What do know-it-all shoppers want?

Discussion
Mar 22, 2017
Tom Ryan

According to a survey from Tulip Retail, 83 percent of shoppers believe they’re more knowledgeable than store associates.

Consumers for some time have expressed this sentiment, with gains in their ability to do online research from home or on their smartphones. But the numbers are increasing versus past surveys.

Tulip, a provider of apps for associates and managers, not surprisingly believes the data points to the need to help make associates smarter.

  • Nearly 50 percent of survey respondents said a knowledgeable associate who could suggest products based on their purchase history would encourage them to shop in-store;
  • Seventy-two percent that dealt with an associate who used a mobile device to provide things like product info, checkout and inventory look-up said the information resulted in a better shopping experience;
  • Seventy-three percent would be interested in having a store associate text or e-mail them about the status of their order.

Yet other studies have found smarter shoppers need a new type of in-store experience.

Deloitte’s “Navigating the New Digital Divide” report from 2015 argued that empowering associates with digital access or information would help them to maintain relevance with customers. At the same time, providing free internet was offered as one way to support the “self-sufficient hunter/customer.” Deloitte’s survey at the time showed nearly 50 percent of consumers who received associate assistance on their last store trip would prefer to have been able to perform the same action themselves on their own device.

New research from Avanade and EKN Research finds that 60 percent of retailers believe stores in the next two or three years will shift from a focus on traditional sales to more theme-based environments focused on attracting specific customer segments. Yet most aren’t planning to refocus associates on customer-facing activities to support this change.

The report concludes, “To close the gap between their 2020 vision and their ability to realize it, retailers must adopt digital automation in terms of not just smartphones, but also smart merchandise, wearable devices and POS tablets, and rethink and reallocate how employees spend their time in the stores.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do knowledgeable shoppers want more knowledgeable associates or will they prefer to do it all themselves? How must associate roles change and which technologies will help?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Retailers need to empower the consumer with as much information as possible and provide access in the way the consumer wants to see/use it."
"This isn’t an “or” question — the smart shopper wants both."
"In my business the know-it-all shoppers want to get in and out quickly with a smiling face in all departments."

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26 Comments on "What do know-it-all shoppers want?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I think many knowledge shoppers merely want to complete their transaction with as little friction as possible. While there is no doubt that knowledgeable associates can have a significant impact on the shopping experience, even the best service will be misplaced for a shopper who simply doesn’t desire or appreciate it. Associates need to hone their skills at reading the shopper and adjusting their service based on the shopper’s needs. For example, if a shopper merely wants a fast and efficient check-out experience, deploying mobile POS with which sales transactions can be processed anywhere in the store could certainly help.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Mark is right. Each shopper may want a different level of service and even the same shopper might be looking for a different service level different times they shop. Having tools to smooth the transaction and knowledgeable associates that know when to step in seems like a winning combination.

Bill Zujewski
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

A couple of other data points from retailers that use the Tulip app: Most retailers started with just a couple of use cases for rolling out a mobile associate solution in the store, typically line busting (mobile checkout) or endless aisle (catalog and inventory access). This helped with both convenience and sales assistance. But more interesting things happened. We found most employees were using the app even when customers were not in front of them. Further data and research showed they were self-training; learning the products, running product comparisons, and building looks. Net/net: employees will take their mobile devices out in idle time. You might as well give them information and tools on that device that can make them more knowledgeable and improve their performance.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Curating information is the great enabler of retail. In capturing the actionable insights from a mountain of data, information and perspectives, the associate becomes a valuable resource to the customer. When that associate is further able to put those insights into the context of a customer’s needs, wants and aspirations, that value increases significantly for everyone involved.

