The hidden costs of inefficiency for front line retail associates

When the discussion turns to inefficiency in a retail operation, the focus is often on the bottom line and doing more with less.

But creating a more efficient operation isn’t just about streamlining a store and reducing unnecessary costs.

Efficiency also helps a retail associate do their job more effectively and provide a better customer experience.

Here’s an insight into the hidden costs on inefficiency and how they impact front-line retail associates.

lady holding packages
April 07, 2022

The retail associate and the customer experience

It’s no secret the sales associate is at the front line of the customer experience. Their role is to educate the customer, provide product information, facilitate a frictionless transaction and make sales.

The more they can focus on this, rather than undertaking unnecessary tasks, the better the service they provide and ultimately increase sales.

Importantly, this customer experience in-store is becoming more critical.

While Gartner recently predicted e-commerce would account for 17 per cent of all sales in 2022, they see growth as a percentage of in-store shopping almost leveling off in the next few years.

They note the physical retail store remains the preferred shopping destination, while IDC predicts that by next year, digital fatigue will become a factor, prompting 60 per cent of organisations to seek to differentiate by “delivering trusted and memorable engagements that recreate physical experiences”.

This means a key question every retailer should be asking is how can I help my staff do their job more effectively?


Empowering the sales associate

If a retailer is looking to improve the customer experience by eliminating inefficiency, the process involves looking at all key areas of the sales associate’s role and empowering the retail associate to do their job more effectively.


Inventory insight

A retail associate’s primary role is to understand the needs of a customer and locate the right product to suit those needs.

That makes accurate inventory insight imperative. Associates should be provided with tools that provide this insight, such as handheld devices that easily allow them to locate items.

Behind the scenes, there should also be systems and processes to ensure the product they recommend is located where it should be and in stock.

This is where planogram compliance is essential, good inventory management is key, and staff training is critical.

Tools that assist include RFID which allows sales staff to locate an item in-store or in the supply chain.


Asset tracking and access

To ensure a retail associate maintains meaningful time with a customer, staff need the right tools to access the products they seek, for example, bar code scanners to quickly scan items, along with cabinet and display keys to access store areas.

Tools that assist include asset tracking devices that allow them to locate commonly misplaced items, along with smart keys, which allow staff to access pre-programmed cabinets and displays using one single access key which remains in their possession.


Insight and alerts

Low stock alerts and real-time insight into both customer purchasing trends and inventory help a sales associate understand what is likely to be in demand, what stock is on hand, and where it is stored.

insight and alerts

They also help prevent out of stocks, and when paired with automatic re-ordering, remove an unnecessary task from the associate’s role.

In other words, staff are ‘freed up’ to concentrate on the customer and their needs, in the knowledge products are in stock, on the shelf and readily available.


A frictionless transaction

Time spent in the queue doesn’t just impact the customer, it also affects the productivity of the sales associate.

That’s where tools like mPOS are making a difference in the experience of both the consumer and retail staff.

frictionless transactions

mPOS allows the retail associate to take the register to the customer. They can now complete the sales transaction without leaving the customer’s side – sourcing the product, processing the payment, and sending the customer a digital receipt all in one frictionless encounter.

This then frees them up to move swiftly on to the next customer and effortlessly meet their needs.


New offerings

The pandemic and technology have changed the way consumers complete transactions, with click and collect, curbside pick-up, and self-service all now mainstays of the retail experience.

While these new offerings might involve less interaction with the sales associate, they still require retail staff to be on hand acting as the face of the brand as they fulfill the customer’s preferred purchasing method.

Importantly as Retail Customer Experience explains, customers value the option of shopping independently “until they do not” and at this point they expect the retail associate to be on hand to offer immediate and personal solutions.

“Because staff must be available ‘on-demand’, improving operational task efficiency is key to the customer experience,” they note.

“When employees are free to focus on the customer experience without compromising their operational and safety responsibilities, team leaders retain the essential human element of retailing that builds brand loyalty.”


The hidden cost

While investing in tools that offer instore efficiency may seem like a large initial outlay, the investment can reap instant rewards when it comes to improving the customer experience that the sales associate provides.

the hidden costs

And that in turn, has a dramatic impact on the bottom line, according to the following statistics:

  • A positive customer experience encounter can increase customer spending by up to 140 per cent. (Source: Deloitte)
  • 96 per cent of customers agree that customer service plays a vital role in their choice of loyalty to a brand. (Source: Microsoft)
  • 87 per cent of customers would come back to make another purchase from a brand if their previous experience(s) were recorded as very good. (Source: Experience Matters)
  • 72 per cent of people that have a positive customer experience will share their story with six or more people. (Source: Nice Reply)
  • According to 70 per cent of customers, an excellent customer experience should be fast, convenient, and helpful, and must do all of that in a friendly manner. (Source: Adobe)

For more insight into tools that improve instore efficiency, see here.