The Last Three Feet

If you are like me, your typical shopping excursion might look like this:

Walk through the door juggling handbag, tote, phone and a shopping bag or two. If you are lucky, someone smiles and greets you upon entering. You proceed to wander; maybe someone will help... a salesperson engages by telling you what she wants to show you (based on knowing zero about you).

Alternatively, you are simply ignored.

A jaunt through the cosmetics area of a high-end specialty department store will yield at least 3 assertive salespeople eager to offer you a makeover. (Yikes! Didn't I just spend 2 hours primping in the morning?)

Whose idea was that? Not a feel-good experience, however, clearly a result of how they were trained (at least we finally lost the perfume spritzers!)

Sure the objective is to do business, but let’s really examine the message we are sending. It’s this type of experience that sends people rushing back to their computers.  But the solution is not to digitize the in-store experience. It’s to make it more about the customer and less about the sale. 

Let’s ask ourselves the right questions.

Has the retailer forgotten that people come into the stores to touch products, to engage with a brand, to feel special, to have fun, to speak with a human and to leave with an experience that keeps on giving?

In the midst of consumers’ technology-driven lives most have forgotten what truly good service is like. People have become so avoidant of service interaction that entire businesses have formed and flourished around the premise of avoiding salespeople. Many prefer seeking the opinions of strangers from online reviews rather than relying on a salesperson’s suggestions; no one trusts salespeople anymore. 

For luxury-minded shoppers service has always been of the utmost importance as reflected in the price they're willing to pay for it. The concept of personal shopping and VIP shopping status has been widely embraced, but what about everyone else?

We need to address the marketing of products and services from all angles as the luxury retail marketplace evolves in the face of this new landscape. The inundation of information, 24-hour access, and convenience of the digital world has shifted the dynamic of consumer and seller at retail locations. It’s time to create the new retail experience, and ultimately execute by the sales professionals on the front lines.

Existing paradigms suggest that sales professionals are either overly eager or infuriatingly disconnected from the customer -- often both. But what if sales professionals took pride in their service and were incentivized to foster an environment of creativity, camaraderie and passion? Can sales teams learn to refocus their energy on innovation and service?

It starts at the top; The C-Suite must refocus on the importance and proprietary nature of human interaction, instead of obscuring the retail experience in complex technology solutions. Millions of dollars are spent in ensuring that a website is well designed, a storefront looks impeccable and its interior is chic and fashionable. Why is the same investment not made in the most direct component of the transactional experience?  The Sales Professional. The goal is to win the hearts and minds of consumers, not just their hurried tweets and likes.

Large-scale corporations already possess the resources for employee training programs. And now, more than ever, they are even more equipped to provide robust data and increased technological support. Metrics are important, but the critical next step is to craft a development path to create meaningful education, career trajectory and compensation for these sales professionals. 

Let’s focus on five core centers. First, hire people who actually view selling as a profession and want to service people. Then create "Retail Institutes/Academies of Excellence" where training would begin with a re-orientation of all the staff in the business of service, focus on skill development by hosting workshops and exercises, and elevate the sales professional by instilling pride. Continuing this training and education should be provided as management continually develops insights to understand the consumer perspective.

Businesses need to consider developing brand evangelists, not selling machines, by instituting interactive roundtables for management and sales to foster discussions, instead of mandates. Input from sales is an essential part of the process. Employees immersed in their brand and empowered by its message will be more successful at conveying its message. When management instills a sense of belonging, ownership and teamwork sales professionals can flourish.

The final few points are distinct from one another but each integral to the new sales professional. 

  • Create new, differentiated in-store experience to connect consumers to brand/ communicate the message seamlessly on every level.

  • Rethink sales compensation structure/hiring goals/certification/internships

  • Dare we change the name of "salesperson" to Client specialist or Shopping Guru?

Lets acknowledge that most shopping is all about entertainment and experience, not necessity. With recent research indicating that only 2% of shoppers trust sales people, we surely need a deep dive in this area. By the time a customer enters the store they have googled, blogged, tweeted and researched the products/brand and feel empowered with information. They visit stores seeking products with value, and they themselves want to be valued. They want their purchase to be validated. Not only is the demographic of the luxury consumer changing (here come those millennials), but the mindset of the existing luxury consumer has changed as well, resulting in new consumer spending habits and ultimately creating an opportunity for the category to grow.

It’s time for the retail community to remember that everything happens in the last three feet. Companies must invest in the place where brand reputation is most at stake; innovate the sales profession.