Store associates, once primarily responsible for stocking shelves, answering customer questions and helping people check out, are now being tasked with more responsibilities in an effort to make shopping a more personal experience for consumers.
Many retailers, for example, have connected their online inventory to brick-and-mortar locations and armed employees with tablets or smart devices, allowing them to order something that may be out of stock at one location for delivery to the customer, thereby preventing a potential lost sale.
Others have begun using software such as video commerce platform Immerss to connect in-store associates with eCommerce customers, allowing shoppers to ask a person — not a chatbot — more about a particular item's look, feel and fit. Arthur Veytsman, co-founder and CEO of Immerss, told PYMNTS in a recent interview that he's seen video chatting with a store associate increase in frequency in recent months as people have grown more accustomed to being on camera and shopping from home.
"You actually do feel like you're in a store, besides the touch and feeling of everything," Veytsman said. "Everything else is there and, more importantly, the fact that you're actually talking to a sales associate, not to a call center employee, that makes a huge difference."
This means rather than waiting for walk-in traffic, store associates can directly reach out to people shopping online, improving digital conversion rates and allowing employees to earn more if they work on commission.
"I think people who are discovering live commerce are being surprisingly shocked at how good it is," Veytsman said, adding that virtual shopping consultations will likely become essential for certain retailers as eCommerce continues to grow.
"If you're a store that doesn't offer that, then the customer is going to move on to your competitor who's better at servicing the client," he said.
A Personal Stylist
Neiman Marcus has also been working with merchandising-as-a-service platform Stylyze since 2018 to help advance its clienteling and elevate relationships with customers. Through Stylze, which is part of Neiman Marcus Group's Connect remote-selling system and clienteling solution, store associates can see a personalized view of each customer, such as previous purchases and items they are interested in.
Once a customer completes a stylist match questionnaire, a personal stylist is available to them through the Connect app, providing styling services through text, email, video chat or in person.
Earlier this year, Neiman Marcus Group acquired Stylyze outright, bringing its functionalities in-house.
"By acquiring Stylyze, we will be able to advance our strategy of integrated luxury, building long-term relationships with our luxury customers that create emotional value and high lifetime value potential," Neiman Marcus Group CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck said in the announcement.
These virtual tasks, on top of in-store duties and fulfilling online orders placed for curbside pickup, have created some challenges in managing employees. Suresh Menon, senior vice president and general manager for software solutions at Zebra Technologies, told PYMNTS that the changing retail environment has created "new and unusual workloads" for store associates, which they must adapt to quickly if they want to succeed.
Menon said companies should also analyze how their stores are laid out to make sure they're able to optimize the cost of labor, "because that's really going to be the difference between competing and not competing."
"Stores can start to look different from the stores they used to be, by becoming a hybrid of a micro-fulfillment center alongside the store," Menon said. "Take a look at how the stores are organized for customers to walk through, look at the aisles, look at the shelves, and [consider whether they] support the new omnichannel world we live in."