The proper AI-driven point-of-sale technologies in the hands of a well-trained, motivated, and ... [+] empowered brand ambassador is believed to be one of the best ways to build loyalty and lifetime customer value, while connecting online and offline usage.
New truths are emerging regarding retailing in the post pandemic era. Many of these are highlighted in PwC’s February 2023 Global Consumer Insights Survey. A particular survey quote stands out: “It’s incumbent on market participants to meet consumers in both physical and digital spaces—and to meet their changing expectations.” These same sentiments were echoed throughout the many speeches and presentations during January’s National Retail Federation’s 2023 “Big Show” in New York City. Greetings Card Display
As the growth of ecommerce has tapered and the public is becoming socially reengaged, stores are becoming increasingly more strategic for retail organizations. At the same time, in an era of unified commerce, the stores’ very function and purpose are being challenged as many will cease being primary points of sale.
This movement from transactional to experiential retailing is forcing vast changes in the nature of the instore experience. The PwC Survey further noted that “consumers are saying that they want the physical shopping experience to be enhanced, facilitated or mediated by digital technologies.” This prompted the newest industry portmanteau “phygital,” or “the blending of the physical and digital worlds.” It also received NRF billing.
Much of the technology featured at this year’s show dealt with “eliminating friction” along the path to purchase, often at the point-of-sale. These AI-enhanced tools are rapidly becoming table stakes for leading retailers. However, regardless of how much technology gets introduced into the retail mix, it is still all about people, both the customers and sales associates, a point was driven home in the February PwC survey.
When participants were asked to rate the most significant attribute of the physical shopping experience, the highest rated response was a “knowledgeable and helpful sales associate.” That beat self-service, scan-and-go, instore app use, and instore entertainment, by significant margins.
Despite the myriad of challenges facing the retail industry, including supply chains, inflation, shrinkage, the changing consumer, and more; reevaluating the role of the frontline retail worker was omnipresent during NRF panels and presentations.
Retailers are reinventing how they recruit, train, motivate, and empower staff as new retail models emerge and staff roles change from being purely transactional to becoming relationship builders and “brand ambassadors.” This is a subject that I’ve been exploring for over a decade.
From Sales Associate to Brand Ambassador
Giorgio Pradi, President of Sunglass Hut spoke at length about their newest initiatives across their 3,200+ stores, and the massive investments being made creating authentic “brand ambassadors” to properly integrate core brand attributes throughout the customer journey.
A panel discussion entitled “Building and Sustaining a Dynamic Frontline Workforce,” was led by fellow RETHINK Retail influencer Ron Thurston. It included high ranking executives from Nordstrom JWN , Lowe’s, and CVS Health, and focused on the latest initiatives to empower their customer-facing employees.
Nordstrom Senior Director of Styling and Sales, Jessica Cloutier noted that they are committed to creating career paths for their “style ambassadors.” They understand the value of investing in their personnel to recognize what great service looks like. Nordstrom recognizes that the customer journey must be on shoppers’ terms, so they are making investments in providing brand ambassadors with mobile-optimized devices to better serve shoppers. These devises go beyond facilitating sales, they open the door to invaluable endless-aisle offerings.
The PwC survey also revealed that as customers intend to spend more time in brick-and-mortar environments in the coming six months, they fully expect more “technological bells and whistles” while still being concerned about their personal security, which can be double-edged.
Interestingly, according to another, 2022 PwC U.S. Customer Loyalty Survey, 82% of respondents stated that they would be willing to share some kind of personal data in exchange for better service. Not surprisingly, there is an inverse connection between the consumers’ ages and their desire to trade on their data.
It is well established that technology augmentation can remove friction in-store while saving labor costs. At the same time, customers today have increased expectations for assistance and personalized service, which tends to introduce more friction. This dichotomy invites both opportunities and challenges for today’s and tomorrow’s retailers.
The retail industry has been inundated with new tools and technologies that promise and, in many cases, deliver more empowering and cohesive cross-channel experiences. Introducing digital elements into the in-store shopping experience such as interactive kiosks, touchscreen displays, augmented reality applications and increased usage of QR codes have all shown promise.
Retail Display Rack However, putting the proper AI-driven point-of-sale technologies in the hands of a well-trained, motivated, and empowered brand ambassador is believed to be one of the best ways to build loyalty and customer lifetime value, while truly personalizing the sales experience. It provides the sales associates a mobile device that enables seamless online to offline transitioning, along with endless-aisle sales and expanded service capabilities. As Aptos’ Nikki Baird states, “It’s about bringing the best of the store associate to the customer in the context of the store.” I couldn’t say it better myself.