Holiday season is retailers’ big moment to shine. Stores are busy, websites are humming, inventory is moving, and teams are surging with seasonal staff. It’s an exciting time to be in retail, and with the initial Black Friday results now in, we can see that the predictions of a more “human holiday” appear to have hit on the mark as consumers are shopping online in bigger numbers than ever, +20% to $7.4 billion across the 4,500 retail websites tracked by Adobe Analytics. Black Friday was also the “biggest day ever for mobile,” with 39% of all e-commerce orders coming from a mobile device for a total of $2.9 billion, +35% over last year, being generated by smartphones alone.
Even more interesting was the 43% surge in buy-online-pick-up-in-store orders. NPG Group’s Holiday Purchase Intentions Survey predicts one in five online purchases will be picked up in-store this year, with mobile shoppers particularly keen to take advantage of click & collect options. Though RetailNext reported physical store traffic declined 2% on Black Friday, intent to buy was clearly up, with conversion showing +1.7% and shopper yield up 2.7%. At least some of this can likely be credited to additional purchases BOPIS customers pick up once they’re in the stores already. All of these results lend credibility to the belief that omnichannel retailers are emerging as early winners this season by “successfully bridging online and offline retail operations,” says Adobe.
Whether consumers want to enjoy face-to-face conversations with sales associates, social shopping and winter wonderland store experiences, they don’t have the patience to wait for shipping, or they just want to avoid the porch pirates that a whopping 78% of survey respondents claimed to be taking preventive measures to avoid, we can’t be sure. What we do know is, brick and mortar retailers must take advantage of every moment shoppers are in their physical environments, whether it be looking for inspiration, making a purchase, or picking up a click & collect order.
It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of a well-prepared store team in this Amazon Prime world. Not only do they represent the biggest differentiator between the online and offline shopping experience, they can be a meaningful bright spot when stressed-out holiday shoppers need one – but only if they are ready and able to meet the elevated demands of the digitally-enabled consumer. While thoughtful, personalized human service is still a powerful differentiator for stores, speed of service and seamless integration are the table stakes that get them in the door.
In this context, here are five things retailers can do to drive success this year.
- Streamline BOPIS. While the importance of a smooth buy-online-pick-up-in-store experience can’t be understated, seamlessly executing it in a store that wasn’t designed with that in mind can be a complicated proposition for many retailers. Most still struggle to process these orders without wasting unnecessary labor hours, delivering incomplete or incorrect orders, and making customers wait longer than necessary while someone finds and delivers their merchandise. Those that have cracked the code are being rewarded with repeat purchases and visits to the store – and the attach rate that comes along with them. That code itself starts with a well-defined workflow to govern the order fulfillment and customer delivery actions, and ends with an automated communication mechanism capable of proactively alerting associates when action needs to be taken and driving accountability to ensure they are completed in a timely manner. From there, order fulfillment prioritization, real-time customer arrival alerts, and task management integration can be added to drive sophistication in larger operations. But reliable communication, system-driven accountability, and a clear workflow are the foundation to ensure the experience delivers exactly what is intended: a pickup experience that’s quicker and easier than entering the store to make the same purchase.
- Make associates as efficient and knowledgeable as possible with assisted selling and immediate access to product information. While many consumers research products of interest long before they enter a store, in that moment of truth when a customer has homed in on the item they want to purchase, they expect every associate to be an expert, capable of helping them navigate technical details or offer suggestions for specific situations. At the very least, you’ve got to make sure your team can perform a quick stock check or price lookup, locate the items in the store or at another location, and offer cross-sell and upsell options to enhance their experience with the merchandise. Conversational platforms have come a long way in being able to provide this both sorts of support to tenured and new associates alike. Targeted communications, in-ear reminders, and automated processes to quickly connect directly to live experts and inventory information can be just the ticket to winning that final purchase decision.
- Reduce inefficiencies that slow the speed or hinder the quality of customer service. In the age of seamless omnichannel integration, m-commerce, and electronic payments, why are associates still walking to talk to colleagues? Why aren’t routine processes like register backup, manager assistance, and cross-store product checks automated and optimized within an inch of their lives so response times can be delivered precisely and consistently? Common operational processes like these are the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to improving the experience shoppers have in stores. Mobile communication platforms and virtual assistants can work wonders in connecting staff to the people and systems they need without requiring them to wait on a landline phone or find someone with a handheld. But the key is to make sure these tools fit how store associates work. Screen-based devices that take their eyes away from customers or require two hands to type in information may save time, but only at the expense of the customer’s experience.
- Get seasonal staff up to speed fast with bite-sized training when they need it most. While the effectiveness of onboarding new employees with long training programs has been questioned and few employees have the time to spend chatting and learning from peers in the breakroom anymore, there’s no doubt new team members face a ramp-up period. Companies are increasingly turning to on-the-job training and apprenticeship models to get them up to speed fast but when it’s all hands on deck, those efforts can get lost in the rush. Conversational platforms have emerged as effective tools to connect new staff to both live support teams and virtual assistants that can help answer questions quickly. What’s more, they can provide dynamic, on-the-floor training in the moment of need by delivering proactive messages based on job role, location in the store, or other relevant information. For example, register code reminders can be sent to a new associate helping check customers out, or procedure refreshers when they enter the receiving area. Short verbal messages can benefit established employees as well, as when promotional messages and sales updates are shared directly to the ears of staff on the floor, or mid-morning messages highlight key features of new items being featured that day.
- Ensure associates feel the holiday love. Last but not least, it goes without saying that happy associates lead to happy customers. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, over 50% of employees have not been engaged in their work “for some time.” Eliminate frustrations like inefficient processes, open-ended workflows, slow request resolution times, and other issues that cause staff to disengage. A holiday-ready store starts with the associates. Recognize their long hours and hard work, and give them ways to have fun, enjoy the camaraderie of their team, and achieve success together.
Solutions like Theatro’s voice-controlled mobile platform connect store teams to the information and people they need to deliver on shoppers’ demands this holiday season and year-round. As a conversational platform designed to be “heads up and hands free,” it provides targeted communication directly to associates’ ears as well as immediate access to integrated IoT devices and enterprise systems managing functions like inventory, orders, tasks, and loss prevention, among others. A SaaS software solution, Theatro is accessed through a small earpiece and free IoT mobile device that clips to a belt or lanyard. By connecting every store employee to an enterprise network, Theatro shares the benefits of automation, system-driven accountability, real-time collaboration, and enterprise systems with the hourly workforce for the first time. View a demo and learn more about Theatro at NRF 2020. We’re taking appointments at http://resources.theatro.com/nrf2020.