Max Goldberg
Guest

Knowledgeable shoppers want their information and opinions to be validated by sales associates. A sales associate’s most valuable role in this situation, in the eyes of a retailer, is to augment the customer’s purchase with complementary items, increasing basket size and register ring. This will require sales associates to learn a different kind of selling — one that enhances consumers’ knowledge. Technology may help somewhat, but people skills will still be paramount.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust
Let’s start with the number one premise: The customer is always right. The challenge for retailers today is that consumers have been empowered with the ability to shop anywhere anytime … and have access to incredibly rich content. In many ways they are much more knowledgeable about products. They’ve also been “spoiled” by the Amazon experience of getting almost real-time information about their order, shipping, past orders etc. To be successful in the stores of the future, retailers need to empower the consumer with as much information as possible and provide access in the way the consumer wants to see/use it, whether it be by computer, phone, watch. At the end of the day however, all of this information does not replace what the store associate can provide — first-hand experience with products and how the products connect with the consumer’s lifestyle. In the new world of retail, retailers must equip associates beyond the facts and features … they need to be the face of experience and have the skill set to engage customers on… Read more »
Jasmine Glasheen
Staff

Smart shoppers want associates who can guide them to products and, although they they’ve done their own research online, they want associates who can fill in the gaps in their knowledge. This isn’t an “or” question — the smart shopper wants both.

Store associates should always have ready access to more information than is available to customers online to make the in-store experience educational enough to be worth the trip.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
2 years 2 months ago
At the risk of over-simplifying, I suggest two types of customers and two types of sale situations. You have customers that will do all the research ahead of a store visit or are making a repeat purchase. They are looking for a quick, easy, frictionless transaction. The other customer type is looking for expert advice on a new or complex sale (relative) and seeks expert in-store advice to validate and guide a decision. In the sale situation, you have purchases of basic items or repeat purchases of previously researched items. The other situation consists of purchasing new items, technology or a solution bundle that have a foothold or legacy dependencies and higher price points. Such a 2×2 matrix does not signify that frictionless is less desired by one customer type or sales situation, but the emphasis changes within the quadrant. Bottom line, if a customer walks into a store, a retailer must figure out a way to make the sale. After all, in today’s retail reality, walking into a store is a big deal. Leveraging… Read more »
Anne Howe
BrainTrust

Shoppers have had to get smarter because of the failure retailers must own — not enough investment in personal service. So many have mistakenly over-invested in digital, which is not a panacea in a world where human influence has always mattered, and still matters greatly, in the purchase cycle.

Retailers that plan to invest in associate training would do well to model the training toward filling gaps that their core shoppers identify. Listen first, then train.

Naomi K. Shapiro
BrainTrust

Knowledgeable shoppers want to find the product(s) in the store quickly and easily, and that is where the associate can make hay. Help them find what they want, then associates can add to the customer’s knowledge, answer questions and promote complementary items. Last time I was in Target I knew what I wanted, but after spinning around a few times (literally and figuratively) I couldn’t find anyone to help me, i.e. there was no-one from staff bustling about as I used to find. That made the shopping experience frustrating and less pleasurable.

Anna Tolmach
Guest

Not all types of shopping experiences require an associate. In areas like luxury goods they are indispensable, but in stores with lower-priced products the value-add of an associate is more muted.

It all comes back to siloed data and omnichannel. When a customer walks in all the associate has access to is what the customer says when, in fact, the customer may be a loyal shopper who’s provided a lot of insights into what they value from the brand by shopping online. Unfortunately, there’s currently no way for the associate to access this useful info. There are startups trying to solve this problem, but we still have a long way to go and no one has made a major dent.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Consumers have become empowered by the information at their fingertips and they should expect sales associates to be equally well informed in the case of complex purchases like cars and technology. (There are plenty of other less risky purchases where these shoppers are prepared to make their own decisions based on online reviews, specs and so forth.) Retailers (and I include car dealers in that category) have the responsibility to keep up with their customers’ growing knowledge base.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
The more knowledgeable a shopper is, the more they want to see a smart associate. Sometimes this is to validate their opinions on products, other times it is for genuine help with making a decision. In the end, the goal is a friction-less experience. Yes, some shoppers don’t need an associate to help them — this will always exist, but stores need to support an environment for both types of shoppers and that means a smarter, well-trained associate that has access to any product information they might need, the ability to checkout a customer on the spot and the ability to check any order status required by the customer. Anything the customer could do online needs to be replicated by the associate for customers that want this interaction. There is nothing worse for a shopper that needs help and who wants to interact with an associate than to encounter one that lacks the knowledge they seek. This adds friction and hurts the shopping experience considerably, resulting in a customer who wants to leave the store… Read more »
Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Face it — all shoppers do their online research these days. This is a great thing. Keep online going well and make sure your staff knows where to find the product details they need and has the patience to work with the knowledgeable consumer. These are good omnichannel practices.

