Human-less stores are trending, but is that helpful for the customer?

A hot topic recently has been the rise of stores like Amazon Go – human-less and causing the industry to re-evaluate the cost of in-store employees.  When artificial intelligence (AI) is much more capable at performing some of the same tasks as an associate, is there really going to be a need for store associates at all?

Although we understand how powerful and beneficial AI is to a retailer, we don’t believe store associates are disposable.  In fact, we feel they’re your biggest asset to your store – especially when they’re given the right tools to succeed.  Here’s a few reasons why we feel it’s important to put the focus back on how important your associates are:

1.      By 2020, Your Store May Be a Showroom

One big tech trend that’s predicted to hit retail stores by 2020 is the idea of making your store a “show room.”  Think Apple’s Genius Bar and the experience a customer gets when going into the store.  Apple associates are extremely knowledgeable in the products (hence why they’re called “experts”) which makes it a lot easier to navigate through any purchasing doubt.  Walking into an Apple store would be significantly different if the employees were not only just adequately educated, but if they weren’t there at all.  The customer experience one leaves with is pinnacle to Apple’s success.  Such a success is also attainable for other brick and mortar retailers.  A retailer may not be able to physically replicate a show room layout for their store, but retailers and their associates can adopt the mentality behind it.  The idea is to treat the products in your store as an experience and would require a deeper understanding.  Your customers won’t get the same satisfaction talking to a machine but they will appreciate the expertise your associates have in validating their purchase decisions.  That’s a satisfaction that won’t go away anytime soon.

2.      The Power of Up-selling

If you’ve ever searched for and purchased anything on Amazon, you know that while you’re browsing a product, you’re viewing sponsored items or products that other customers have bought related to your item.  This is an eCommerce way of cross and up-selling.  It’s hard enough to convert a lead to a customer online, let alone get them to purchase more from a recommendation link.  There’s nothing substantial to influence their decision to add a new product to their cart.  Furthermore, they may not know if there’s a better valued product than the one they’re purchasing unless they’ve intended to find out so.  In a brick and mortar store, the associate is going to be the most knowledgeable product advocate a customer has access to.  Ideally, the associate should be able to help the customer emotionally validate their purchasing decisions or point them in the right direction towards a product that can fit their specific needs.  Although there are tons of AI and machine learning platforms popping up that are doing their best to help make product suggestions to customers, they’re only as knowledgeable as their most recent interaction.  A satisfied customer from a knowledgeable employee interaction yields to a higher likelihood that that customer will be back.  That means better customer loyalty to your brand and improved sales for your store.  Win-win.

3.      Mobile is Trending, But Not Dominating  

According to the 2015 State of Retail Report from TimeTrade, in a survey of 1029 participants, 42% of consumers have never purchased something on their mobile device.  If they did, only 70% of them say they’ve done it between 1-5 times.  It seems that despite the belief that brick and mortar stores are soon to meet their demise from the rise of eCommerce, consumer behavior say otherwise.  From the TimeTrade survey, respondents indicated that when they are looking to buy something, only 13% of them will purchase it online.  Mobile devices are important to a shopper’s purchasing journey, with 50% reporting that they use it research a product, but the next step for most is to visit the nearest store.  The in-store experience is part of the brand’s experience, and that’s something that can’t be replicated online.  Consumers are spending their disposable income in-stores with $5 trillion of it being accounted for by 2020 (in comparison to $550 billion of it being spent online).  With all that money being spent in a physical store, that’s more help that a customer is going to need.  How can those stores expect to profit with no sales associates?  They’re needed now and for years to come.

4.      Customer Channels Aren’t Streamlined

There’s about 6-8 touch points made before a customer is ready to buy.  Every channel that your customer interacts with your product on means they’re one step closer to considering your brand to purchase.  But the problem with a lot of customer channels is that they’re not consistent in their information because most organizations are operating them in silos.  Each channel is managed independently of one another so there is no streamlined flow of information from one channel to another.  Consider that most customer interactions are complex and nonlinear, it would make sense that instead of trying to figure something out on their own, customers are going to a retailer’s store to talk to an associate.  Very commonly, people are searching online to see if a product is in stores.  That information is not always accurate and imagine a customer’s frustration in going to the brick and mortar store to purchase a product, only to find it’s not available.  Store associates have the ability to work with a customer to help them find the product they’re looking for, and help them order it or find it at another location if it’s not available at that location.  Being able to diffuse and reassure the customer that they will end up with a product they’re satisfied with is something that AI cannot replicate.  

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With COSY, we’re helping store associates spend more time with customers and less time with their heads in shelves.  Find out how by visiting us at www.COSYrobo.com and requesting a demo.