Apparently, the death of the high street has been going on for years, but in reality it is not a death. Rather, it is a metamorphosis – from retail environments focused on having thousands of products available all in one place, to small, customer-centric worlds that place consumer interaction back at the core of the retail experience.
In a world where almost every item imaginable can be ordered online and delivered to your door, retailers are moving away from a model that focuses on quantity towards the original premise of retail – making a considered purchase from someone you know and trust.
And although the local shopkeeper seems a thing of the past, the return to a focus on quality interactions is causing the retail world to intersect with the experiential, with many brands choosing to work with talented in-store demonstration staff to ensure they get the most from their marketing spend.
But why are retailers making such a move? And why do they need to hire specialist staff to perform the demonstrations?
The importance of connection
When a consumer makes a high-value purchase, very rarely are they buying the product alone, particularly if in large retail outlets such as Selfridges or John Lewis, or fully experiential environments like Niketown or the Apple Store.
Rather, they are buying into a lifestyle, one generated by multiple layers of branding working together to cause a transition from a state of desire to one of need. It is a special form of magic and one that can be cemented by a great experience at acquisition – with great staff forming a core part of this.
While a few brands – such as Apple, Dyson and Nike – have fans who insist on buying their products on name alone, many affluent consumers still prefer to browse when making high-value purchase decisions, and therein lies the opportunity for brands to make their products really stand out.
These consumers rarely have preconceived ideas as to which brand they are looking to buy. Rather, they want a quality product that suits their needs perfectly.
This lack of brand loyalty can be the great leveller. While consumers may be aware of your brand from a wider marketing perspective, a personal interaction can make all the difference in their eventual decision to purchase the product.
Why are in-store specialists important?
To justify any investment in specialist staff – not only in simply having them there, but also in the continued costs of training and brand immersion – it is essential to be able to guarantee a quantifiable return.
In the past 12 months, three of our retail clients have seen a sales uplift of between 16 and 25 per cent, generating about £1.4m in revenue and creating long-term, engaged consumers with a newly-created, personal sense of brand loyalty.
Essentially, this is not about sales but about closing the loop, creating a genuine connection with the consumer to engender the belief that the product is aligned with the life they want to create.
Kitchenware designer Joseph Joseph, for example, built its brand without any advertising. Instead, it simply created amazing experiences through a great product and let word of mouth do the rest.
Even for those consumers who do not buy in-store, product demonstrations can be just as important as sales.
To measure this, one of our longest-standing clients Lavazza monitors a variety of success management criteria, including online sales, word of mouth, social media reach and positive online reviews after the interaction.
On high-value products, the purchase cycle is usually developed over a longer term, with impulse purchases tending to be fairly rare. That is why a memorable experience is so important.
Retailers who succeed in this high-end marketplace often do so by combining their in-store activity with their events – for example a presence at festivals, shows and exhibitions – drawing from their pool of in-store staff to provide expert knowledge to consumers here, too.
Creating brand evangelists
Developing high-quality in-store staff is a matter of recruitment, training, continuous development and reporting, all working together to develop three things: a great consumer experience, highly engaged staff and a measurable return on investment for the business they represent.
When recruiting, we recommend psychometric testing to measure both suitability for the role and cultural fit for the brand. This can be invaluable in maintaining the balance between great sales skills and the empathy and understanding required to create that all-important consumer connection.
It is also impossible to underestimate the importance of great training and development. Fully immersive initial training can cover a huge range of customer touch-points, from the moment the consumer enters the store to the after-sales experience – and shared learning can cement this.
We encourage all of our brands to hold regular events to allow their staff – who can be based across the UK and often work alone – to meet their colleagues and learn from one another’s experiences both in-store and out. Training of this type not only improves practical skills, but can also lead to the continued development of your staff into real brand specialists.
Reporting – possibly one of the most important factors, for brand managers at least – is crucial in ensuring any investment of this type is worthwhile.
The best in-store staff are able to provide high-quality quantitative reports but they have also got a keen eye on what makes great qualitative feedback – something staff should be continually encouraged to provide.
Essentially, companies need to create brand evangelists – tactically placed field staff who can bring the brand to life both prior to, and during, the point of purchase.
By helping them become invested in the success of the brand and really believe in the product they are selling, it is possible to make every consumer interaction count, and to prove that the retail experience is very much alive and well. To see how this could work for your brand, do get in touch.