Consumers have a seemingly endless amount of online shopping options. Retailers need to understand that if a customer physically comes into their store, they have some specific reasons for shopping in-store. They typically want three things: product information, the ability to see and touch the product before buying, or they are looking for an experience. Retail store associates who have more product knowledge are more effective at closing sales because they satisfy these customer desires.
According to a University of Pennsylvania study, more than half of shoppers want product advice when they walk into a store. And their research proved that those retail store associates who provide relevant knowledge to customers had up to 69% higher sales than their counterparts. Although there are a lot of self-serve options in stores these days, statistics show that knowledgeable retail store associates are still very relevant to a store's bottom line.
What Customers Know
A GE Capital Retail Bank study indicates that up to 81% of retail shoppers conduct online research before buying. When these customers come into a store and are met by an associate who does not have excellent product knowledge, a couple situations can occur:
- Associates will come across as not caring about the customer
- Associates will look foolish for not knowing at least more than the customer knows about the product in their store
- Customers will correlate the unhelpful experience with the store itself (the associate is the "face of the store," after all)
- Customers who are in a hurry will simply go to another store if they cannot have questions readily answered - and they may never return
A Flexible Approach
Customers are not all the same. When retail personnel has full product knowledge, they can deftly communicate correctly to the person standing in front of them. For example, some customers will respond well to hard facts and capabilities of a laptop, whereas some will be turned off by high-level tech-talk. Good sales training helps associates know how to assess customers and read body language, but this has to be followed up by solid product knowledge. When a tech-minded customer wants to hear about laptop stats and capabilities, an associate needs to deliver.
Additionally, associates should have solid knowledge of competitor products so they can provide well thought out answers when customers ask for comparisons. Associates should never speak down about competitors, however, they should have reasonable selling points that poise your products above other options.
See and Touch Product
Research company BrizFeel found that 51% of customers claim the main thing they miss with online shopping vs. in-store shopping is not being able to touch and feel product. As mentioned earlier, this is one of the main reasons customers still visit brick and mortar stores. Retail store associates should understand this and present pitches with this in mind.
Speaking to Feature & Benefits
Good product training includes a features and benefits breakdown, much like the generic breakdown below.
With these details in mind, associates should as much as possible visually show and allow product interaction while going through a product's value with customers. A physical presentation of the product that customers can touch and see in action is preferable. But where this is not possible, retailers should use whatever they can afford that gives the next best “show and feel” experience. Immersive experiences such as virtual reality or augmented reality can be very useful if the actual product isn’t something easily handled.
Even your best-trained store associates are going to receive customer questions they cannot answer - small details are easily forgotten, or maybe the product is still quite new. If associates are provided with a way to quickly lookup information or communicate with a vendor representative to answer customer questions, they can still impress upon a customer that they are helpful and knowledgeable.
Lastly, many customers come into stores looking for an experience. Whether they are just browsing, dreaming of a future purchase, or are ready to buy, stores should use prepared associates to help ensure a customer has a positive and fulfilling experience.
Cultivating Store Advocates
In 3 Ways Retailers Can Compete on Customer Experience, we looked at the specific ways retailers can cater to the customer experience. Creating in-store excitement is easier with knowledgeable associates.
Store associates should be well prepared for:
- New product launches - This is best achieved through bitesize learning weeks before a product is rolled out. Bitesize features/benefits training gives associates time to absorb facts without being overwhelmed.
- Current promotions - Associates should not be caught out by customers over a particular commercial or social media ad that corporate or your marketing department may be running. Keep them in the marketing loop so they can support and help convince customers to buy. You should also make promotions easily available for them to access - for example on their mobile device.
- Vendor stories - Beyond having specific product training, associates can use vendor stories to help sell products. Indicating that a manufacturer is environmentally-friendly or community-supportive can help make a sale.
Retailers should reach out to vendors for as much training, in-store touch & feel demos, and/or displays they can get their hands on. These things help further educate store associates. The more they interact with the product and learn the vendor's "story", the more knowledgeable they will be on what the product can do, how to use it, and what the experience is like. This helps them communicate in a much more informed way to customers. And in-store demos and displays go a long way in helping customers decide to buy as well.
Helping retail stores connect to vendor resources that help train and motivate employees is what we do! Some of the largest electronics retail chains in the country rely on our platform to prepare associates and secure more sales.
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