From a retail tech perspective, retailers need their order management systems to connect with the communication media their consumers want — to give them updates on when their product is available, whether the order was shipped, if the order is waiting for them in-store, etc. These are now table-stakes, but how many retailers are using them?

Scott Magids
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

The Tulip Retail survey suggests that shoppers think they know more than store associates, and they usually do. Retailers that continuously improve the in-store experience will emerge victorious, but that improvement comes from two directions. First, knowledgeable associates with the ability to truly engage with customers have always played an important role, and that will continue. But that will be supplemented more and more with intelligent technologies like smart shelves and in-store mobile apps that have far more personal data and product information at hand than any associate could possibly possess. Store associates will play more of a dual role — one of personal advisor and one of facilitator in guiding consumers to the added value that those technologies can bring.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

An interesting sub-question to this is, “what do shoppers who do not know it all want?” I might be at the head of the lack-of-knowledge class when it comes to shopping at a Home Depot or Lowe’s. I have no idea why my wife would even trust me enough to send me there. I simply do not know what I want or need to fix a problem and am dependent on the sales clerk being able to assist me. I can easily tell when the clerk is unsure of what he is doing and quickly ask for someone else to assist me. When I have found that clerk who is easy to speak with and helpful I know I am walking away with what I need. We need more of that no matter what type store we are shopping in. Most of us, no matter what our profession, need assistance at some point in our shopping and should not try to pretend we don’t.

Di Di Chan
Guest

Shoppers want both convenience and service made available to them. The future of retail will be a hybrid of both technology and service solutions. Technology could speed up some of the repetitive tasks, such as information look up or checkout speed. The much more valuable human touch includes the unique ability for associates to interpret and adjust to different situations instantly (i.e., is the shopper in a rush and do not want to be bothered? Or is the shopper looking at a wall of items trying to decide which one is best and would like a recommendation?). For example, California Fresh Market grocery store in Pismo and San Luis Obispo have both the latest technology (line-free mobile checkout) and some of the best services (they trained associates to be product specialists — wine and vitamin consultants) — providing their customers the best of both worlds.

Bill Zujewski
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

In fact we’ve seen this at most of Tulip’s customers. The mobile app can enable greater efficiency and convenience, but it also provides information that can turn an employee order taker into a beacon of knowledge and trusted advisor. One great example of ours is a retailer that sells baby products like car seats and strollers. This retailer was losing sales to a consumer “no decision” in the store. Although the consumer did their homework, when in the store they wanted confirmation that they were getting a product that was not recalled, high quality and priced fairly. Now, empowered via their mobile app with critical product information, product comparisons, and access to online pricing from Amazon, an associate was prepared to help the customer complete the purchase with confidence. They were even empowered to look up a SKU from an online competitor in 1 click that took 2 seconds, shoulder to shoulder in the aisle, and match that price.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust
In my business the know-it-all shoppers want to get in and out quickly with a smiling face in all departments. They expect to be greeted at the checkout and want a smooth process without any angst or waiting in line. Both know-it-all shoppers and the rest of my shoppers also need information on cooking tips, catering for parties, wine selection and gluten/sugar free products. And that — my friends — is where the real money is. I have trained my associates to engage with our customers and help solve their concerns, and for the most part it goes well. I spend as much time as I can talking with our customers and provide them with information that the big box stores don’t, and it keeps them coming back. Bottom line: We have well-trained, friendly associates that can properly help answer questions from our customers, and if they need more information I will make sure they get the right answers quickly; through email or a personal call if I’m out of the store. It can make… Read more »
Nir Manor
BrainTrust

The fact that the shopper entered the store — which is not a small thing — already suggests he might need some help from a shop assistant, or is unsure about the product he needs because otherwise the shopper would have bought online. Coming to the store, whether a “know-it-all shopper” or a less informed shopper, presents an opportunity to the retailer via shop assistants to help the shopper close the sale, up-sell and cross sell. To do so retailers should invest in better training of their staff, and use technology to enhance the knowledge of the shop assistant regarding the products but also regarding the shopper himself in case he is a loyal or at least a repeat shopper in this store.
Obviously, the level and type of help shopper need varies among retail verticals — in large format grocery stores it’s more about where to find items. In technology based products is about product features and in fashion and luxury, it is about self assurance and high service standards.

