camera store associate helping shopperAs marketers anticipate and brace for the busy holiday season upon us, customer experience becomes even more prominent. Making sure CX is top-of-mind for employees can make the difference between success and failure.

According to a new study from Tulip Retail, sales associates aren’t prepared to deliver those memorable customer experiences.

Consider that while 40% of shoppers say the most important reason they shop in physical stores is to access help and advice, 74% also say their biggest frustration when interacting with sales associates is lack of product knowledge.

“As webrooming behavior increases, store associates are facing informed shoppers that demand more detailed information,” April Dunford, COO of Tulip Retail, said in a release. “Our findings clearly show that sales associates are unprepared to support today’s shoppers, leading to a real letdown in customer experience.”

The 2014 Sales Associates Interaction Study focused on how shoppers interact with store associates and analyzed shopper behavior in retail stores.

With a wealth of information available online, the study shows that shoppers’ demands of in-store sales associates are growing:

71% of shoppers expect sales associates to know product information

77% of shoppers expect sales associates to know store information

78% of shoppers expect sales associates to know inventory information

When asked how helpful sales associates were in meeting shoppers’ needs (based on their last retail store visit), only 36% said “very helpful” for responding to product questions, and only 34% said “very helpful” for inventory questions.

This disconnect impacts profits for retailers, the study says, as the level of service provided by sales associates has a direct correlation with shopper spending. What’s more, 92% of shoppers who received “very helpful” service purchased in-store and 97% purchased as much or more than planned.

Conversely, 68% of shoppers who did not find sales associates helpful did not make a purchase at all.

“Sales associates are earning a failing grade on even the simplest of customer service requests,” Dunford said. “Without this basic foundation, associates can’t begin to offer the next level of customer service, like recommendations.”

The study also found that 56% of shoppers currently expect sales associates to use mobile technology on the sales floor. When shoppers were polled about their expectations in two years, that number swelled to 80%.

“Retailers should take advantage of the opportunity they have to equip sales associates with mobile technology,” Dunford said. “Sales associates remain retailers’ biggest assets, but they need technology to support their customer service interactions. The worst case scenario is that retailers miss an opportunity to make a sale to a shopper that’s ready to buy, but ultimately doesn’t because of poor in-store assistance. Mobile technology, like beacons, tablets, or check-in features, help sales associates provide additional value to shoppers.”

Overall, the study found that retailers’ most loyal (repeat) customers are receiving inconsistent sales service.

73% of repeat shoppers are approaching sales associates first

On their last store visit, 40% of repeat shoppers said the sales associate was “very helpful,” 54% said somewhat helpful, and 6% percent said not helpful (inconsistent service)

75% of repeat shoppers’ biggest frustrations when interacting with sales associates center on a lack of product information

The 2014 Sales Association Interaction Study polled 514 U.S. consumers ages 18-65, using an online survey in November 2014. 

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