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The good news for retailers sitting on a portfolio of physical shops is that consumers still prefer to go into stores rather than shop online. But the bad news is that there is a belief among many people that in-store employees hinder the shopping experience and need to be more knowledgeable.

According to research from I-Am as many as 74% of people have a preference for physical stores compared with only 26% who enjoy the online shopping experience more. But almost half of the people surveyed reckon employees on the shop floor do not add value to the customer experience, which is probably related to the fact that as many as 71% of people want store staff to be more knowledgeable.

This certainly supports the moves being taken by retailers such as John Lewis, which recently announced it is revamping some of its stores to include experience desks. These have the objective of directing customers to specialist staff who can then deliver a more personalised experience around things like styling appointments, eye tests, travel advice and technology training workshops.

It is a similar story at the company’s Waitrose business where all employees in its supermarkets are being given the title of ‘food ambassadors’ and will each receive extra training in order that they are equipped to lead food tastings and advise customers on their food and drink choices.  This follows the move by Waitrose to introduce up to 100 healthy eating specialists into its stores this year. These will complement its existing experts that include a high number of trained wine specialists.

Arming in-store employees with knowledge and expertise will be increasingly important as a point of differentiation in the future because a number of major retailers (namely the big grocers) are experimenting with frictionless stores that are looking to adopt some of the thinking behind the ‘Just Walk Out’ (JWO) model pioneered by Amazon with its Go stores.

Retailers who reckon such developments have limited appeal to shoppers had better think again if we are to believe the research from MuleSoft in the US that found the appetite for this type of proposition was strong. A hefty 60% of consumers expressed a preference for a JWO offering and among the 18-34-year-olds it rose to a significant 77%.

It’s clearly now time for retailers to up their game when it comes to training their in-store employees.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

K3 Retail partners with businesses to provide connected technologies based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 so retailers can reach their goals now and in the future. In a size that best fits future plans wherever you need it – Cloud, Hybrid or On-premise. Our solutions drive more than 800 international retail brands from Charles Tyrwhitt and The White Company to Ryman and Sue Ryder, Hobbycraft, Wasabi and Ted Baker, K3 Retail is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and the UK’s leading Microsoft Dynamics retail partner.