The rise of mobile technology is flooding the retail space with digital information and assistance, much of which shoppers can access through the comfort of their mobile devices.
Between clienteling tech, mobile POS solutions, online retail websites, digital product information, smart dressing rooms and other high-tech shopping innovations, today’s brick-and-mortar experience is touched with many of the attractions that make online shopping so popular in the first place.
In fact, mobile tech has become so ever-present — and its possibilities so limitless — that some retailers see these solutions as ways to reduce their sales floor personnel. Most retail environments aren’t positioned to eliminate staff entirely, but leadership is hopeful that tech solutions can lower the overhead of physical stores by replacing the services offered by a sales associate.
Those executives shouldn’t hold their breath. Not only are sales associates necessary to the physical retail space, but there’s evidence that they pay for themselves.
Embracing A Unique Selling Point
Retailers have come to understand physical stores as an asset in the war against online-exclusive retailers. Amazon’s reach is global, and its sales volume is second-to-none. But it isn’t able to answer every consumer pain point, especially when shoppers want to make their purchases in a physical space.
Sometimes the products necessitate this. Clothing has always been difficult to sell online, when consumers can’t try the clothes on before buying. But other shoppers want the experience and comfort of friendly faces and interactions with people. As mobile technologies enhance brick-and-mortar experiences, friendly staff still contribute to this environment. Stripping away the human element would rob these stores of a signature feature.
Investments Into Workers Pay Off
Sales associates present a large line expense in the form of wages, but this isn’t a sunk cost. In fact, some research advocates for paying sales associates even more, and offering them better training, to increase their value and productivity.
Zeynep Ton, a retail researcher at MIT, argues that investments into strategic trainings, and better supporting technology, can make sales associates much more valuable and productive to a company. Not only does this increased industry cover the cost of wages, but it presents a case for paying associate a higher hourly wage.
“Highly successful retail chain … not only invest heavily in store employees but also have the lowest prices in their industries, solid financial performance, and better customer service than their competitors,” Ton wrote for the Harvard Business Review. “They have demonstrated that, even in the lowest-price segment of retail, bad jobs are not a cost-drive necessity but a choice.”
In other words, technology is best leveraged as a supplement to sales staff, not a replacement. Which is precisely why assisted selling and other solutions are so integral to the long-term vision of retail brands: With solutions designed to improve the performance of sales staff, retailers can push their in-store ROI to new heights.
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