The 21st Century Store Associate


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As retailers struggle to meet the demands of increasingly savvy shoppers, they are weighing the benefits of making a host of changes to the store and the role of the store associate. Some retailers are successfully adopting solutions and strategies that are in line with shoppers’ preferences — but some are not, according to findings in a new study published by RIS News. This study was designed to leverage findings in the 2012 Shopper Experience study and compare with the responses of more than 40 retailers. . Key takeaways-

 Where retail strategies and shopper preferences dovetail – and where retailers are not on the right track
 How store associates can deliver a more positive shopper experience and improving customer service
 Tactics for personalizing the in-store shopper experience
 How retailers can maximize the mobility revolution for the store and associate

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The 21st Century Store Associate

  1. 1. RIS News Custom Research The 21st Century Store Associate Retailers struggle to meet smart shopper demands for smarter store associates written & ® in part n er sh ip wit hp rod uce d by
  2. 2. Custom Research by j o e s ko ru pa The 21st Century Store Associate Retailers struggle to meet smart shopper demands for smarter store associates As retailers struggle to meet the demands of increasingly smart- This month’s Custom Research study was designed to lever- er shoppers they are weighing the benefits of making major age findings from the 2012 RIS /Cognizant Shopper Experi- changes to the physical store and the role of the store associate. ence study “Enabling Retail Without Boundaries,” which was These changes will require increasing education and training, published in June 2012. This industry leading study tapped the adding new technology tools to level the playing field with well- insights of 2,100 consumers to discover their likes and dislikes informed shoppers, rewriting hiring criteria for HR depart- with the shopping experience. ments, redefining operational roles and skill sets, and more. Based on these findings we created a parallel study designed These adjustments are so potentially disruptive that retail- to be filled out by retailers and then compared the results to ers need to be certain they are adopting new solutions and see how accurately retailers are mapping their strategy against strategies that are 100% in line with shopper preferences, and shopper preferences. Here’s what we found. indeed, according to exclusive RIS research some retailers are successfully achieving this critical goal. They are aligning their Associates Are Decisive Factor store associate strategy with proven shopper likes and dislikes, The first major finding in the study reveals that retailers almost but there is also evidence that many are not. unanimously believe store associates are a decisive factor in Store Associates: The New Weapon in Retailing by Shannon Warner, Sr. Director Multi-Channel Strategy and Planning Business Consulting Shoppers’ relationship with store associates is a double- ordering can potentially bring retailers healthy returns on their edged sword: While poor service has led shoppers to identify investments in associates. associates as their least preferred resource for help with buying Retail websites make shoppers feel at home by using their decisions, nearly half the time shoppers will ask them for help names and recommending products based on their shopping when unable to find products. histories. Shoppers, especially those with higher incomes, That willingness opens an important opportunity for retailers indicate in-store personalization techniques can carry even to combat “showrooming.” The best offense is a skilled, greater influence on purchasing decisions. Store associates are empowered workforce ready to respond to customer needs. And the key resource for personalized shopping. the best way to equip them is through more effective training The techniques can be as simple as extending personal and mobile technologies. greetings or acknowledging a customer as a highly valued How can retailers achieve an empowered workforce? For shopper. They can also take the form of custom offers at starters, by investing in store associate training. Shoppers checkout or special treatment based on shoppers’ loyalty status. indicate that more informed store associates can influence Training and personalization can help retailers improve buying decisions. To improve effectiveness, training should their execution and deepen their relationships with shoppers. incorporate the best practices that are common in consumer With guidance from Cognizant, retailers can rethink the store experiences, such as gaming and scenario-based problem experience, reinvent shopper interaction, and rewire the solving. Additionally, equipping them with tools that provide supply chain. real-time access to product information, inventory and 2 SEPTEMBER 2012 RIS NEWS.COM
