Helping the Store Associate blend the online and in-store experience

By Steve Ingram, Retail Director – KIT

For almost 12 months, the retail sector has had to face up to and address a continual series of challenges. However, through technology and by taking an innovative approach, many brands we know and love continue to operate in some shape or form. We discussed in a previous blog how Clienteling, driven by the power of communication, has evolved and expanded the simple Click & Collect method of retail shopping. How new ideologies such as BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up in Store), ROPIS (Reserve Online, Pick-up in Store) and even Curbside Pick-up have become part of the new normal, but what about the role of the Store Associate during these uncertain times?

The vast majority of Store Associates are working from home in one form or other (at the time of writing). However, remote selling is not a new phenomenon or just a reaction to government restrictions but an already strategic way of providing a personalised way to access the brand. Clienteling and Assisted Selling tools have helped drive Store Associates sales for several years already; remote selling is very much the here and now. As online is convenient and currently the dominant way to shop, it will certainly not be leaving us any time soon.

Merging e-commerce with the familiarity of bricks and mortar 

An excellent way of merging the online with the in-store experience is giving customers instant access to a Store Associate through video calling technology. In the UK, Currys PC World (for one), best known for white goods and electronics, offers the option to request a video call with one of its team without even the need to register as a customer. These could be existing Store Associates or Contact Centre Associates, depending upon the business’s desires. You can see and hear the Store Associate whilst providing the same experience you would expect when being escorted around the store. Answering product questions, providing alternatives, helping with the purchase and delivery options and even offering advice if a tradesperson is needed to install the said item. The approach is not limited to video calls. Communication methods, such as WhatsApp or SMS, can also help bridge the gap.

New customers are provided with the same experience as if they were in the store. Returning, previously registered customers have so much more to benefit from remote selling. Store Associates have pre-visit awareness of a customer’s needs. They will also usually have access to any ‘wish lists’ created online. During the visit conversation, Store Associates provide a one-to-one interaction to curate a unique experience. Guided browsing, product recommendations based on previous purchase history, and even styling suggestions. There is also the post-visit engagement opportunity to discuss the purchase, as well as suggesting complementary products.

KIT is a Clienteling and Assisted Selling tool that enables Store Associates to offer customers the remote, personalised shopping service described above. They are maximising empathy and engagement through video calling and a passion for the brand they represent.

Allowing the customer to experience in-store browsing with their personal tour guide – shopping the brand by integrating ‘bricks and clicks’ – is at the core of KIT. Shopping does not just need to be personal; it needs to be personable too.

Clienteling and the art of communication

By Karina Kholodova, Senior Consultant – KIT

Are we currently witnessing the rebirth of our understanding of communication and its impact in the retail world? To address this question, let’s look back and take a quick trip down memory lane. Back in the days when communicating with your butcher, baker, and yes, even your grocer meant that you discussed shopping needs alongside the local gossip, and the shopkeeper would fetch what you required.

But imprecise communications led to poor service. The shopkeeper would not know what you wanted to purchase, and as you were not able to self-serve in the shop, you would leave with nothing. Although, it all changed when the self-service supermarket arrived, closely followed by the out-of-town superstores. This approach resonated across the retail sector: we evolved from talking directly to the shopkeeper, through to self-service, with maybe no interaction with anyone, and we are now back to where we started. We are once again communicating directly with the Store Associate, the 21st-century version of the storekeeper, who relies more and more on technology to guide us through our purchasing journey.

New art or a reworked master? 

We can trace the word communication back to communicare – the Latin word for share, whereas, according to the English Dictionary: Communication is the act of sharing or exchanging information with someone. But today, communication comes in many forms. It has been adjusted and developed over centuries to adapt and meet our needs – even more so as consumers. Not just a means of interacting one-to-one, transactional communication is at the centre of our shopping universe. We have seen communication evolve and expand the simple Click & Collect method of retail shopping into new ideologies such as BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-up in Store), ROPIS (Reserve Online, Pick-up in Store) and even Curbside Pick-up.

But here is where Clienteling reworks and changes the game, helping Store Associates become Visual Style Consultants or Product Advisors, enabling bricks and mortar to reinvent themselves. In the new normal, the customer is closer to the store – all underpinned and made possible with Clienteling tools such as KIT, which are intrinsic to how we communicate today in the retail sector. Consequently, it is no surprise that retailers have made it abundantly clear that an online, omnichannel approach is the way forward: 69% of retailers and investors state that this is top of their list for 2021 (source: PwC Retail & Consumer 2021). To support this approach, KIT lets the Store Associate communicate with customers in whichever way they prefer. And according to multiple consumer surveys in 2020, almost half of UK customers prefer email, 38% web chat, 37% WhatsApp, 36% video calls and 34% SMS, highlighting a multi-pronged approach to communication is needed to meet all customer needs.

It is important to note that this approach also needs to consider geographical nuances. Certain regions favour (or have legal restrictions) around the tools they wish to, or can, use (WeChat in China, and other unique examples around Russia and the Asia Pacific region).

Clienteling is defined as “a technique that allows retailers to improve the shopping experience by personalising the interactions they have with customers”. It is enabling the personal service of the local shopkeeper, with the global reach provided by modern technology. It is communicating on a whole different level.

