Study: Store associates ready to embrace digital tools, but lack them
Correction: In a previous version of this article, Oscar Sachs was misidentified as the chief client officer at Salesfloor.
About 25% of store associates say they haven’t been given the right technology tools to do their jobs, according to the 2017 Retail Associate Technology Study from Salesfloor, a company whose Storefront platform allows consumers to shop directly with associates from their local brick-and-mortar stores.
The study further found that about 72% of associates are more likely to continue working for a retailer that properly equips them with such tools, and 50% of them feel they are not reaching their full potential in their current jobs.
The study results were announced at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition this week in Chicago, where Joe Milano, senior vice president of digital retail at Saks, talked about his company’s deployment of Storefront, along with Oscar Sachs, co-founder and CEO of Salesfloor.
Welcome to the age of the "omnichannel store associate," a term used by Sachs (not to be confused with Saks). While retailers often see omnichannel strategies as customer-facing and about putting new capabilities in the hands of customers, associates in brick-and-mortar stores can also exploit those tools in their jobs.
Sachs and others think omnichannel tools can be used to leverage the benefits of the e-commerce format, rather than losing sales to it, and to improve retailers' ability to communicate with customers and make sales to them even after they've left the store.
Saks has been using Salesfloor's Storefront since 2015, however, the retailer has steadily expanded its use of the technology applications in Storefront over that time. "We started with just a few stores, and now it's in every store and being used by virtually every store associate — and we have a lot of associates," Milano told an IRCE audience during a Wednesday presentation. "Employee engagement with the platform and retention of employees because of it have been massive."
Storefront allows store associates to do things like open a chat dialog with a customer who walked out of a store earlier without making a purchase, or to create a curated web site page of favored styles for that customer to visit at their leisure. It's easy to understand why store associates like the ability to do these things: They might have the potential to realize a commission on a sale through a bit of online and mobile persistence instead of watching it walk out the door.
One obvious concern could arise: If in-store associates busily use online and mobile tools to save sales that were aborted earlier, will they neglect the customers who are actually in their stores? If an associate is in a chat session with one customer, and an in-store customer needs help, who gets priority? Salesfloor tries to solve that conundrum with some quick chat auto-responses that associates can trigger if they are juggling customers.
But, in case you're still wondering, Milano said, "The customer in front of the associate in the store always comes first."