Stefan Weitz
Guest

I think this is partially missing the point. I don’t think we always need better associate knowledge, we need B&M retailers to mimic what makes eCommerce so appealing to so many shoppers. Tomorrow’s consumers (like my 12 year old daughter) are used to the speed, depth of selection, depth of content, honest reviews, recommended add-ons based on collaborative filtering models that digital affords. The sooner retailers enable their physical experiences to make them feel more like eCommerce, the better. Relying on people to provide that missing link — no matter how well trained or enabled with technology — is only a piece of the winning strategy.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

They want not to be stereotyped. No, seriously, I don’t think there is any one thing that all want or that even the same person wants at different times. Sometimes it’s as simple as “what aisle is __ on?” Sometimes it’s as complicated as “my throat hurts, do you have something for it?” Certainly, though, they want the associate to know at least as much as they do about solving their problem(s).

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 2 months ago
I find the retail world incredibly conflicted on this topic. Everyone knows shoppers make purchase more often and spend more when they are well informed. That seems to be widely accepted. Yet that knowledge seems to only rarely turn into reality. (Disclaimer: I have skin in this game owning an agency who drives sales at retail by informing consumers.) What we’ve learned is that consumers don’t want information — they want to BE informed. Websites, in-store videos, and ads need to change. Learn to deliver the communication that leads to purchase. Even better, it leads to incredible profit, inventory turns, and store traffic. Yet too much in-store, website, and ad based communication is half baked, bureaucratically hyper-controlled blandness — the kind that consumers hate. In part, our go-to communications experts (agencies) do “branding,” discount in promotional ads or bombard consumers with “information.” Those retailers who crack the code here succeed. Take, for example, superb local/regional hardware stores in the Ace, TruValue, and DoItBest networks. (Like McGuckins in Boulder, CO; or Parkrose in Portland, OR; or… Read more »
Michelle Covey
Guest

Today’s shoppers are not only more self-sufficient, they are also short on time. Technological implementations such as item level RFID can help retailers aid shoppers quickly who have a specific product in mind, or even make inventory details available online for consumers who don’t reach out to sales associates. It’s a win-win no matter the consumer’s behavior or attitude toward customer service. In addition, consumers crave product details whether they are shopping in store or online. That data needs to be consistent, complete and accurate from the source. Retailers can work more seamlessly with suppliers to ensure consumer satisfaction if they are all working off of one common, interoperable language. Standards-based systems can help achieve much greater efficiencies in this area.

gordon arnold
Guest
The large majority of brick & mortar transactions are cash and carry. The reason for their needing an associate is for directions or out of stock replenishment. In recognition of these needs B&M retailers provide a limited number of minimum wage employees for consumer help. The associate enthusiasm found in these pay grades is anemic at best. Combine this with a need to select candidates from the lower ranks of the labor pool and you start to get an idea of what store management is up against trying to meet consultative consumer service needs. These predicaments are most obvious in automotive, home improvement, electronics and highly specialized retail. Electronic places of higher information like Google, Wikipedia, and others do provide enough information to get the consumer, the associate and the store into one or more predicaments. This has been the cause of many ill feelings and even litigation and/or termination. If the retail industry wishes to stay the course of selling price the consumer should be made aware of the limitations that come with this… Read more »
Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Knowledgeable shoppers already know what they want and why. They are simply looking for the best deal (and often to see what it looks like in real life). This is why they are knowledgeable shoppers. Having a more knowledgeable associate at the store can sometimes help, if the store associate truly is well trained and well versed in both the product and the category.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers need to empower the consumer with as much information as possible and provide access in the way the consumer wants to see/use it."
"This isn’t an “or” question — the smart shopper wants both."
"In my business the know-it-all shoppers want to get in and out quickly with a smiling face in all departments."

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