We have brought up this topic numerous times in the last 2-3 years. The buyer/seller relationship is changing and salespeople are become more and more obsolete in their role of providing the consumer the data and information they need to make an intelligent buying decision. You should know this because we have pounded this message to the ground over and over again.
Shoppers are waiving “adios” to the linear path of product purchases. No more going to the store and talking to someone. No more primary method to browse for new products by going up and down the aisle and searching for choices. Rather than get “sold” before buying, they get “educated”. You have heard us say this at various SDI/TDI/ERDI sales and marketing presentations; 79% of shoppers research products prior to purchasing in-store and 85% research products prior to purchasing online.
Consumers are doing their homework
Not only are consumers going online to do their homework, they are also embracing new ways to do this. 40% of millennials are actually using voice-enabled digital assistants to ask questions regarding products, pricing, and reviews. These voice-enabled digital assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, are tools that didn’t exist just a few years ago. So, as a retailer, if you think things will get easier…think again. The internet is making it easier and easier for consumers to have a user-friendly experience as they research their potential purchases online.
But the research phase isn’t the only stage of the buyer/seller process that is evolving. The actual buying process has changed as well. Though the retailer’s website is still the #1 way consumers buy products online (67%), mobile apps have seen a boost in direct sales (32%) followed by social media platforms (27%).
The funny thing about online purchases and the elimination of a large sales team on the showroom floor is that it does not mean customer service is dead – it is the opposite. Consumers are looking for the company that offers more and more services as well as more channels to reach the retailer when questions or concerns arise. Currently, websites and email are the top two channels that consumers are turning to for customer service. However, instant messaging and video chats are growing rapidly. Salesforce suggests that about a quarter of all shoppers — and more than a third of millennial shoppers — use instant messaging (25% of all, 36% of millennials) or a retailer’s mobile app (24% of all, 34% of millennials).
People are looking for retailers that have multiple channels and the consumer will choose to use the one that works best for them in the situation they are in at that particular moment. Multiple channels are necessary not because different customers have different preferences but because the same customers have multiple preferences. They will choose one channel over another depending on what platform they are using, where they are located, and what is the most user-friendly based on the activity they are doing with the retailer at that moment. This can be anything from returning a product or reading product reviews to chatting with a customer service representative on a mobile device.
Shoppers still like stores
87% of shoppers are still visiting retail stores, so it’s not like brick-and-mortar stores are becoming totally irrelevant. The better news – more millenials visited actual stores than baby boomers in the last 7 days (78% v 70%). This does not mean they are looking to engage with a sales associate until they are ready to ask questions (consumers want to buy, not be sold). 34% of consumers report using a mobile app to review products while in the store while 17% actually went ahead and completed that transaction while at the store. This does not mean the customer doesn’t expect a warm greeting – do not confuse the two.
When asked why they visited a physical location, the primary answer (66%) was to get the item immediately. Other responses included to touch and feel the merchandise (65%) and to avoid shipping fees (52%). Further down the list, 34% suggested that the reason they visited the store was because they enjoyed the overall store experience. This reminds me why I love to go to IKEA rather than buy their stuff online.
Another interesting fact is that 55% of consumers have bought a product online only to pick it up at the actual store rather than ship it directly to their home.
Death of a salesman
Over half of millenials (53%) believe that a store’s sales associate cannot actually answer their questions honestly and help them find what they are looking for while providing excellent customer service. 60% of millenials think they are better informed about the product they are looking for than the in-store sales associate and 43% believe these people could be replaced by robots – no kidding!!! But scuba diving is different and most staff on the floor actually have (or should have) knowledge of the courses and equipment they are offering but beyond questioning expertise, consumers question the honesty behind the salesperson’s intentions. 56% of consumers fear that in engaging with an in-store sales person, it will lead to them trying to close a sale or transaction to earn their commission check rather than close a sale to complete the consumers’ journey of getting what they want. It is because of this that only 12% of consumers ask in-store sales associate for their opinion on a product before purchasing.
What are the main talking points you need to take away from all this?
Have an active website that is user friendly that offers fast and easy navigation. People prefer easy and high speed websites over sites that are cluttered with animation and music that slows down their purchasing path. Keep it nice, clean, and fast.
Offer channels that can improve your customer service as well as sales team. Remember, every experience a potential consumer has with a member of your staff on the phone, through email, or via chat is a sales opportunity not to sell a product but to take care of that shopper’s needs. The end result is them buying from you.
Post reviews. Not only of your store but also of the products you carry. Make sure they are easy to find. Consumers will not only be doing research on the products they want to buy but on you and your store as well.
Have a nice store. Consumers want to have a pleasant experience when they walk into a store. Make sure it is exciting while not being a cluttered mess. Make sure it is easy to navigate and the “wants” and “needs’ are properly displayed.
Re-train your in-store staff to sell the way a consumer wants to be sold today – not yesterday. Ask questions and sell them what they want to buy, not what you want them to buy. This will build a level of trust that few consumers have with retailers.
The data within this article was provided from a survey in 2017 by Salesforce and conducted by Harris Poll for a report called; 2017 Connected Shoppers Report. The data is based on 2,011 adults 18+yrs.
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