North American retailers have long been affected by a high rate of turnover, reaching as high as 65% for hourly store employees last year (Korn Ferry). There are always plenty of new faces, and it’s common to find students, or other individuals working in retail sales for the short-term who do not regard their current role as a career. However, professional retail sales associates are out there, and they really stand out from the rest with regard to the level of service they provide as well as the revenues they generate for their employers. It’s such a pleasure for shoppers to interact with a retail sales associate who truly takes pride in their work. For the retailer, those top salespeople not only tend to sell more to each customer, but they’re also the ones encouraging repeat visits and, hopefully, mentoring new staff by sharing their knowledge.
Top selling associates are often creative in the ways in which they engage their customers. They don’t allow a lack of resources or technology limitations to get in their way. They take ownership of their job as they would their own small business, often motivated by the promise of high commissions: some of the top retail sales associates easily earn six-figure salaries, a high leap from a typical starting wage in the industry. However, the entrepreneurial spirit that makes them great at their jobs could also hurt the retail brand they represent in ways retailers might not immediately realize. Here are a few things retailers should look out for, and ways in which the situation can be improved to benefit the customers, the sales associates, and the retail brand.
They Don’t Respect Customers’ Information Privacy
Well-intentioned sales associates have been known to take creative measures in order to please a customer and make the sale. This sometimes includes jotting down credit card or personal information on note paper or other places that leave you vulnerable to information theft. Often, these papers are left around the cash area, open for customers, associates, or other prying eyes to see.
This risky practice defies PCI guidelines, yet it’s surprisingly common. Sometimes unsuspecting customers even make the request themselves to leave their payment information behind, putting their trust into their preferred sales associate. After all, it can save them the return visit to purchase an item that becomes available. They may not realize that the potential cost and inconvenience can be very high if they fall victim to unauthorized changes or worse, identity theft.
They Hurt the Brand Image
With social media becoming such an integral part of our daily lives, the lines between personal and professional relationships are becoming increasingly blurred. Some savvy associates have taken to social tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to communicate with their customers and even suggest products for purchase. While this may seem like a bright initiative, it can backfire in hurting the brand when associates snap product photos with their personal device that results in poor quality images. Using their personal profiles for client outreach can also give clients an inadvertent glimpse into the associate’s personal life, including behavior that may be less than professional, including political beliefs and other irrelevant information that’s best kept out of the client-retail relationship.
They Hoard Information
Top retail sales associates have a wealth of valuable data about key customers – their product preferences, how they like to be contacted, and often much more. However, in the absence of a computerized system to store this data, it sits in the minds and notepads of the associate and doesn’t get shared. That means that the organization loses out on precious data that could have otherwise been used to personalize and tailor the shopping journey. Customer profile enhancements from sales associates can be used to refine marketing messages and better serve customers when they’re shopping online, with other associates, or in other stores. This leads to a more engaging, consistent, and overall better brand experience across all channels.
They Take Critical Customer Data With Them When They Leave
As we mentioned earlier, retail sales is a notorious industry for high turnover. Whereas top-performing sales associates may have a higher level of job satisfaction, they are also the ones who are most likely to be approached – and poached – by competing brands. If they’ve been recording a list of their top customers on their own, jotting them down in paper notebooks or on their personal devices, that information is likely to leave along with the associate. Not only does that retail brand lose this record of top customers, but the competing brand gains instant access to it through their new employee.
What can a retailer do?
As a retailer, you can learn a lot by observing your top sales associates. While we’ve cautioned you about some of the ways they may, in fact, do damage to your brand (albeit unintentionally), this harm is entirely avoidable. Rather than implementing rules and restrictions that will limit your associates’ performance, uncover ways to institutionalize their best practices so that the whole company can benefit. Modern retail software like Clienteling and CRM can be used to digitize notes about key customers, ensuring that they get stored safely, shared appropriately, and remain with the company if an associate leaves. What’s more, Clienteling can be implemented on mobile devices in the store, or even on the POS workstation, so that the tool is always on hand when needed and associates don’t need to leave the store floor to log the information.
To save a sale when a customer wants something that’s not yet available, a centralized Order Management System, often abbreviated as OMS, allows associates to place orders and can be configured to intelligently select the most cost-effective way to fulfill the order (for example, from a nearby store, a distribution center, or directly from the vendor).
Modern technology can be useful in supporting your sales superstars to ensure that they are empowered to serve their customers well and to make meaningful contributions to the retail organization.