more out of sales floor staff. And bonus! These sales consultants are not just facilitating instore sales, they are also greasing the wheels of e-commerce.
How are stores finding this magical person who can interact in both the live and the digital world? Most sales staff don’t arrive on their first day with a complete toolbox of skills to manage the matrix. It takes well-thought-through training.
From high-end luxury to mass merchandise
Beefed up training is being seen across the retail landscape. Macy’s is leveraging the knowledge and commitment of sales consultants who are digital savvy by giving them the green light to send Instagram posts featuring Macy’s products. As members of the company’s Style Crew, they are selected to engage with customers online and in-store. Cassandra Jones, Sr. VP of Fashion and Digital Strategy for Macy’s,says, “Macy’s employees are passionate about design and aesthetics. It makes sense to engage and empower them to showcase what’s new and next to our customers.”
Saks Fifth Avenue keeps adding to the number of its Style Advisors. Many people may be familiar with the concept of the Personal Shopper, but Saks recognized that the concept needed to be broadened and democratized:The service isn’t just for the retailer’s most well-heeled shoppers. All Saks shoppers can avail themselves of a Style Advisor who will curate selections before the customer arrives in-store, or will travel to their home, office or hotel – or live chat from a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Across the pond, famed British luxury retailer Harvey Nichols boosted the profile of its sales consultants with ASKHN. According to the company’s website, the in-store team can send customers pictures, livestream from the shop floor and send product recommendations through the company’s website. You can be in the store, wondering whether the shoe department on the main floor has heels to go with a dress you’re contemplating on the third floor, or finishing up work at your desk – either way, the staff can not only show you in real time what’s available, but they can also advise, guide and stylize you.
Lest you think that boosting the role of sales floor staff is just for the luxury sector, Walmart – the behemoth of mass merchandise – is also increasing sales skills with its Walmart Academies. The company’s blog notes, “As these graduates are going back to their stores and implementing their new skills, they’re helping transform our shopping experience to be a consistently positive one.” Which of these skills is Walmart referring to? Merchandising, sales techniques and management skills, all topped off with a giant dollop of confidence. Walmart is dedicating major resources to its Academies, opening more than 100 across the country and making it one of the largest training programs in the U.S. The effectiveness of the training isn’t based solely on sales – it also encompasses customer service and satisfaction, and employee retention, which are all trending positive.
Walmart, Saks, Harvey Nichols, Macy’s and a growing number of forward-thinking retailers know that digital is an important component of their sales funnel, but they also recognize that customers still want a personal touch from a knowledgeable salesperson.
Personally, I love that a sales rep can livestream so that I can see makeup swatches and buy the right shade for me, and that I can converse with a person who can vividly describe the texture and color of a fabric. As someone who looks at graphics on digital devices a good part of the day, I know that colors can vary from how they appear on a screen versus in-person – is that red more fire engine or tomato?
Leveraging the psychology of buying
In his book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, famed retail guru Paco Underhill writes, “Eighty-six percent of women look at price tags when they shop. Only 72 percent of men do. For a man, ignoring the price tag is almost a measure of his virility. As a result, men are far more easily upgraded than are women shoppers. They are also far more suggestible than women –men seem so anxious to get out of the store that they’ll say yes to almost anything.”
Now imagine the male shopper interacting with a highly trained sales consultant who can helpfully suggest pants to go with that jacket, a sauté pan to go with the stock pot, accent pillows for the new sofa (and let’s not forget the standing lamp, too!). Left to their own devices or simply walked through to the cash register, the retailer misses the opportunity to create helpful value, enhance the shopping experience and, yes, upsell. When you create a satisfying In Store Shopper Moment™, one that will stay in the customer’s memory, you’ve also gained the shopper’s loyalty and repeat business.
As Underhill so aptly puts it, “The manufacturers, retailers and display designers who pay attention to male ways, and are willing to adapt the shopping experience to them, will have an edge in the twenty-first century…men are particularly suggestible to the entreaties of children as well as eye-catching displays.” Don’t believe this? I invite you to go supermarket shopping with my husband and kids!
But it’s not just sales skills adaptation to men, it’s adaptation to each variety of shopper: women, millennials, tweens and seniors. When sales consultants are trained in the nuances of shopping and the trigger points for each type of shopper, they have a powerful tool at their disposal.
Curation with a personal touch
Some sales associates can think more is better. Actually, more can be overwhelming and confusing to the consumer. When shoppers seek guidance, they are also seeking someone to curate for them. Take large-screen TVs. Rather than present three manufacturers, plasma and LED models, and a panoply of features, it’s more helpful to cull recommendations down to three top contenders.
In addition to having a sales consultant talk about why these three make sense, the consultant can provide proof. Sales displays listing features and relating to personas give sales staff and shoppers the clear information they crave. Is yours the big football party house? Are you looking for an immersive movie experience? Is the room filled with sunlight or tucked into the lower level? Training and support materials help sales staff know which questions to ask and how to answer them.
Ringing with cheer
For retailers, so much rides on the crucial holiday selling season. The holiday season can be make or break for some physical retailers. The ones that will succeed are those that differentiate their in-store experience. As discussed above, there is a clear psychology regarding buyers’ personas. Consumers that show up in stores are not so much mission oriented, they want to celebrate the holiday experience. They are an emotionally driven shopper – they want to feel the holiday experience, and surround themselves with decorations, music and goodwill toward others.
For retailers, goodwill begins with the sales staff. Sales staff that has been trained and is confident about product selection, delivery, personalization options and special offers are happier and less stressed. It shows in their demeanor, conversation and ability to connect with shoppers.
Physical retail won’t win the war on price and convenience. What brick and mortar can deliver big time is holiday spirit through inspiring ideas and intoxicating experiences. Whether it’s a live demonstration, an unexpected display of products (including from other retailers à la co-shopperation), or a special guest appearance, it fulfills the expectation of shopping as entertainment and put shoppers in the right frame of mind to buy.
Train for success
Inspiring and empowering sales staff – from on-the-floor sales staff to store managers to customer service staff – starts with training. This covers everything from product knowledge and on-brand messaging to store etiquette and corporate policies. You want everything humming along like a fine-tuned machine. But better than a machine, you want to encourage warmth, humor, empathy – the range of human emotion that generates more impact than a pop-up screen on a laptop.
Training can be supported individually with “cheat sheets” containing product information and comparisons, floor displays and signage that illustrate features or align with buyer personas, and floor guides that pinpoint where products are located.
And training can be done through fun group exercises that promote teamwork. Having worked with a major national retailer for a number of years on their management training, we see first-hand the positive impact of gamification modules and fun takeaways. The cost is modest but the payoff in the store is immense.
To make sure your training pays off, you need to make sure you’ve laid the groundwork for success. Sales floors are thoughtfully laid out, products are well merchandised, technology is well understood, and mundane tasks are eliminated through automation or improved efficiency initiatives. When sales staff can quickly find what customers want and need, when they can make helpful recommendations, your store and staff become the heroes.
Training isn’t flashy and right in the face of customers, but shoppers know well-trained staff when they experience it – and they reward those stores that clearly invest in their sales consultants. Training – it’s the secret to creating success.
Make your signage, display and training your secret weapons in the battle for shopper acquisition and retention. Reach out to Michael or Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org call 212-929-9130.