Store associates play a starring role in the brick-and-mortar experience. By offering customers product recommendations and guiding them throughout the browsing and buying journey, associates can influence a sale.
Associate training and empowerment is vital to improving store sales and engagement, as new research from Experticity confirms that empowered employees sell 87% more on the sales floor.
Over the course of two years, Experticity commissioned Marshall Fisher, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, to collect insights from 63,500 associates across 330 stores. Data was aggregated for the new report, titled: 2013 Experticity Retail Buying Experience Survey.
Half of customers seek expert advice when they enter a store, according to Experticity research. Even more consumers (73%) say product knowledge is what they need most from sales associates.
Employees who participate in training and educational programs can provide the knowledge and expertise shoppers are seeking. Those who completed one module or form of training sold 69% more than those who didn’t. Furthermore, associates who completed six or more modules sold 123% more than those who didn’t participate in any training.
Associates who are educated and engaged with a brand can have a tremendous impact on sales and loyalty, according to Tom Stockham, CEO of Experticity. In fact, “associates who engaged with just one training module sold $100,000 more per year at retail. The margin effect of that is different in different categories, but those are just giant numbers. I knew there would be an effect, but I didn’t expect it to be as big as it turned out to be.”
Brick-and-mortar retailers spend up to $200 billion a year on their store employees, Stockham noted. However, “there are very few programs that explore ways to make that investment more productive and differentiated. Today, the smartest retail and product brands are beginning to understand that those who invest in great buying experiences can both build brand advocates and give customers the helpful expertise they need.”
Stockham advised that retailers stop thinking of employees as an expense item. Mainly because “the person who is excited and knowledgeable is standing right next to the person who is just there for the paycheck,” he said. Instead, retailers need to start thinking about how to drive results through the people who are most productive, and consider how to identify, engage and reward those people. “It’s time to stop thinking generic and start empowering associates to drive those results.”
The Experticity report offered best practices for brands striving to build engagement among associates, and eventually turn these brand representatives into advocates. Of the recommendations, brands are encouraged to ask and answer the following questions:
- How do I know which associates are most engagedthroughout my retail distribution network?
- What engagement information shouldI be reviewing on a regular basis?
- Who is highly engaged in my categorybut not with my brand?
- Which retailers are most engaged with my brand’s education efforts?
“We used to ask our customers: Do more knowledgeable more experienced and engaged people drive better buying experiences? Most people answered yes,” Stockham noted. “But when you asked how much they didn’t know. It has been anecdotal until now.”