  3. 3. Custom Research pa rt n e r s h i p w i t h F I G U R E 1 F I G U R E 2 What is your organization’s view Which customer-facing associate of the value of store associates in responsibility is your improving the shopper experience? store-level priority? 5% 12.5% Important, Resolving shopper other factors issues while in have equal 32.5% the store impact Very important, one 55% of the top factors Helping shoppers find the products 32.5% achieving goals for improving the shop- 62.5% Helping shoppers Extremely important, they want make purchase ping experience. Only 5% say that asso- the most decisive factor decisions ciates are not particularly decisive, that they are just one of many factors that have an impact on improving the shop- ping experience. This means that a near universal FIGURE 3 95% recognize the unique importance of store associates. Of these, 32.5% say Rank the top three POOR shopper experiences you are focused they are very important (one of the top on improving through store associate initiatives. factors) and a huge 62.5% say they are SHOPPERS R E TA I L E R S extremely important (the most decisive factor). 1. The product wanted 1. (Tied) Unhelpful associates This should come as no surprise to is out of stock (poor product knowledge, etc.) anyone in retail except for one thing – if 2. Prices, promos, discounts are 1. (Tied) Slow, inefficient checkout the store associate is universally recog- not clearly marked nized as being decisive to the shopping 3. Difficulty finding the product 2. Difficulty finding products experience, why has the role not been you want a consistent focus for strategic invest- 4. Store associates not easily 3 Waiting in lines (other than checkout) ment? Most strategic discussions in- accessible volving store associates focus on cost reductions. FIGURE 4 Due to this disconnect and neglect Rank the top three POSITIVE shopper experiences that you there is no agreement about what retail- are focused on improving through store associate initiatives. ers should do to leverage such a decisive asset. In some cases, such as helping SHOPPERS R E TA I L E R S shoppers find products and improving inefficient checkout, retailers are pursu- 1. Competitive pricing & promos 1. Quality of customer service ing strategies that dovetail with shopper preferences. 2. Right product selection 2. Brand impression But in other cases, such as the fail- ure to solve the problem of unavailable 3. Quality of customer service 3. Personalizing the shopper experience or distracted store associates, retailers are clearly not aligned with what shop- FIGURE 5 pers want. Rank the top three resources for providing shoppers Shopper-Retailer Disconnect with information and services that lead to SALES. When we asked retailers to name the top three “poor shopper experiences” 1. Store associates they are striving to improve we find the 2. Store website responses are not in line with shopper 3. Mobile smartphone apps/site RIS NEWS.COM SEPTEMBER 2012 3
  4. 4. Custom Research pa rt n e r s h i p w i t hpreferences. (We show four items on the list F I G U R E 6 because there was a tie in the retailer respons-es. Also note the list of optional answers to For which of the following associate functions does yourchoose from in the questions were similar in organization have up-to-date tools to support the shopperboth studies but not exact. The questions in experience today and which are you planning to add in 2013?the retailer study were designed to find insightinto the role of the store associate, which col- Access to store website 69.2% 20.5%ored some of the wording of the questions andanswer choices.) Access to product information 66.7% 25.6% Retailers tell us the top two priorities Inventory status look-up 57.5% 20%are for improving the shopping experience Access to loyalty program status 47.4% 34.2%through store associates are: focusing on solv- Personalized recognition/service 36.8% 36.8%ing the problem of unhelpful associates and Today 2013slow, inefficient checkout, both of which tied Mobile line busting (not full checkout) 13.5% 37.8%at number one. Mobile POS 13.2% 34.2% Interestingly, the top two items on theshopper list are completely different. The big-gest problems for shoppers are out of stocks, F I G U R E 7 and prices, promos and discounts that are notclearly marked. In the third spot in the table we find com- Which of the following personalization techniques do your storeplete agreement between retailers and shop- associates deliver to customers in your stores today and which are you planning to add in 2013?pers over the problem of difficulty findingproducts. This indicates that retailers whosolve this problem are likely to achieve mea- Personal greeting 81.6% 2.6%surable success for their efforts. Unfortu- Acknowledge high value customers 55.6% 19.4%nately, this is the only problem that appears on Today Special treatment based on loyalty 52.8% 33.3% 2013both sides of the ledger. In the last spot in the table, retailers say Personalized offers delivered in store 33.3% 22.2%they are focusing on solving the problem ofwaiting in lines (other than checkout), whileshoppers say they are frustrated by store as-sociates who are not easily accessible. The big takeaway here is that when askedto highlight problems that need solving shop-pers and retailers disagree, which means that Smart retailers should take a serious look atthe key to the solution, the store associate, isnot being properly directed to deliver an im- price matching as a powerful opportunity thatproved shopping experience. When we shift from “poor” shopping expe- most of the retail landscape is overlooking.riences to “positive” shopping experiences weagain find little agreement between retailersand shoppers. The positive shopping experi-ences are out of synch on two out of three pri- impression and personalizing the shopper ex- list of positive experiences for shoppers andority list items. The single area of agreement perience, whereas shoppers say they really like it is dead last for retailers (not all options areis the necessity to provide quality customer seeing competitive pricing and promotions shown in the table).service, which is clearly an area where the role and the right product selection. While store associates have no controlof the store associate is pivotal. The biggest disconnect here has to do with over pricing and promotions it is possible for Problems loom on the horizon when retail- the retailer emphasis on competitive pricing retailers to empower them to match prices.ers say they are focusing on improving brand and promotions. This is number one on the Study data indicates there is a gap here be- RIS NEWS.COM SEPTEMBER 2012 4
