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What all retailers want to deliver

What will the role of the store be in the future? The conclusion in many quarters of the retail industry is that it will involve a much richer personal experience fuelled by lashings of in-store technology.

During this transformation the physical space in the store will flex and change to adapt to new channels such as click & collect and browse-only floors. Processes too will be refreshed and refined to maximise the opportunity. But what might not be so obvious is the need to transform the role performed by the mast armies of store staff.

The store of the future will absolutely require a very different type of employee to the one that is typically found in shops up and down the UK’s high streets today.

Their role will be much less transactional and customer service will go way beyond the boundaries of the point of sale. It will be more about building relationships, knowing customers on a much more intimate level and engaging in meaningful conversations. Technology will enable a different relationship, but people will bring it to life.

This new person will be less defined as a sales assistant and more a ‘Brand Ambassador’ with intimate knowledge of the business they work in. These individuals will be savvy about products and technologically enabled. The big catalyst of change is already here – the tablet. These devices can open up a new paradigm in retailing, new opportunities to have relevant and meaningful conversations directly with customers in the store.

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How many retailers have got the t-shirt?

Armed with this powerful technology it should be possible for these Brand Ambassadors to identify customers when they enter a store, to greet them by name, and to then engage them in a dialogue about their previous purchases, make suggestions based on their own preferences, organise delivery & collection, and critically learn what they like and dislike so customer service can constantly evolve.

In this new era the Brand Ambassador will be making real connections with the customer and building solid relationships that engender customer loyalty. The technology could lead to a real understanding of loyalty at an ambassador level – measuring the impact each member of the team has on customer loyalty.

Such personal engagement can deliver uplifts in sales. There is evidence to suggest that when customers are personally helped through personal shoppers and in-store demonstrations etcetera then sales grow by around 7%.  Interestingly, in today’s world product demonstrations are often outsourced to third-parties for one-off in-store events, but maybe in the future store Brand Ambassadors will be trained to deliver product demonstrations as and when they see an opportunity.

Creating a climate, a way of working, which allows future Brand Ambassadors to flourish will be critical to success. This requires a re-thinking of retail careers, creating a different and more attractive image, re-thinking customer service, and re-thinking the way store staff are trained and developed.

This is not just for full-time staff but also the armies of part-time staff that are often in the front line at the busiest times of the week and have the greatest influence on the customers’ experience.

What is clear is that the guys in the shops will need a much broader understanding of the business they work in. To be a great Brand Ambassador they will need new skills and different competencies.  Able to deal with the ‘technical’ know how, having great product knowledge for all products sold by the brand, not just the ones in store, but most importantly these people will need to be good with people with great emotional intelligence, strong communicational and relationship building skills.

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Argos digital concept store

Retailers frequently talk about their new wonderful digital stores and we are seeing some interesting examples emerge – with Argos the latest big name to trial a new concept store kitted out with the latest technology – but the big risk for the industry is that the focus stays on the interaction with the technology (training store staff to use tablets) and we miss the opportunity to change the way people interact with customers.

The store of the future needs people of the future and those ready to invest in developing and evolving the role of the store staff will stand out from the rest and be those who reap the benefits of this wonderful multi-channel revolution.

Sponsored column by Sarah Wilson, retail specialist at consultancy Egremont Group