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(Dubai) Online shopping and e-commerce is a multibillion dollar industry and is expected to grow by 8 to 12% over the next few years; suggesting that sales in the United States alone will fall between $427 billion and $443 billion.
The impact on retailers in the Middle East region has been less noticeable up to now mainly due to a heavy reliance on cash for transactions. But there is an emerging shift in consumer purchasing trends towards online shopping. According to the PwC Total Retail report 2017, “It’s likely the impact of e-commerce will be felt much quicker here in the region due to the young age demographic who are actively using their smartphones and heavily engaged in what’s trending on social media ”, Norma Taki, PwC Partner – Head of Retail, Middle East.
PwC also notes that 36% of consumers in the ME region buy products at least monthly using mobile phone.
Inevitably the comparisons between online and instore shopping will continue as retailers worldwide are finding it increasingly challenging to convince shoppers to set aside their smartphones for the store shopping experience. And while it’s true that smartphones and tablets are making it easier than ever for shoppers to research, read reviews and purchase goods there is still an undeniable appeal to the instore shopping experience, where you can interact, one-to-one, with a sales associate.
A report by Total Retail Survey PWC on the retail outlook for the ME region says ‘On average, approximately 64% of our Middle Eastern respondents said they use Facebook or Twitter when finding inspiration for purchases. In response many stores already use social media and electronic means to reach out to their customers with offers, reminders and suggestions online or via text, social media and so on in an effort to reach out to customers beyond the confines of the store.
But a Canadian company, Salesfloor, has identified the sales associate as a key element to expanding the store’s presence beyond the physical footprint; bridging the gap between online and retail by providing customers with a link to the individual sales associate in the store via their smartphones.
Sales associates already perform a wide range of duties within the store; they are the personal face of the shop for regular customers and can build a rapport with new customers. They can set items aside, advise on purchases; they know what’s due in and when. If they are dealing with complex items they can answer questions and explain unique aspects of the product or make alternative suggestions. The sales associate can present a product in a personal way that is simply not possible online. A positive experience with a sales associate can encourage a shopper to becoming a returning customer.
So Salesfloor decided to build on this by designing a platform that connects the consumer to their very own instore sales associate; it’s a bit like having your own personal shopper.
When a consumer goes online they have the option to connect, based on their location, with an associate instore via their smartphone. The associate can then interact, via the app, on a live basis, as they would with someone in the store; showing images of items, suggesting alternatives, answering questions and so on.
The associate creates his/her own ‘storefront’; a personalised version of the retailer’s e-commerce site, which can be used to promote sales and drive traffic from their own networks. Beyond this they can reach out to customers with news, suggestions and offers.
An omni-channel clienteling module determines the shopping characteristics of their consumers by analysing their purchasing history. The associate can then build pages of personalised product suggestions; at the same time automated tasks can be triggered for the associates to follow up instore and online.
The platform offers a variety of ways of working and for website visitors to connect with an associate instore.
For bricks-and-mortar retailers this extends the reach of the associate beyond the physical confines of the store, as associates also become promoters, creating their own sales. Associates can work together as teams to gather information and gain insights into their customers. Retailers can use this information to know what their customers want and respond by creating personalised promotions and offers when designing their loyalty strategies.
“Retail is no longer about transactions but now about the overall “experience” – and it needs to be consistent and relevant across all channels and interactions be they physical or digital” – Vincent Giborees, PwC Data Architect
Having links between associates and shoppers also helps to build loyalty; and keeping customers loyal is a key priority for any retailer.
The company already boast a number of prominent retailers among its clients including Saks, Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdales.
Speaking about retailers the PwC Total Retail report concludes that ‘to continue to stay relevant and provide customers with an experience, retailers should consider …….employing skilled and attentive sales staff who can turn the browsing conversation into actual tangible sales.’