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Op-Ed: Customer Expectations Are the Real Retail Competition This Holiday

For many retailers, Holiday 2015 will see the highest number of part-time workers being hired to meet the demands of shoppers. Unlike previous years, these part-time sales associates are being trained on skills ranging from how to greet a customer to product knowledge. It’s a strategy being implemented in an age of a fierce competitor—customer expectations.

Retailers that focus on customer service and a seamless brand experience 10 months out of the year have come to understand that valuable customers expect the same knowledgeable sales associates, in-store aesthetic and service during the holidays. Perhaps even more so when there is more to do and less time to do it.

Mobile-savvy shoppers walk into a store aware of what is being offered and are knowledgeable about products. They have come to the store for the brand experience, to learn from a knowledgeable associate and to walk out with their purchase immediately. What they don’t know is whether the person helping them is part-time or full-time. In many respects, consumers don’t care. They are expecting a certain level of attention.

Other factors supporting training of part-time holiday hires include the realization that selling in retail stores can be more profitable than online. Retailers are working to maximize their most profitable sales channel—the store. It would seem that online sales should be more profitable without costly rent prices and staff, but if not done correctly, retailers are earning less or losing money due to free shipping and high return rates. Knowledgeable sales associates, whether full- or part-time, will be able to cross-promote, up-sell and create a loyal customer, driving a higher purchase and lower return rate.

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Even the most tech-savvy online shopper loves a great in-store experience. Successful in-store experiences offer a 360-degree brand experience that is not replicated online. People want to look, touch and try the item they are thinking about buying before the purchase is made. Many online-only retailers have changed their business model to include physical store locations. These brands are realizing, that in part, it is the sales associate that is there to guide them and establish a relationship as a brand ambassador.

How are retailers able to train part-time employees more easily than in years past?

Cost, stability, ease of use and popularity with developers have made iPads, tablets and custom apps a proven solutions for retail training and communications. Associates are able to remain on the sales floor and become more knowledgeable IBC (in between customers). Apps with knowledge checks at the end of each module are entertaining and reinforce key messages. Platforms are designed to keep sales associates current and provide relevant information about where the action is taking place on the sales floor. When training is kept within an associate’s schedule, less money is spent on payroll—something that was never done for part-time employees.

Before retailers were initially considering iPads and tablets for mobile point-of-sale, but now companies are realizing that enterprise communications provide a greater value and return. These new technologies can offer a network of up-to-the-minute, enterprise-wide communications and training that directly impact the customer experience on a global basis. Increased customer satisfaction and experiences, driving units per transaction, maintaining consistent visual merchandising and product knowledge all play a role in increasing sales. From the moment the iPads are rolled out, there is immediate return-on-investment from reduced print and shipping costs, payroll hours maintained on the floor and increased conversion rates by knowledgeable associates.

For both full- and part-time staff, the ability to train in short no-bandwidth video modules allows for training of key messages even in a short amount of time. High engagement comes from the “edu-tainment” value of the programs and the ability of field managers to communicate the importance of ongoing communications. Smartphones and tablets have become part of our daily lives and make an easy transition to training tool for staff hired for the holiday season. The bulk of in-store sales associates are millennials already accepting of and accustomed to digital platforms and tracking. It’s the platform of choice and one that they are comfortable using.

As retailers continue to countdown to the holidays and beyond, the winners will be those that offer an excellent customer experience with a well-trained staff of both full- and part-time associates.

Jodi Harouche 1 Jodi Harouche, president and creative director of Multimedia Plus, leads all of the design and production aspects of the company’s work. She brings her expertise to the engagement by acting as a brand strategy consultant at the design stage of each program. She can articulate a client’s important messages in a language that inspires selling. She stays focused on the performance goals and her teams create engaging and informative education in any brand filter from fast fashion to luxury.