  5. 5. Custom Research pa rt n e r s h i p w i t htween shopper expectations and retailer plans. FIGURE 8 Smart retailers should take a serious look atprice matching as a powerful opportunity (as Does your organization have mobile device deployment chainmeasured by shopper interest) that most of the wide today or are you planning to roll it out to sales-floorretail landscape is overlooking. associates in 2013?Shifting Roles 23.1%The primary role of a store associate is to de- Have mobileliver a positive shopping experience, or put devices chain 48.7% wide todayanother way, to provide shoppers with infor- Have no plansmation and services that lead to sales. But the to add right now 28.2%store associate is not the only resource that Plan to addperforms this function. We wanted to know mobile devices chain widewhere store associates rank in a list of re- in 2013sources that includes websites, mobile apps,Internet searches, social media, TV and more. According to retailers, store associates are FIGURE 9 again found to be a decisive factor. Retailers Which mobile functions should be in a mobile device project fornamed them the top-ranked influence lead- associates in the first and second waves of deployment?ing to sales. Second and third on the retailerlist are store website and mobile smartphoneapps/mobile sites. Stock status checking 75.7% 16.2% The next three resources that influcence Price checking 70.3% 13.5%sales (not shown in the table) are shelf sig- Receiving 57.1% 25.8%nage, print materials and social media. A direct comparison to shopper preferenc- Real-time messaging with manager 41.7% 33.3%es can’t be made here because the questions Mobile POS 33.3% 44.4% First Wavewere not asked in the same way, however we Auditing 28.6% 41.7% First Wavecan pull out some insight. The shopper pref-erence study question centered on how often Store associate scheduling 26.5% 35.3%shoppers use retail resources to make in- Task management 25% 58.3%formed purchase decisions in a typical month. Visual merchandising 38.2% 20.1% The top three answers were: 1. Informationprovided on product packaging, 2. Print mate-rials, and 3. Shelf signs or product displays. Al-though it is not a perfect correlation, it is clearthat once again misalignment exists between tus and inventory look up. the mainstream of retailing to catch up withretailer strategies and shopper preferences. Today, the top three areas where retailers the early mobile POS adopters. (See more on However, when we shift gears to store-level provide associates with up-to-date tools are: 1. mobile POS later in the study.)investments and training of associates we see Access to store websites (69.2%), 2. Access to Looking ahead to plans for 2013, mobilea nice convergence between the two studies. A product information (66.7%), and 3. Inventory line busting (POS without full checkout capa-majority of retailers (55%) say their top priority status look up (57.5%). All three can help as- bility) leads the list for deployment plans withfor store-level investment and training for as- sociates drive sales and improve the customer 37.8% of retailers saying they will add it in thesociates is in the area of helping shoppers find experience. next 12 months. Coming in a close secondthe products they want. This aligns well with But where is mobile POS, the most dis- is personalized recognition/service (36.8%),shopper priorities noted in Figures 2 and 3. ruptive and fastest deploying technology in a key retail battleground in the future where One key area of investment that could help retailing today? At the bottom of the list for deploying advanced tech tools can make a sig-associates deliver a better customer experi- up-to-date tools, which makes sense because nificant difference.ence is by providing up-to-date tech tools such it is still an emerging trend and few retailers The concept of personalization, which re-as mobile POS, access to loyalty program sta- have it in place. It will take several years for fers to methods that identify key customers or RIS NEWS.COM SEPTEMBER 2012 5
  6. 6. Custom Research pa rt n e r s h i p w i t h F I G U R E 1 0 customer groups and then engages them withtargeted shopping experiences, is slowly mov- Froom which of these two product categories does your organiza-ing from theory to practice in retailing. As a tion generate the majority of its revenue?result, we wanted to benchmark how the roleof the store associate is being impacted by ef-forts to optimize personalization. Evidence from retailer responses indicates 30% Consumablesthat personalization is not yet universally un- (groceries, health &derstood and requires clearer understanding beauty, household 70% supplies, etc.)and definition. We find that 81.6% of retail- Specialty (clothing,ers say their store associates deliver personal electronics, housewares, office supplies, etc.)greetings; presumably the high number in-dicates that retailers are referring to a greet-ing offered to all customers as opposed to aspecial greeting offered to specific customers F I G U R E 1 1 or customer groups. While this is pleasantlypersonable it is not personalization in the true What is the current number of fixed POS terminalssense of the concept. in stores chain wide? A surprising 55.6% say that