Retailers and product manufacturers rely on store associates to educate consumers, generate meaningful dialogue — and in the end — sell products. But because consumers have access to a wealth of information via the web and their mobile devices, it is becoming more imperative that associates are knowledgeable of new products and their benefits.
Footwear and apparel manufacturer New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. relies on store associates across its entire network of retail partners to drive brand awareness and turn shoppers into lifelong customers. The company is empowering retail sales associates by offering training programs and detailed information on products being sold in stores. Using the 3point5.com training platform from Experticity, New Balance is ensuring the flow of information from the brand to store associates is consistent and accurate.
“As we continue to grow, one of our biggest challenges is making sure everyone is on the same page from a branding perspective on a variety of subjects,” said Jonathan Hogan, Sales Planning and Training Coordinator at New Balance. “This especially includes the definition of a specific shoe technology or classification.”
Hogan added that because the Internet is teeming with information, it is becoming more difficult to track product details and ensure associates are relaying accurate data to customers. “It’s about policing that information,” he said “and making sure it stays accurate all the way downstream.”
All New Balance products — especially footwear — are made with unique technology designed for specific needs and activities, Hogan explained. “It’s very rare that we design a shoe just based on color. All of our products have an end-use or specific activity in mind, whether it’s walking through the mall, playing lacrosse or participating in a mud run.”
Although many consumers are conducting detailed product research before they even enter the store, information found through a search engine is not the complete version of the truth, Hogan noted. “We need to make sure our associates and customers have all the right information and really understand the technology that is aligned with our products, and the benefits.”
Due to the success of 3point5.com, New Balance cites taking the platform global as a top growth initiative, Hogan reported. Additionally, the brand plans to make the training platform accessible on personal mobile devices.
“As we continue to evolve in this modern age, we want to make sure sales associates can get information they want at their fingertips and in a timely manner,” Hogan said. Potential use cases include completing a course or training program at home, or accessing sales tip sheets while interacting with customers.
Winning Hearts And Minds
With 3point5.com, New Balance can ensure sales associates are trained on key products sold in stores. Since initially launching on the site in 2008, the brand updates their training several times a year with fresh content and resources as shoe models change.
As New Balance’s use of the platform becomes more advanced, the brand is beginning to take a more targeted approach to training by offering education on products and styles that “we put a lot of marketing behind or that will appear in most stores,” according to Hogan. New Balance plans to tailor the training experience even further, so education and even products featured are personalized based on the wants, needs and assortment of specific stores.
Sales associate incentive programs and promotions also are encouraging employees to become more engaged with the New Balance brand.
“For a few of our product launches, we’ve made it mandatory that a retail store have at least one sales associate trained on that product prior to it arriving in-store,” Hogan said. “If an associate completes all training for one product, they can buy the shoe at a discounted price.”
Hogan and the New Balance team implements this training strategy to help “win the hearts and minds” of sales associates, or turn them into brand ambassadors.
To better determine how engaged retail sales associates are, New Balance analyzes how many associates are participating in training programs, how many associates actually complete the training, and if they end up purchasing products from the 3point5.com store.
This data helps the brand quantify how many associates “are truly engaged, rather than just clicking on our page and moving on,” Hogan said. “We want to know they’re truly embracing our information, want to learn and better themselves, and then want to buy a pair of shoes and wear them on the showroom floor.”