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Transposing brick-and-mortar sales experience online

I come from a family of retailers. My parents, siblings and close family are almost all in retail. More specifically clothing. While observing recently how (good) retail salesperson interact with customers and close sales, I couldn’t help thinking about how we could transpose the brick-and-mortar sales experience to e-commerce.

I believe the retail sales process can be divided into 4 distinct steps: Greetings, Problem-solving, Up/Cross-selling and Closing.


Greetings

Retail storeWhen you enter a store, bad salespeople say nothing (and continue doing whatever they were doing), average salespeople come to you and ask if you need help (to which you usually answer “no thank you”) and experienced salespeople just smile and say hi (making it obvious they’re here to help).

She can start chatting with you. If you’re a regular, she recognises you and engage directly. This is human interaction at its best and it can hardly be transposed into e-commerce. That is one of the reasons why e-commerce will, I believe, never kill brick-and-mortar stores. You can’t virtualise human interactions.

Problem-solving

retailLet’s say that you’re looking for the perfect dress for saturday’s cocktail party. You enter the store and ask the salesperson about cocktail dresses. The average salesperson will show you cocktail dresses that you might like or dislike. If the latter, you leave. The experienced salesperson, might actually show you skirts or jeans that could fit you better than your initial idea. Again, this experience is hardly transposable to e-commerce as this would imply a 2-way, real-time, interaction between the customer and a (human or virtual) sales agent. In the case of a human sales agent, even if you provide 24/7 customer service or live chat (like Zappos), I doubt you can offer this service to all potential customers at the same time without drastically increasing your costs.

On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence technology is almost ready to put virtual sales assistant within everyone’s reach. Companies like London Brand Management, AI-Applied or Expertmaker already offer virtual shopping assistant enabling customers to get help in real-time (allegedly) the way a human sales assistant would have done it.

Up-selling and Cross-selling

cross-sell-up-sellUp-selling and cross-selling are sales strategy where the customers are provided an opportunity to buy related products or services when making a purchase. As the term indicates, when up-selling the suggested products and services are slightly higher priced than the one considered. Ubiquitous example of upselling is the offer to super-size in fast food restaurants. Cross-selling is simply suggesting additional items or add-ons to a customer making a purchase. The philosophy behind these sales strategies is that salespersons should not just passively take orders, but instead be active sellers.

Both up-selling and cross-selling have been used since the early days of e-commerce to drive more personalised shopping experiences and increase average order value. Now with the introduction of sophisticated web analytics and big data tools these strategies can be executed in highly nuanced and effective ways. On e-commerce sites cross-selling is offered for instance by providing customers ”better together” combos and up-selling by offering more expensive models near the shopping basket. Up-selling and cross-selling is a great example on how the retail salesperson example not only translates into e-commerce but is, with the help of data analytics, even better managed.

Closing

SalesAt the end, salespeople are here to close sales and make money. Whether you’re in the brick-and-mortar world or the e-commerce world, everything ends up at the counter (until next time of course). Depending upon the research source, the conversion rate for brick and mortar stores is at minimum 20% (much, much higher in the grocery category), while online is a maximum 3-5% (and some quote far lower numbers). Actually, the more time a customer spends in a store engaging with the retailer, the more likely they are to make a purchase. According to a Kurt Salmon study, 45% of customers who walked into a store, left within two minutes without ever engaging with the products or sales associates. But when customers were engaged by an asso­ciate or started interacting with the products, they were nine times as likely to try something on. And once they tried on a product, they had a 52% chance of buying it.

Here again, human interaction is a key element of brick-and-mortar success over e-commerce, to which you should add product interaction. As of product interaction, one way that e-commerce use to solve this problem is free shipping and return (some retailers that have stores, like Zara, even accept returns in the store of your choice). As of the human interaction, as we’ve seen before, it’s still very difficult to transpose online. E-retailers now mainly concentrate on retargeting practices to bring back customers that were about to buy but did not by serving ads related to what they were about to purchase.

Conclusion

May brick-and-mortar retailers rejoice, online has not killed the store! While many customers now shop online, e-commerce still cannot beat the human touch and expertise of an experienced salesperson. But new advances in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data and closing this gap. Maybe the stores will also get more and more connected?