GUEST BLOG - Andrea van der Meel , CEO of SeekStock
Estimates vary but currently it is estimated that online sales still only making up around 16% of all retail sales. The eco-system for bricks-and-mortar is changing so that we can deliver experiences that can’t be delivered online. So in a retail world where so much emphasis is given to improving the in-store and online customer experience, why aren’t we doing more to transform the staff experience? Andrea van der Meel, CEO of SeekStock helps us unravel the opportunities to help retailers step-up their customer and team experience.
With the year 2020 just around the corner, it’s crazy to think that ecommerce has been part of the fabric of retail for almost twenty years. We’ve seen the rise of retailers who were swift to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of their customers, and we’ve seen the fall of those who weren’t.
But with online sales still only making up around 16% of all retail sales, bricks-and-mortar stands firm in its footing, and won’t be disappearing any time soon (if at all), like some may lead you to believe.
Physical retailing has been the one constant throughout the history of retail. So with all this movement to digitise with the rise of ecommerce, I find it hard to understand why more hasn’t been done to better optimise the fundamental and longest-standing sales channel that is the shop floor.
Indeed we are starting to see some great innovation like digital changing rooms, self-check out and virtual reality used in store - all of which improve the experience for the end customer. But when it comes to the steps taken to transform the role of the staff member through the use of technology, little has been done.
In a retail world where so much emphasis is given to improving the in-store and online customer experience, why aren’t we doing more to transform the staff experience?
Having spent over 13 years in the retail industry, I can tell you that the processes used day-to-day by retail staff have barely changed. They still record customer requests in a physical book (a spreadsheet if they’re lucky), and rely on email, phone calls, staff meetings and weekly/monthly reports to communicate customer demand or product issues. It’s all very manual, unstructured and siloed by store/region, meaning vital product feedback gets lost in transit, often goes to the wrong person, and is easily forgotten.
Retail staff are one of the biggest assets your business has. They are the face of your brand, and the eyes and ears on the ground connecting directly to your customers. They are well-trained, have expert brand and product knowledge and are highly motivated to contribute useful intel.
The latest generation of retail staff are tech-savvy millennials, with an innate understanding of how to communicate in today’s digital age. They are also customers themselves, so their behaviour and expectations of how they interact and transact are the same; speed, instant gratification and connection.
So what can you do to mobilise your retail teams and take advantage of their vital intel?
1. Realise that your retail staff have unique value to add in the first place.
The unique vantage point that retail staff have being in such close proximity to your customers is extremely powerful. They are positioned to have two-way dialogue with customers in real-time, tapping into areas of missed opportunity, why certain products are hitting the mark or not, and the specific areas for improvement such as fit and quality. These are all things a sales report can never tell you.
Compared to going direct-to-customer for feedback, going via the staff member presents the opportunity to filter feedback through a highly trained lens. One that can identify trends over multiple customer’s experiences, compared with capturing the experience of just one customer.
The fact that retail staff are spending so much time with your customers means they are constantly gathering vital intel that is essential to understanding product performance and customer demand - and it’s time retailers started valuing that more highly.
2. Recognise that retail staff really are motivated to contribute. I often get asked why staff are motivated to share product feedback with their head office in the first place. And my answer is always this:
Retail stores (and sometimes individual staff) have sales targets to meet. Often these targets have a monetary bonus attached, or some kind of incentive to achieving them. So if the products staff spend all of their working day trying to sell, are difficult to sell because they aren’t resonating with customers, it makes their jobs much harder than they need to be and they run the risk of missing out on their bonus.
In addition, product decisions are typically out of the control of retail staff - they simply get supplied what they are required to sell. For staff to be able to communicate what’s working or not working, it gives them a sense of control and a glimmer of hope that they might be able to influence future product decisions - all with the aim of making their jobs easier and more enjoyable. The ability to share freely, gives staff a sense of purpose and a feeling of connectivity that will keep them engaged and motivated.
3. Provide the right tools and structure to mobilise the asset that is your retail staff. Now that you’ve recognised that your retail staff are a valuable asset that can provide essential intel for your business, all that’s left to do is enable them with the right tools to share their feedback.
We’ve created SeekStock with the retail staff member at heart, and the business owner in mind. Our tool transforms current feedback methods from slow, sporadic and siloed, to real-time, structured, transparent and collaborative. SeekStock fosters seamless two-way communication between stores and head office, and our insights act as a truth serum for retail buyers, designers and merch teams.
Not only do we help you improve operational efficiency in your business, we also help you engage and empower your retail teams for improved staff culture. In the face of such fierce competition from online and overseas competitors, it’s time to take advantage of what real-time product feedback from your staff can do to transform your business.
If you’d like to learn more about how SeekStock can help you maximise the asset that is your retail teams, please get in touch today.
Andréa van der Meel is the founder of in-store customer demand software, SeekStock. SeekStock mobilises retail staff on the shop floor to deliver key product feedback to decision makers in real-time, for better visibility into product performance and customer demand.