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For a very long time the store associate has been at the heart of brick and mortar stores. Store associates would greet customers, respond to queries, help find products and generally help customers with their purchases.
However, the emergence of digital tools and especially smartphones has rendered store associates almost obsolete.
In a recent study by MillwardBrown that focused on customers purchasing athletic footwear we can see just how useful a store associate is these days.
Of those that chose to shop in store, only 12% listed the sales person as one of the reason to purchase offline. Most (88%) chose to try on the product before purchasing.
It's not just sports shoes. A study by Deloitte Digital shows that customers would rather receive help from an interactive kiosk or their own smartphone rather than a store associate.
As you can see above the willingness to use a smartphone rather than discuss with a sales associate is almost double. Even an impersonal unmanned device such as an interactive kiosk would fare better than a store associate.
So if you were to combine this data with the fact that most of the sales in global retail will be influenced by digital by 2017 the conclusion is simple. The store associate is a soon to be dead job. If you were planning a career in this area, you'd better jump ship.
Is Brick and Mortar commerce dead? Absolutely not. Is eCommerce the most important sales channel in the future? Irrelevant. Neither online or offline sales really matter in the big picture. What matters is how customers shop and how much has digital changed the way retailers do business.
A recent Deloitte study outlines just how much digital is impacting retail.
Over 36% of 2013 overall sales in US have been influenced by digital and the trend continues to grow. By 2017 over 80% of all retail sales will be influenced by digital.
In terms of cash that places the digital influence in the real of trillions of dollars. In US alone, where the study was performed, that meant $1.1 trillion in sales were influenced by digital. If we were to extend this figure to the global retail sales in 2017 as estimated by eMarketer that amounts to a whoopping … wait for it …
However debatable this figure may be, the digital influence is something that is truly amazing and outright revolutionary.
But that's not all. Don't think digital influence means ecommerce. Definitely not. Two facts stand out in the Deloitte study:
Smartphones are the main cause in the increased digital influence. Mobile phones now account for $593 billion in sales (19% of the 36% of all sales influenced by digital).
What's even more interesting is that users are not more mobile-savvy. Only 25% of the increase in smartphone usage is caused by an increase in comfort and sophistication in smartphone usage. 75% of the increase in smartphone usage is due to an increased adoption.
Long story short: there are more smartphones, not smarter users.
94% of all retail sales still happen in the confines of a physical store. Wait, what?
It seems that what's causing retailers problems is failure to engage customers on all channels. Customers are pre-buying (shopping) on ecommerce sites but they pick-up, try on and eventually buy a lot of things in the physical store.
The trick here is getting the big picture right. Use different customer journey points and engage digitally in a relevant way. Customers may shop online and get an assortment ready but they want to get to that assortment in the physical store and than buy. Just placing discounts in the mobile app doesn't work. Each part in the shopping experience has to be customized to that particular medium and need.
In conclusion: digital is not ecommerce and digital influence is definitely not limited to the online store. Those who fail to connect the dots and engage their customers on all channels will not be a part of tomorrow's retail.