Retail staff: In-store search engines

July 18, 2013By Focus on the Pharmacy Front End Blog, Independent Pharmacy

by Jenny Kosek

How did it come to this? 91% of consumers who shop online do so because they can research their buying decisions, and these shoppers trust online ratings and reviews by a 4:1 margin over the opinions of store employees. Why don’t shoppers trust store employees any more?

Consumers who are turning to the web and turning their backs on brick and mortar stores are currently doing retail a huge favor. What those customers are saying is, “Store experiences are lousy and staff aren’t helpful.” Rather than sputtering and protesting, retail would be wise to listen.

50 years ago, in an era of “full service” retail, consumers trusted retail staff to be experts in product knowledge, able to listen to the consumers’ needs and recommend a tried and true product instantly. Name your problem, and the retail staff of those glory days would zip down the aisle to the precise product you needed to solve it. More often than not, that employee was a long-time member of the retailer’s staff, perhaps even mentored and guided from a young age by veteran staff to become the customer’s vital resource.

Think of retail staff as the “search engines” of the storeFast forward to the grim retail clichés of the late 20th and early 21st century, of bored adolescent employees with no product knowledge, no grasp of store layout, and no ability to engage and relate to consumers. High turnover rates, lower skill requirements, and lower wages compared to other industries caused a tremendous drop in the quality of customers’ experiences at retail.

Enter the Internet, which allows customers to avoid potentially frustrating in-store experiences and quickly research products, compare prices, make informed decisions, and check out, all in a matter of seconds.

Despite the convenience of the web, 87% of consumers still want face-to-face interaction. They’ve just made it clear that they want that interaction to be efficient, accurate, and easy. So what’s a retailer to do?

Think of retail staff as the “search engines” of the store. If a customer poses a request, can the staff respond accurately within seconds, as a search engine would? If not, there’s work to be done.  Harken back to the days of full retail service, and become the experts. Not only should all retail staff know products inside and out, each staffer needs to know precisely where that product is in-store so they can quickly lead customers to it (lead, not vaguely direct them to “Aisle 5,” but physically walk the customer to the product). Every step of the in-store experience should be developed to compare with or better yet, trump, the online experience. Google might be able to answer your customer’s search queries quickly, but no search engine can replace the warm-your-heart experience of concerned, attentive customer service.

Is your in store “search engine” giving customers want they want?

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