How Santa's little shop-floor helpers can boost Christmas sales

Marc Rigby: client services director at Howell Penny
Marc Rigby: client services director at Howell Penny

Is there a retailer or brand-owner who isn't thinking about Christmas? Planning which ranges to stock, considering Christmas displays and in-store collateral, thinking about pricing strategies?

It’s a huge consideration; the seasonal in-store experience increasingly determines the balance sheet for the year. But how many retailers are focusing not just on recruiting, but also on training the right staff, at the right time, in the right numbers to make Christmas a success?

If store staff are not equipped with the knowledge, tools and confidence to have better conversations with customers in the Christmas crush, the most carefully planned marketing plans can, and will, be derailed.

We know that that the "bricks vs clicks" model has changed, and that consumers use a holistic mix of the two. So retailers and brands need to take a broader view, to appreciate that it doesn't matter whether the sale comes from in-store or online, that the retail environment must add value to the sale, regardless of whether it ultimately comes from another channel.

Crucially, marketers need to acknowledge that customer-facing staff can have a huge effect on bringing in and maximising that sale, even if it ISN'T actually made in-store. The role of in-store staff needs to change – the challenge is to ensure that they know at least as much as the shopper, that
if they cannot actually convert a sale, they empower the customer to buy at another time through another channel – in other words they accept and proactively drive channel integration.

They need to develop listening skills, to appreciate the "need states" that people are in at different stages of the customer journey. Are consumers looking for product information and advice?  Or do they know what they want and are liable to be irritated if they are offered information or alternatives they don’t need?  

Whether the shop-floor consumer is a browser or a true shopper, there is still a big opportunity to influence the sale – but that can only happen if staff are informed, educated and confident enough to engage appropriately with the consumer.

Of course retailers need to reconsider how they measure and evaluate store staff’s performance if not on how many units they sell in a given week. We recently handled a project for EE which  demonstrated the positive effect of smarter staff/customer interaction at point of sale - not just on the sale itself, but post-sales effects, in this case by minimising follow-up calls to the customer care line over technical issues and how the EE billing system works.

EE monitored the volume of calls which meant that even when they didn’t actually sell any units, well-informed and well-trained in-store staff still had a big impact on productivity and profits.

Consumers want, and increasingly expect, consistency of message and service. If I’m in store and my chosen item is out of stock...can’t it be ordered on the spot and delivered to my home tomorrow morning?  In these days of "showrooming", I want more than just basic product information – I want a consistent brand experience that works across all channels. And the brands that succeed will be the ones that maximise that experience and make it work for me.

Staff – on the shop floor and in call centres – need to be informed about what offers are available online and how their service can complement those offers to make the sales process work.  The last thing any retailer or brand needs to do is to compete with itself....the different elements of the shopper journey must all tie up or the retail environment will struggle.

Marc Rigby is client services director at Howell Penny

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