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  • Writer's pictureSarah McVey

The Changing Role of a Retail Assistant

We’ve seen trends in retail evolving over the last few years with customers demanding more from retailers than ever before, no longer satisfied with a mere transaction in store, they are looking for an experience. According to PwC’s recent Global Consumer Insights Survey, 73% of all people point to customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions. The younger the target audience the more importance they put on experience.

The impact of coronavirus

2020 threw unexpected challenges at all retailers and a quick move to on-line, click & collect or home deliveries meant that some retailers were able to adapt more quickly than others, whilst some fell by the wayside. However a day will come (not soon enough quite frankly) when we will be back to business, shops will re-open and the ones that thrive will be the ones that changed to meet the new demands from their customers. We may find that the long term impact of a locked down world is that retail is irreversibly impacted, footfall may be permanently down for some retailers (with the switch to on-line options), shoppers may continue to shop more locally, and we may see a rise in temporary or pop up stores. The stores that do remain open however, will be successful because they have adapted and are properly meeting the changing needs of customers.

Visiting a bricks & mortar store gives customers a unique opportunity to get to know a product – to be able to pick it up, use it, interact with it, and speak to a staff member who is an expert on that product. This is in stark contrast to a transactional purchase on line where there is no opportunity to touch, feel, smell, listen to, taste, use or interact with the product being purchased. Staff need to be able to make use of all opportunities when talking to a customer face to face.

Providing a true customer experience

Store staff must be able to communicate well with all customers, they must be engaging, personable, be able to listen (and react to what they heard), have great product knowledge and put on a bit of a show, ensuring that all customers leave the shop with a positive experience, a desire to return, and an impetus to share their experience with friends and family. A study by Salesforce interviewed over 6700 customers and business buyers globally and found that a personalised interaction is key, and that for those “able to deliver this more human touch, the rewards are considerable. Delivering personalized experiences drives customer loyalty, with 70% of consumers saying a company’s understanding of their individual needs influences their loyalty, and 69% saying the same of personalized customer care…”.

Finding the right people

The retail world now merges experience with transactions seamlessly, and we really understand how to find and train the best people. We have a strong staff heritage, we’ve been placing promotional brand ambassadors since 1993, and this, coupled with our more recent experience of running retail stores for several of our partners, means we are immersed in this world and we love placing the right people in the right job.

According to the Institute for Employment Studies, no longer is a store assistant seen as a low skills job, but rather that the “…skills required of sales assistants are increasingly complex. They are expected to cover a wider range of tasks, and to have a greater depth of knowledge”.

So, what to look out for on candidate’s CVs? When we recruit our store assistants, we look at previous retail experience, but equally important is their experience outside of traditional retail roles. Jobs or hobbies where they have to communicate well, be flamboyant, enthusiastic, listen to customers, and the ability to build relationships is absolutely key – so looking at people with relevant experience of that is high on our list:

· Hospitality We look for people who have worked in busy bars or pubs, where they’ve had to hone their banter skills, and deal with customers being a bit of a handful. Or those who have worked in high end restaurants where they have had to explain complicated menus and give impeccable service – all these skills are directly transferable

· Promotional work Candidates who can show experience of giving effective customer demonstrations, or hosting a roadshow stand out as being suitable for work within a more experiential retail environment

· Performance Entertainers who thrive bouncing off people and learning how to read a room (actors, comics, musicians) also do well in the new retail environment, and can help set the right tone in store

· Customer service Despite not being customer facing in person, people who have worked in call centres often have to deal with customers at their worst (it’s easier to be rude to someone when you aren’t standing in front of them) and this can often give them the skills to deflect difficult questions with ease and humour, but also puts them in a great position to deal with customers that are just there to have a great experience and (more importantly) spend some money

And, it’s not all about the CV… we also ask candidates to submit short videos with their applications so we can see their personality and communication skills shine through, and this can often be more compelling than even the best written CV, if they can sell themselves to us in one minute, imagine what else they can sell!

The world of retail is ever evolving, never more than now, and it’s an exciting place to be. We’re all looking forward to the old normal returning, but maybe it will incorporate more of the new normal than we think. Now’s the time to embrace the change and look at running a retail team with a difference, all of us at Agile Retail are looking forward to a successful 2021 and shops re-opening again soon.

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