Why Retailers Should Rethink “Self-Service”


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Customers run the show
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto

What four words best capture the state of retail today?

Consumers run the show.

Consumers are more informed, more demanding, and freer than ever before. The balance of power has shifted. Brands are no longer in charge of the buying process.
Many retailers are struggling to adapt. They’re looking to carve new paths to higher revenues and greater market share. Naturally, they focus on channels and tools—new self-service platforms that allow customers to complete transactions entirely on their own. Build the e-commerce and the in-store kiosks, they reason, and the sales will come.

That’s what shoppers want, right? To avoid having to engage with brands?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you need to look at “self-service” in a whole new light.

Technology Can’t Do It All

Across consumer demographics, retail brands, and retail categories, “self-service” is defined in various ways. But it usually involves (to some degree) a unified, seamless omnichannel presence and/or interactive in-store technology.

What these tools can’t do is deliver a holistic brand experience.

A few months ago, we visited a client’s stores to find out why sales were lagging. The answer quickly became clear. Associates were under the mistaken impression they were supposed to stay out of customers’ way. They were confusing “do it yourself” with “do it alone.”

This behavior ran counter to the company’s brand promise, and it was hurting sales.

With tech-savvy consumers researching products at home and in store—and hopping from one channel to the next and back again—it’s easy for retailers to neglect the human element. But doing so comes at a cost. Retailers must find a way to engage—to build trust, establish a connection, and capture sales while customers are on the sales floor.

Otherwise, you’re not projecting your brand strengths. You’re doing nothing to foster loyalty. And you’re missing sales opportunities. It’s that simple.

Associates Still Hold the Key

Your employees’ efforts to engage customers won’t get in the way of self-service. Just the opposite, in fact: they’ll empower customers to make solid purchase decisions, and they’ll greatly distinguish your brand.

Here’s how your associates can help customers help themselves:

Ask the right questions upfront.

Gauge customers’ level of need. Are they here to learn something, or to buy something? Help them along either path.

Know your brand and product offerings—as well as your competitors’.

Your associates may be well versed in your product. But if they can’t explain how your product compares and contrasts with competing products, they’re missing a critical dimension.

Empathize and personalize.

Your associates’ focus should be: 1) helping customers shop on their own terms; and 2) making it easy for them to meet their goals.

  • What touchpoints did your customers encounter before they entered your store?
  • What are their biggest motivators and concerns?
  • What led them to you?
  • What do they expect of the in-store experience?

Armed with these insights, your associates can make self-service shopping more productive and enjoyable for your customers and more profitable for you.

What Does “Self-Service” Mean to You?

How have consumers’ expectations of “self-service” changed the way you do business? How have they impacted the in-store environment? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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This article was originally posted to our blog where you can find more posts like this at ICC/Decision Services Blog.

Kevin Leifer
Kevin and his team at StellaService help their clients build solutions that optimize front-line team performance and improve customer experiences across contact centers and stores.


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