News Feature | December 18, 2017

New Retail Study Finds Shoppers Receive Less Personalized Service Online Than In-Store

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Walmart & Sam's Club eCommerce Site Upgrades

Integrating personalized help across channels is crucial for retailers to win sales.

 Today’s tech-savvy shoppers now expect personalized assistance from store associates across all channels, which means that retailers that fail to adopt new technology are at risk of losing sales and important revenue. Retailers need to unify in-store and online shopping experiences to drive sales and customer loyalty in the evolving retail omnichannel landscape.

A new study from Salesfloor explores this growing demand for personalized help from sales associates both online and in-store. The study, “The Evolving Customer: Connecting Today’s Shoppers with Store Associates,” finds that today’s shopper expects personalized, one-on-one shopping experiences across shopping channels, and say they are twice as likely to make a purchase after interacting with a store associate.

These findings are in line with an earlier UPS study that highlighted the importance of the brick-and-mortar store for many customers.  Alan Gershenhorn, Chief Commercial Officer for UPS, stated: “Retailers are now competing across the globe. In order to win, retailers can distinguish themselves by providing value through personalized experiences.”

UPS found that these personalized experiences include the physical store. According to the survey, many online shoppers find stores important to touch and feel products (59 percent), solve immediate problems (54 percent), receive superior customer service (52 percent), and participate in rewards/loyalty programs (52 percent). Half of shoppers (50 percent) have used ship-to-store this year, of whom 44 percent made additional purchases in store, and 41 percent plan to use ship to store more often in the next year.

The Salesfloor study found that just 40 percent of online shoppers received personalized assistance from sales associates during their journey, compared with 90 percent of shoppers in-store. This highlights an important gap in service experiences across channels and underscores the most significant aspect in which brick-and-mortar still holds an advantage.

Salesfloor’s research also found that for 84 percent of shoppers email and text messaging was the preferred method of communication with store associates. Despite these preferences, many retailers still have not provided sales associates with the necessary tools and training needed to meet shoppers’ expectations outside of the store, leading to missed sales.

 “Sales associates are the driving force behind the personalized service shoppers receive in store to encourage purchases,” said Oscar Sachs, CEO and Co-Founder of Salesfloor. “As the needs of the ominchannel shopper continues to evolve across channels, it’s important that retailers service them properly both online and in-store using their preferred method of communication. This starts with equipping sales associates with tools and technology to engage shoppers outside of the store floor.”

While respondents stated that associates currently excel at making product recommendations and finding inventory across store locations, there is still much room for improvement when it comes to informing customers about new arrivals and sales, a place where they would like more frequent communication. 

According to the report, “New sales associate technology exists for associates to make themselves available to communicate with shoppers while they’re shopping online. For example, retailers can equip associates with mobile apps that provide clienteling, live chat, or text message capabilities with shoppers. This not only provides an opportunity to upsell, but also helps shoppers make a decision they will be happy with. With this technology, store associates provide an additional level of service to the customer experience and can easily follow up with shoppers after they leave the physical store.” The problem is that retailers have been slow to adopt this technology to allow for omnichannel communication.

 “Associates should become more effective brand ambassadors and need to be equipped to market directly to or interact with shoppers via email, text message and social platforms at any time,” said Sachs. “While store associates are well versed at using technology to find inventory, they need to be properly trained on how to use technology to create personalized experiences for shoppers in their day-to-day job.”

The study also found that customers want a more personal touch, preferring to hear directly from local store associates over a national retailer newsletter or email. Customers said that the top three items they want associates to notify them regarding were new arrivals, in-store and online sales, and restocked merchandise. 

“Shoppers need to feel the human touch throughout their shopping journey, whether that’s online or in-store,” said Sachs. “Associates who are properly trained to use technology are more likely to build relationships with shoppers, which is then a win-win for both customers and retailers.” Sales associates are more than just clerks, the report asserts, because they function as brand ambassadors and product experts, and customers want their input on important buying decisions.

“Today,” the report states, “shoppers need associates for their expertise throughout their omnichannel journey. If the associate is there in store but not online their journey becomes disjointed and broken. Shoppers want to build a relationship with their store associate and connect with them throughout their shopping journey whether that journey starts and ends in-store or continues online a week later.”