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[15 comments]

Tablets for Sales Staff? Two Simple Ways to Make Them Effective

December 18, 2013

You get it: technology for technology's sake is a bad thing. You want to help your sales staff enhance the consumer shopping experience and you know that tablets are a window into realizing that goal. You don't want employees using tablets as a crutch or a means to avoid human interaction with precious customers. So how can these issues be dealt with so that shoppers get the best of technology-empowered staff? Here are two approaches to get you started.

Embrace price comparison/showrooming: Retail brands that are sizable enough can acquire ongoing, near real-time competitive price information, either by scraping data from competitors' websites or in-the-field acquisition. Not easy, but it can be worthwhile, here's why:

Although you may not offer the lowest prices, empowering sales people with pertinent pricing facts enables them to preemptively move the sales conversation to the value proposition and away from markdown discussions. They might say to a customer, "Allow me to show you my data. According to our research, two competitors have lower prices, but we provide _________ and ________." The value proposition is not a new concept, but using a store sanctioned tablet to openly embrace the practice, making it visual, and training employees to truly engage effectively with this method is novel and persuasive.

Tap hidden product knowledge: Look up most any product anywhere (even Amazon) and the description is typically the same manufacturer's verbiage. People who know their merchandise know lots more than the basics; they know alternative uses, hidden features, time saving tips, and more.

Take the top 10 products in each category you sell, study them, take cues from your boots on the floor, and create original product descriptions/images/videos for your tablets. Train the sales team to commit those details to memory and how to properly share them with customers. You will have an immediate value-add that's unique and compelling. Include authentic user comment/review videos and it's more powerful yet.

These are launching points to successfully integrate store-issued mobile technology to increase satisfaction and delight among retail shoppers. You can branch out from here. Like any other initiative, originality, brand-centricity, logic, understanding customer needs, and the delivery of explicit benefits must be the outcome, or tablets will be just as annoying to consumers as stuck shopping cart wheels.

Discussion Questions:

Are most customers interested in data from salespeople or do they prefer to do their own research? What advice would you have for stores to maximize the use of tablets for associates?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Are customers willing to trust stores to provide honest/unbiased comparitive information?

Comments:

Most customers would rely on the store staff to know more about products as well as to confirm what a customer found on the internet. Tablets can be used to determine inventory status, task management and compliance, and taking pictures of displays and planograms. As a sales tool, I have seen them also used for mobile point-of-sale devices.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

As a consumer, I like it when an associate asks if there's anything they can help me with. Now I may not always take them up on the offer, but I like that they are trying to help. Tablets can absolutely help provide better access to more in-depth product information and the mobile aspect of tablets, not having to be only in certain locations to get feedback such as at a register, is of great value.

And to the point about price comparison, if I was a retailer I would be inclined to use a service like indix to help me be able to look at my competitor's pricing in (near) real time. Services like this simplify this process greatly and are more cost effective.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

Tablets are the game changer for brick and mortar retailers. Aren't we always complaining that the customers often know more about the products than the associates? Aren't we also always talking about the trouble we have getting the Millennial sales associate to engage customers?

Voila, enter the tablet. Associates can be armed with at least the same information available to customers and hopefully more. It's an ideal add on sales tool for the apparel associate, and talk about sales closing and credit selling at the fitting room - the tablet was made for that!

As for the Millennial's engagement problem, we just launched our fitting room app and the millennial sales associates love it. They had actually figured out how to use the app and were serving customers with it before we formally trained them. They were engaged and happy with their new tool and so were their customers. It was truly inspiring to watch!

No associate should be expected to know as much or more about a product than the customer armed with the internet. Giving associates a tablet that at least levels the playing field with the customer and automates in-store business processes just makes sense.

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

Most customers want solutions to their problems. That leads to them uncovering their own research needs for some products / services, and in other areas of the store, they want salespeople to help them. Different experience levels with the products, who the individual is that is going to make use of the merchandise, the frequency of purchase all factor in the need for help.

Holiday gifts offer numerous anecdotal examples. While shopping for the "Blond Bombshell" (my wife of 40 years), my daughter had suggested, "Get mom a couple of pieces of Zella workout clothes at Nordstrom. She likes that line."

Nordstrom fit my needs perfectly. They had a couple of associates on college semester break working the area. The lasses took the time to show me where Zella lines were, offered thoughts on how the Bombshell would use the cloths, her size, colors that she liked. Then, they pulled up the tablet at the register area, and began showing me different colors, coordination of outfits, and said they could have them shipped to my attention at home. They even were able to provide my comparatives of Lululemon and Victoria's Secret gear.

They solved my problem, because they knew their product, understood the end user (could be an older version of their own mothers), and guided a guy who puts on a pair of jogging shorts and sweats for his 3 mile runs, but doesn't know blue from black. In the process, I could invest 15 minutes to pick up 3 outfits, and be on my way. Nordstrom kept me in the store to visits shoes, jewelry and handbags as a result.

Same pattern applies to other merchandise lines - electronics, furnishings, home decor, cameras, etc. Know the customer. Know the end user and how they will use the goods.

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Roger Saunders, Managing Director, Prosper Business Development

This is not only a great question, but also some interesting ideas on how to use technology to increase sales in today's competitive marketplace. I think both suggestions are very viable and applicable. My addition to this would be to pick out your top selling items and instead of expecting the salesperson to do the research on other use and benefits, I would suggest that the effort be controlled by management.

One suggestion is to draw up a list of key products, assign one of the associates to do the research, and present the findings to the rest of the sales force.

