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Back to basics – store associates are the heart of CX strategy

Store associates should be at the heart of each retailer's strategic move – front-line staff have the power to drive in-store visits and transform the experience for the customer.

Global consultant Deloitte’s Retail Trends 2024 report has something very specific – and surprisingly optimistic – to say about the state of play for the industry this year: ‘In 2024, substantial advances in technology – which will reduce costs, improve productivity and enhance the customer experience – will see retailers approach the year ahead with renewed confidence’.

Whether this confidence will emerge over the course of the upcoming months or, as is usually the case for an industry which is more dependent on global economic, political and social outcomes than most, it takes a few more years to be fully realised, there’s no doubt that retailers are reassessing what customer experience means to them and taking a ‘back to basics’ approach when it comes to their strategies.

As the more routine aspects of customer experience inevitably become automated thanks to the increasing efficiency of machine-led services, retailers are returning to the heart of the matter – store associates are central to customer experience. While the Office for National Statistics suggests that up to 25% of retail jobs are at risk of being lost to automation, retailers should see this as an opportunity to elevate the more ‘soft’ aspects of customer experience – those that involve person-to-person interactions which are still outside AI’s capabilities – beyond the transactional, increasing both the value and the status of their employees. 

Three key commitments are central to this: 

Benefits of the online experience should be available in-store 

The ease with which customers can use all the channels at their fingertips to make purchases has erased the barriers between online and offline, which is why retailers need to empower store associates to provide the benefits of online shopping in store to keep ahead of their demands.  

There’s evidence that making store associate-led online services available in store increases revenue by as much as 3% and secondary purchases by up to 35%. Store associates with in-depth, real-time knowledge of customers’ wants and needs, stock availability and product information, delivered via dashboards on their own devices, are able to offer a superior level of service, from online ordering in store to upselling appropriate products.  

The only way to achieve this kind of frictionless experience is to allow information to flow freely between business areas, devices and back-end systems such as eCommerce and CRM so that it can be quickly picked up and intelligently applied throughout the customer journey. This is where retailers need to use a digital store platform to enable existing and new systems to talk to each other in real time allowing store associates to identify customers, offer personalised service, enable seamless checkouts and respond to feedback in a way which makes the customer feel valued and listened to. 

Store associates need to have at least the same level of information as customers 

Customers able to browse and buy products whenever and wherever they choose rightly expect to have the same kind of experience in-aisle. At the very least, in store service should involve store associates having access to the same level of technology and digital content as their customers. Lack of access to the right kind of devices and information to enable them to do their jobs properly has a negative effect on sales as well as morale – research shows that 50% of store associates are embarrassed by their lack of product knowledge, with a significant percentage admitting that this makes them feel upset, awkward and angry around customers, while 73% admit to sending customers to a different store or sales colleague because they couldn’t answer simple questions about a product. 

Give store associates the ability to provide a new, higher-value ‘human’ customer experience through clienteling 

Being able to identify and empathise with customer emotions plays a vital part in making a purchase, and this is an area where automation simply can’t compete. Once ‘hygiene’ and routine admin tasks become AI-assisted processes, store associates will be able to focus on the more ‘human’ elements of service and, as a result, see their roles become elevated to better-paid and more highly-regarded positions. Providing a truly personalised, one-to-one experience based on shared data, from past purchases and tailored communications to personal tastes and product reviews, is what will drive in-store visits beyond the transactional.  

The future of the high street depends on retailers making radical decisions about the shape of their business. Store associates should be at the heart of each strategic move – front-line staff have the power to drive in-store visits and transform the experience for the customer by reinforcing the value of having access to a highly-motivated and knowledgeable shopping companion. 

Contact us or request a demo to find out more

Head of Client Success Emma Newman
Emma Newman, Head of Client Success, 29th February 2024
A store associate helping a customer at Tory Burch

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