In-Store Associates and The 3 Key Benefits They Can Have For Your Brand

5min read -

In 2020, organizational and strategic changes that executives saw take 2-3 years to deploy got implemented in just 20 days. That's according to a McKinsey study on group transformation driven by COVID-19. It states, among other things, that before the crisis, executives estimated that insourcing practices, such as the in-store associate, would take an average of 547 days to see the light of day. However, today they have taken an average of 26.6 days. This change is 21 times faster than expected and a phenomenon that has taken hold to stay, as it perfectly meets the needs of consumers seeking online advice and flexibility.

What is an In-Store Associate

The Principle of an In-Store Associate 

An in-store associate, also called a connected salesperson who interacts with shoppers via video, is a salesperson evolving in the store who answers consumers' questions on the brand's digital channels. To do this, they can have a dedicated space in the physical store, such as an office, allowing them to isolate themselves momentarily to answer incoming requests from online visitors. They can also move freely in the store and answer requests via a tablet connected to the conversational platform.

The Contact Channels Between an In-Store Associate and a Consumer

It is important to understand that consumers' habits have changed, particularly as a result of the health crisis, and brands have multiplied their communication channels with them. 

Indeed, buyers have developed a daily relationship with digital channels, specifically true for the younger generations (18-34 years old). According to a study by Forrester and Google, 32% of them have contacted a brand via social networks, and 22% have done so via live chat on a brand's mobile site during the first 6 months of 2020. This trend is, of course, on the rise.

In-store associates can be deployed across a multitude of channels, depending on each brand's omnichannel strategy:

#1 Enrich the Customer Experience With In-Store Associates

#1 Enrich the Customer Experience With In-store Associates

The customer experience has become fluid and undifferentiated. Whether the consumer goes to a store or shops online, whether they buy flowers or insurance, they now expect the same level of experience, that includes the basics: advice, personalization, availability, even the "wow effect" for an experience they will remember. 

As a result, shoppers expect on-demand support when shopping online, just as they would accept help from an in-store salesperson if they felt the need. The in-store associate system breaks down the boundary between physical and digital advice, which is no longer relevant today. Uses have become hybrid, and customer journeys are; phygital, especially since the health crisis. An example of this is click-and-collect, which took off in 2020 and allowed consumers to order online and then collect the products in-store. 

A few years ago, consumers were on their own when shopping online. Today, a growing number of brands are deploying multiple respondents because they understand the impact it has on their online sales: brand advisors, automated chatbots, experts, and increasingly, in-store associates.

In-store associates humanize the digital customer relationship by advising consumers on their online purchases. The in-store experience is no longer reserved just for physical brand stores. Instead, it is now transferable to digital channels. This rich contact allows it to transmit brand values and generate more satisfaction than a traditional contact with customer service (email, phone line with a hold option). 

Why is this so? Because in a context of hyper-choice of products and services that can be bought online, consumers appreciate the possibility of being advised by specialists such as in-store associates. This is all the more true for complex technological products such as household appliances, multimedia, cars and can also be very relevant in beauty and any other sector traditionally involving very personalized advice. Not to mention that video, in the case of video with an in-store associate, is a major conversion lever for the purchase, directly online or in a store (for example, making an appointment in a dealership). 

The most common examples of personalized video make a strong emotional connection or fulfill an information need.

Maria Virzi, Principal Analyst, Gartner

Maria discussed this in more detail in this Gartner blog focusing on personalized video being part of a content marketing strategy.

Consumers spend an average of 18 hours per week watching or interacting with the video. The health crisis had an impressive impact on video consumption: in just 6 months, this average increased from 16 hours to 18 hours. In 2018, it stood at 11.5 hours. This possibility of video calls with in-store associates responds to the new uses of consumers.

#2 In-Store Associates: Boost Purchases Compared to the Traditional Website Visit

During the digital sales peaks that many brands and retailers experienced at the height of the crisis, the availability to accompany the customer and convert him was a major issue. This is still the case today, as the volume of online sales continues to grow (+15% of e-commerce sales in France in Q3). In addition, certain periods such as the end of year holidays, sales, and brand-specific events generate a lot of web traffic. Consumers have expectations that must be met to trigger a sale, regardless of the time of year and the customer service occupancy rate. 

Companies that achieve the highest level of availability do so by merging physical and digital experiences and deploying innovative omnichannel communication strategies, such as the in-store associate option. 

The deployment of the device among brands and retailers has shown that the customer experience linked to a digital conversation, whatever its form, with an in-store associate, has a positive impact on sales:

  • Increased ROI for physical stores after the COVID-19-related drop in traffic (including outside of store hours)
  • Increase of the online shopping cart of consumers thanks to relevant advice
  • Increase in-store sales with "Drive-to-store": generate in-store traffic thanks to digital presence 

#3 Adapt Your Organization With Connected Selling and Gain Agility

In-store associates were a bargain for some brands at the height of the health crisis: by connecting their sales force to their e-commerce sites, they maintained their business, despite the closure of physical stores and absorbed an increase in online demand

In reality, both companies and consumers have changed their organization: unprecedented growth in telecommuting, phygitalization of the customer journey, digital innovation... In-store associates are here to stay, as they allow brands to be more agile and maximize both online and in-store revenues

Brands manage to improve the occupancy rate of their salespeople, who consistently are faced with slow periods during the week and thus smooth out productivity. This also allows the sales force to become more proficient with digital tools that make it easier for them to deal with customers. 

In-store associates e break down the silos between e-commerce and stores and become part of the omnichannel strategies of brands. The future of the conversation between customers and brands will have all the characteristics of a unified, seamless experience, and In-store associates are a great example of this. 

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