THE LAST 3 FEET
Walk through the door, juggling handbag, tote, smartphone a shopping bag or two and the must have "to-go cup".
A jaunt through the cosmetics area of a high-end specialty department store will yield at least 3 assertive salespeople eager to offer you a makeover. (Yikes! Didn't I just spend 2 hours primping in the morning?) Whose idea was that? While it's surely not a feel-good experience, it is likely a result of how the sales team was trained ....well at least we finally lost the perfume spritzers!
You now proceed to the dress department, where if you are lucky, someone smiles and greets you upon entering. You begin to browse; maybe someone will help... a salesperson sizes you up and then engages by telling you what she wants to show you (based on knowing zero about you). Alternatively, you are simply ignored.
If you are like me, a typical shopping excursion probably looks just like this.
In the midst of our technology-driven lives most have forgotten what truly good service is like. People have become so avoidant of service interaction that entire businesses have formed and flourished around the premise of eschewing salespeople. Many prefer seeking the opinions of strangers from on-line reviews than relying on a salesperson’s suggestions; few trust salespeople anymore. We have become numb.
If we examine the message this sends, it is easy to understand what keeps CEOs up at night and why these types of retail shopping experiences send consumers rushing back to their computers. Some tout a solution that digitizes the in-store experience, yet common sense says, let's go back to basics and make it more about the customer and less about the sale; let's humanize the experience.
The inundation of information, 24-hour access, and convenience of the digital world has shifted the dynamic of consumer and seller at retail locations. In the face of this new landscape, it is imperative that retailers and marketers address the offering of products and services from a new vantage point. You have heard the expression "it takes a village"... In this case, a supporting cast of corporate advocates that can create a true brand immersion for the customer. Creating this new retail experience is key and will ultimately empower the sales professional to be the ambassador.
A good place to begin the process is to ask ourselves this question-
Has the retailer forgotten that people come in to their shops to engage a brand, touch product, to feel special, to have fun, to speak with a human and to leave with an experience that keeps on giving long after they leave the store? We want our customers to be reminded of how good they felt every time they use the product. As an example; think about a special piece of jewelry you might have purchased on a beautiful vacation. Doesn’t it bring you back to those moments every time you wear it?
The answer starts at the top; The C-Suite must refocus on the importance and proprietary nature of human interaction, instead of obscuring the retail experience in complex technology solutions.
Now, more than ever, companies are even more equipped to provide robust data and increased technological support. And while metrics are important, I believe the critical next step is to design a development path to create meaningful education, career trajectory and compensation for the sales professionals. Large-scale corporations already possess the resources for employee training programs, but they need some revamping.
Existing paradigms suggest that sales professionals are either overly eager or infuriatingly disconnected from the customer. What if the sales professional took pride in their service, and was incentivized to foster an environment of creativity, camaraderie and passion? Can sales teams learn to refocus their energy on innovation and service?
I believe they can. First, hire people who actually view selling as a profession and have a desire to service people. Then create "Retail Institutes/Academies of Excellence" where training would begin with a re-orientation of all the staff in the business of service, focus on skill development by hosting workshops and exercises, redefine their role and ultimately elevate the sales professional by instilling pride. Continuing this training and education would be critically important for management to continually develop insights to understand the consumer perspective.
Businesses need to consider developing brand evangelists, not selling machines, by instituting interactive roundtables for management and sales to foster discussions, instead of mandates. Input from sales is an essential part of the process. Employees immersed in their brand and empowered by its message will be more successful at conveying its message. When management instills a sense of belonging, ownership and teamwork sales professionals can flourish.
Creating a new, differentiated in-store experience that connects consumers to the brand and communicates the message seamlessly on every level will resonate with customers and invite brand loyalty.
Rethinking the sales compensation structure, hiring goals, and providing certifications or internships for the sales team will create more authentic in-store engagements. (Dare we consider changing the name of "salesperson" to Client specialist or Shopping Guru to send a different message?)
We have come to realize that most shopping is all about entertainment and experience, not necessity. By the time a customer enters the store they have googled, blogged, tweeted and researched the products/brand and feel empowered with information. They visit stores seeking products with value, and they want to be valued, and they want their purchase to be validated. Not only is the demographic of the luxury consumer changing (here come those millennials), but the mindset of the existing consumer has changed as well, resulting in new consumer spending habits and I believe, ultimately creating an opportunity for the category to grow to new heights.
It’s time for the retail community to remember that everything happens at the last 3 feet. You have them in the store... invest in the place where the brand reputation is most at stake; innovate the sales profession.