store associ-ates acknowledge high-value customers. Re-ally? This figure seems high when comparingit to real-world store experiences in the mar- 22.5% 35%ketplace today. >2,000 <100 The same sense of surprise arises whenlooking at the 52.8% who say they deliver spe- 7.5% 1,000 to 2,000cial treatment based on loyalty. Because thesenumbers are so high it is possible that retailers 17.5% 500 to 1,000who checked these capabilities are including 17.5%methods that go beyond store associates, such 100 to 500as online or e-mail functions. Of the personalization techniques thatretailers plan to invest in for 2013 the topthree are: special treatment based on loyalty(33.3%), personalized offers delivered in store The key to a turnaround in the struggling(22.2%), and acknowledging high value cus-tomers (19.4%). Overall, the strong numbers store channel could be smart investments infor 2013 plans indicate that personalizationtechniques are highly placed on the retailer new tools and training for store associates.priority list for future deployment.The Mobile RevolutionSince the rollout of mobile devices in stores ing mobile revolution. forward due to poor performance or lack ofis widely considered to be among the fast- The key to the benchmark question we budget. Our goal was to find out about real-est and most disruptive technologies ever to asked are these two elements: “chain wide” world use of mobile devices by sales-floor as-occur in retail, we thought it was important and “sales-floor associates.” Virtually every sociates as opposed to speculative benchmark where it is today and where it retailer has some level of involvement with a What we found is that nearly a quarteris going. This is especially relevant to any mobility deployment, either in the planning, (23.1%) of respondents have mobile devicesdiscussion about the role of store associates, testing or limited rollout phase. The problem deployed chain wide today. This is a highwho are manning the front lines in the boom- is that many of these projects will not move number and it is worth noting that some of the RIS NEWS.COM SEPTEMBER 2012 6
  7. 7. Custom Research pa rt n e r s h i p w i t h F I G U R E 1 2 devices deployed are not used for customer- What is your organization’s annual revenue?facing functions and instead are used for op-erational activities such as task managementand inventory audit. A bigger slice of the retail pie, 28.2%, tells 25%us they plan to add mobile devices chain wide > $2 Billion 32.5% < $100 Millionin 2013. Added together this means that amajority of retailers (51.3%) will have mobile 5%devices deployed chain wide in less than 18 $1 Billion to $2 Billionmonths. 27.5% Many of these chain wide mobile deploy- 10% $100 Million to $500 Million to $500 Millionments will have customer-facing functions $1 Billionand we wanted to find out which ones. Whenwe asked the question we wanted retailers F I G U R E 1 3 to tell us what they consider to be importantfunctionality for the first wave of mobility de- How did your company’s sales revenue performployments and also in the second wave. in the last 12 months? The top three listed in the first wave focusprimarily on back-office functions: Stock sta-tus checking (75.7%), price checking (70.3%)and receiving (57.1%). The latter is strictly an 21.6% Decreasedoperational function, but the first two can also 43.2%be used during customer interactions on the Increasedsales floor to improve the shopping experience. > than 3% For the second wave of mobile deployments 35.1%three functions stand out. They are: Task Increased between 0% - 3%management (58.3%), mobile POS (44.4%)and auditing (41.7%). Of these, mobile POSwill have the biggest impact on improving theshopping experience due to its line bustingand checkout anywhere capabilities.MethodologyThis study was conducted during the month shopping experience, and it is clear that retail- If retailers and shoppers disagree aboutof August and only senior executives from na- ers believe the store associate is the decisive what should be on the priority list to improvetional or large regional retailers were invited factor in achieving success. the shopping experience and revive store sales,to participate. The results do not include any The changes planned are so potentially dis- then the store associate is not being properlystore-level, field-level or regional employees. ruptive that retailers need to be certain they directed to help solve the problem.Only headquarters-level staff responses were are adopting solutions and strategies that align Today, many strategic discussions involv-included. Total number of respondents to the with bottom-up shopper preferences as op- ing store associates focus on cost reductions,survey was 45 valid retailers. posed to top-down mandates. Unfortunately, which have a negative impact on efforts to im- this is not always the case. prove the shopping experience. While holdingConclusion This unique report, which compares find- down labor cost carries a lot of weight in theAs retailers struggle to meet the rising de- ings from two different studies – a study of retail enterprise the viability of the store as amands of shoppers they are making major retailer responses and a survey of 2,100 con- thriving sales channel hangs in the balance,changes to the physical store, technology de- sumers – discovers that many current and and the key to a turnaround could be smartployed, and the role of the store associate. The planned retail strategies do not align with investments in new tools and training for thegoal of these efforts is to deliver an improved what shoppers expect or want. store associate. RIS RIS NEWS.COM SEPTEMBER 2012 7