Big Box Retailers Win When Sales Associates Service Online Customers

According to a study by UPS, this year, shoppers made 51% of their purchases on the web, compared with 48% in 2015 and 47% in 2014. And this isn’t just limited to one segment, like apparel or cosmetics shopping. Shoppers are also choosing to make purchases online from big box retailers, like Wal-Mart or Toys R Us.

But the problem that these big box retailers face is that they have yet to figure out how to successfully sell certain big box categories online, which is why conversions are so low. The online shopping experience is already extremely impersonal, yet big box retailers mainly sell products that require associate assistance – appliances, specialty items, baby products, fitness equipment and more. Consistently, consumer electronics, books or clothing are at the top of the list for the most common types of products purchased online, yet household and specialty items hover at the bottom.

In order for big box retailers to more effectively sell these items online, they must personalize their online environment.

Shoppers Want Sales Associate Interaction

Large purchases from big box stores require extensive research, product knowledge and comparisons with similar products, but this is not something that shoppers can do alone. Right now, the solution big box retailers are offering is call centers or chatbots. But while call centers might be useful when a shopper has a specific question, the representatives are not trained to sell or develop relationships. He or she is likely located overseas, and doesn’t know the local trends and can’t drive traffic into the brick-and-mortar store.

Instead, big box retailers need to create a bridge between the online shoppers and store associates in order to drive traffic into their stores. The way to do this lies within their sales associates. Thirty-eight percent of all purchases are a result of cross-channel activities, meaning the role of today’s in-store sales associate is no longer limited to serving customers on the physical sales floor. It’s also to service the local online customer.

Big box retailers need to bring their sales associates online in order to help shoppers sort through their e-commerce site that has thousands of product listings. A recent study conducted by my company found that 84% of shoppers seek out help or recommendations from sales associates. But when they visit retailers’ websites, shoppers are left without expert guidance and knowledge of products. Fifty-three percent of shoppers want the option to shop online with a sales associate, with 58% saying it would be helpful to see his or her recommendations and insights online.

Helpful Technology Exists

Luckily, there are new technologies out there that help retailers build a local version of their ecommerce website for each store location. Customers can shop online and make purchases with their local associate and get the same service they do in-store – 24/7, anywhere for the first time. In-store associates are given the responsibility of serving local online customers during their shift – each taking a turn at providing product recommendations and personalizing the shopping experience for a local customer.

In addition, another key trend is allowing the local store to market directly to their customers. Clientelling used to be reserved to one-to-one interactions, but now big box retailers can leverage their sales associates to communicate to local customers to let them know what’s new in the store, recommend products, create a connection between their local store and their community and ultimately increase foot traffic. Integrating sales associates online not only helps provide a great customer service that leads to more sales, but it also extends into increasing the efficiency of marketing campaigns. Store marketing to local customers is now critical in retail in order to bring customers into stores. The same study my company conducted found that 62% of shoppers would rather receive personalized marketing emails from an individual associate, rather than the retailer’s national marketing team.

By enabling individual big box stores to connect with their shoppers on a personal level, including sending marketing campaign emails, retailers will see an increase in engagement and new customers. In fact, this ultimately results in more sales, as big box stores have been able to increase the number of new customers that purchase online and in store by 18%.

To sum it up, big box retailers can do a lot better at selling online. In order to remain competitive with online ecommerce giants, like Amazon, retailers need to adapt their online service to better sell categories that traditionally were only sold in store and differentiate their service and give shoppers a reason to remain a loyal brand customer.

Oscar Sachs, co-founder and CEO at Salesfloor

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