The difference between Customer Service & Clienteling

By Lee Adams, Sales Lead – KIT

Regardless of where a customer goes to make a purchase, whether it be an out-of-town superstore, a plush City of London arcade or a Covent Garden boutique, the expectation is that the service provided will always be a good experience. As consumers, we even expect the local corner shop to be courteous and helpful when we pop in for a pint of milk.

As a nation of shopkeepers, according to the now infamous quote attributed to Napoleon, the UK is well-positioned to appreciate the value and importance of customer service. Although to fully understand customer service, it needs to be defined – it cannot just be experience for experience’s sake. So, is it a philosophy, a value, or a way of life? As without it, where would the retail sector be today?

Nevertheless, we recognise where the retail sector is today, and we also know what is happening to help boost sales and recover by building customer loyalty – Clienteling. But how is this different from customer service? Once purely the preserve of luxury stores, it is becoming more prevalent wherever there is a one-to-one interaction in the sale. Look at the definition: Clienteling is a technique that allows retailers to improve the shopping experience by personalising the interactions they have with customers.

Knowing your customers 

If we view customer service as a philosophy, it is a shared mission. A set of principles Store Associates should follow so they can uphold the core values of the business. Clienteling takes the same approach offering more, much more.

Clienteling is an extension of customer service, making the interaction more personal and long term. To witness this in action, look at one of the historical mainstays of customer service – the famed Little Black Book. Store Associates have used these notepads to record treasured information on their top clients, helping them maintain and even increase sales. But Clienteling technology tools make this all available on mobile devices with a simple tap on a screen.

Clienteling tools give Store Associates access to a 360-degree real-time view of a customer’s purchasing history, interactions, notes and appointments. Valuable information that will help to drive and predict future sales. Clienteling also allows customers to select their preferred communication method, permitting Store Associates to keep customers up to date with new product information, product lines and even collate and suggest outfits based on their purchasing history.

Managing customer expectations in the new normal 

There has been a seismic shift to online shopping here in the UK, according to the Deloitte Retail Trends 2021 Report. It states that during the four weeks following January 2021, 57% of consumers are planning to purchase clothing online, with 28% saying it will food shop online. It has become clear that new consumer behaviour is disrupting the physical retail sector, with UK online sales in December 2020 up by 45% to £15bn, as listed in the Deloitte report.

Both Clienteling (and Assisted Selling) are equally important – regardless of supporting a customer remotely or sitting by their side. Indeed, being able to have video communication, share images and social media recommendations is no longer ‘nice to have’ – it is essential. Whereas Customer service and Clienteling are interwoven – we couldn’t have one without the other, but Clienteling tools, like KIT, bring the technology edge to the Little Black Book.

Any retailer can deploy the tools, which are as easy to use as the phone in your pocket, giving the business the help needed to clear a path through the storm that lies ahead.

Why retailers need to pivot to meet customer demand

By Steve Ingram, Retail Director – KIT

The retail sector has been hit hard over the past 12 months, witnessed by the plethora of household names disappearing from the UK high street. Laura Ashley, Top Shop and Miss Selfridge may all be gone or about to disappear forever, and Debenhams have only just been saved by Boohoo.com to operate as an online marketplace platform. But in the online world of shopping, the likes of Amazon have seen its profits and market share skyrocket.

Amazon is not the only business benefiting from lockdown restrictions. Online grocery shopping sales are also rising exponentially. Consumers are adopting new purchasing behaviours and embracing an alternative to driving to an out-of-town superstore for the monthly shop, highlighted in The Economist Intelligence survey from SAP, that quotes a 78% increase in average monthly online grocery expenditure. But the monumental shift to online shopping presents an unprecedented opportunity for brands and retailers to engage new online customers in ways they never could before – giving retailers a chance to create strategies for recovery and growth.

A brave new world 

Right now, retailers may feel that they are looking into the abyss, facing the unknown, trying to keep up with customer expectations that continue to change at a rapid pace. But by being more flexible, pivoting to consumer needs, retailers will meet customer demand and provide an experience that will keep them coming back for more.

A safe, convenient online experience will go a long way to help retailers get back on their feet, as almost half of consumers enjoy the ability to shop anywhere at any time, naming this as the number one factor for continuing to shop online. Whereas a quick, transparent service that saves the customer time will also help to improve customer satisfaction. 42% of all surveyed consumers cite time-saving advantages as a significant benefit of online shopping, all according to The Economist Intelligence survey.

Customers are now used to doing almost all shopping online, with a significant proportion likely to continue in the same vein for the sheer convenience and especially the time they will save. Therefore, retailers need to take a more agile approach, staying ahead of the curve by understanding customer needs and reacting innovatively to blend the in-store and online experience.

Clienteling & Assisted Selling

While the thought of reinventing and transforming a retail business could easily send shock waves through C-level executives, the technology and tools needed to adapt to this new world of retail shopping is already here in the form of Clienteling and Assisted Selling applications. These tools lend themselves to retail business transformation and are as simple to use as the mobile phone in your pocket.

Providing a platform through which Store Associates can deliver a personalised and accessible customer service, whether alongside the customer in store or remote from each other, these tools offer a consistent brand experience with the customer at the centre of it all. KIT is a leading Clienteling solution with one global customer using it across 64 countries, in 11 languages, with over 5,500 active users. Features such as Profiling, Advanced Communications, Visual Search, and integration with social media channels make it easier to offer customers their ideal products. Whether customers are personally served in the physical store or guided through the online store, they will always have their preferred Store Associate at their side.