It’s news to precisely no one that the competition faced by physical stores from online retailers is intensifying. To retain their share of shoppers, bricks and mortar businesses must necessarily evolve. The role of the salesperson will sit squarely at the epicentre of this brave new world – or it won’t. Which way it goes depends on just how savvy retailers are in the implementation of a true omni-channel strategy and in envisioning the salesperson’s role within it.

Supporting omni-channel

Writing for The Harvard Business Review, Denise Lee Yohn explains that in many contexts ‘salespeople no longer play the role of a product expert or information gate keeper who serves as an intermediary between the shopper and a purchase’. She outlines several modern roles associates can inhabit to support a successful omni-channel strategy: as a community builder whereby the salesperson connects the client to the wider brand activities tied to the product – events, online communities, like-minded customers – effectively bringing the customer more deeply into the fold than merely buying a coat might achieve; as an insights collector gathering useful, unfiltered customer feedback at less expense and in a more immediate, real-world forum than combing the data or paying for third-party research; and as a decision validator who adeptly reinforces the shopper’s choice of product to ensure the sale doesn’t fall over at the last hurdle.

Recent research carried out by the Corporate Executive Board shows that over half of the sales decision process is carried out by the shopper before they even make contact with the product supplier. This can mean that the sale has already been made in the mind of the shopper, so the modern salesperson’s role has outgrown mere sales to embrace a wider remit: reassuring the customer, leveraging their history to highlight specific products that are likely on the nose, and navigating their visit to optimise speed and customer satisfaction. There’s more opportunity, and more call for, being a brand ambassador and a customer concierge.

New ways to engage with shoppers

Indeed, helping the shopper to navigate through an array of choices can be a time-consuming process, but it’s one that gives the salesperson plenty of chances to influence purchases and satisfaction. Some retailers are capitalising on this opportunity by transforming their salespeople into performers, putting on a show for shoppers and encouraging them to engage in interactive exhibits such as the Xbox One displays in Microsoft stores.

Providing a truly tailored experience

Upmarket retailers are offering bespoke shopping experiences that cannot be matched by online retailers. Personal shoppers at Louis Vuitton and Harrods create gift lists, arrange alterations and provide style advice. They will even arranging shopping parties after closing time.

As with any business challenge that arises in the face of a new technological landscape, embracing the change and leveraging important sales assets to transform the customer experience will be smarter in the long run than holding on to the old ways.