I see a number of benefits to this approach, including better motivation of the sales force, better training, and finding out who on the sales force takes more responsibility for improving themselves.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

There is a huge difference between associates using tablets to "show and tell" vs. letting consumers "touch and do."

We have had an opportunity to study the impact of interactive technology in stores across a number of tests. The findings clearly demonstrate that consumers respond in entirely different ways when they get to "drive" and interact with the touch screen.

My advice to retailers parallels that mentioned by Ken in his article:

  • Don't just use tablets to enable price checking
  • Enable additional rich content beyond a product page
  • Make the tablet enable the power of actual demos
  • LET THE CONSUMER TOUCH IT AND "DRIVE"

One of the most powerful examples of these principles is the restaurant industry. Those restaurants who leave a tablet on the table with consumers, generate much higher tickets and add-on sales because consumers can explore at their own pace and style.

If you want to think outside of the box, imagine who would happen if you bolted a tablet to a shopping cart while mom shopped with her kids in store ....

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

If the tablet being held by the salesperson is nothing more than a mobile portal to the retailer's website, then it's an expensive waste of time. If, on the other hand, the device has how-to videos, visualization tools for comparisons (how many photos can be stored on different size SD cards comes to mind) or hidden tips and other valued differentiators, then the tablet can enable an engaging and meaningful conversation between the customer and sales person. In the end, once again it is about the content - is it fresh, relevant and valued by the shopper?

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

My advice for stores to maximize the use of tablets for sales associates is to minimize the use of tablets as there is a better solution - interactive digital signage.

Instead of an associate hand-holding a 7-inch to 10-inch tablet they have to hold in one hand while trying to swipe with the other hand, have a 40-inch to 70-inch touchscreen where the sales associate can perform touch gestures to look up product information, and display infographics and other media.

One of the biggest advantages of interactive digital signage is the ability to use the large touch screen to pass information to the customer (via QR code, etc.) mobile device so they can conduct their own research. This is my advice and observation.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

Providing data is different from providing opinion. Great sales people will still need to have both and be good judges of how and when to provide them.

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Matthew Keylock, Senior Vice President, New Business Development and Partnerships, dunnhumbyUSA

Employees with tablets will be equipped to significantly change the in-store customer experience for the better. Tablets should not only be able to quickly pull data on products, compare features across models, and serve as an engagement tool for customers, but also has the powerful potential to display real-time inventory tracking. This technology will enable true omni-channel experiences to come to life and order fulfillment, payments, line busting, and many other customer centric features can be implemented.

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Jesse Karp, Omnichannel Consulting Manager & Loyalty Practice Lead, Cognizant Business Consulting

For the foreseeable future, the majority of shoppers will not be using their mobile devices in stores for product information. Many people do and the number is growing quickly, however they are still in the minority for now. So, store staff should have devices available to look up information quickly for shoppers.

I think there are some great examples of merchants that leverage tablets and other devices effectively and we have all heard of those retail innovators. I think the advice I'd give to merchants is to set very clear guidelines on the usage of the devices through focused training and leading by example in the store. As company leadership visits stores, this should be a key topic of conversation. This is true in virtually all formats of retail, especially grocery, where use of mobile devices for customer service is limited in most companies.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Remember the TV reports showing Senator John McCain playing video poker during a legislative session? This is a responsible man of great personal integrity with a strong work ethic, hiding a smartphone in his lap below his desk and playing a game during an active senate session.

If you can't trust John McCain to use his handheld video device only for business while the senate is in session, how can you trust a retail clerk with a tablet to use it only for business while they're on the clock? Just a thought.

Also, if retail clerks with tablets had a way to swipe customers' store cards using the tablet, they could see what the customer had purchased previously and, for instance, help them select matching items.

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M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

Customers are coming to expect that the sales people will NOT know as much as they do and therefore PREFER doing their own research. This is where some major changes need to happen. Retail sales people need to know at least as much as the average shopper already knows coming in.

The key, to me, in this article was, "take cues from your boots on the floor." When the customer walks in, already armed with research, what DO they talk to the sales associate about? Okay, there's the obvious, "where do I find...," but going beyond that, what are your sales people telling you that the customer wants to talk to them about?

If I were to guess, I bet they came in because they needed more than the product specs and price. They needed someone who could tell them how this product would work with another they have in their home. Are there other pieces they will need to put this together in their environment? Can it be mounted...? You get the picture.

Want to arm your sales associates with tablets that provide real tools that may close the deal and/or better service? Ask your "boots on the floor" what their customers want from them and give it to them! 'Nuff said!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

Customers use research for clarity and to keep the salesperson honest.

Training is critical for the salesperson as well as promotion of the service to the consumer. The latter is often ignored, but the consumer needs to have measured expectations on what a salesperson with a tablet can do for them - otherwise simply set up tablet stations for consumers.

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Carlos Arámbula, Managing Partner, MarcasUSA LLC

First of all, great suggestions by Ken. Based on our company's work in this arena, I can personally corroborate that these methods are being used by leading retailers. In fact, Best Buy Canada won two awards in 2013 for its innovative use of tables for price comparison applications in-store.

Based on our experience, a fair proportion of customers will absolutely listen to store associates with respect to product and pricing information. There may always be those who want to do their own research, but it behooves the retailer to ensure that their staff are as knowledgeable as possible, and unbiased, in order to best serve the customer.

There are numerous other applications of tablets in stores, for both associates and customers themselves: product information, availability, reviews, maps to the product locations on shelves, and many others.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

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