By Cristina Holm, co-founder HOLM
Which fashion retail head office positions didn’t exist 30 years ago? Head of Multichannel; social media manager; customer experience analyst… to name but a few. Yet on the shop floor we still have ‘shop assistants’ and that’s pretty much it.
In this post I’m going talk about how the role of the shop floor workforce has evolved dramatically in the past three decades. Next I will share four simple changes fashion retailers can make to ensure today’s sales staff feel relevant, valued and productive.
The role of the fashion shop assistant has changed – has your business adapted?
The job title may not have changed, but the shop assistant’s role is very different from 30 years ago. Do you recognise either of these characters?
Nineties shop assistant
Nicola has just turned 16 and has landed her first part time job at your store. She’s been coming here every Saturday with her friends since they were old enough, and if one of them had enough money to actually buy something they would be the envy of the group. Indeed her first wage packet is going straight back into the tills (she tells anyone that will listen about that staff discount!) The job is good too, helping people like her get the right outfit for a big night out. And she’s learning every day, perhaps one day she could be manager.
Today’s fashion shop assistant
Megan has just turned 16 and needs some cash. There’s a shop on the retail park that her mum used to take her to and it’s looking for vacancies. She was looking forward to helping people, but it’s too understaffed (as Nicola the manager continually complains). Megan spends her day trying to look after the fitting room while ferrying click-and-collect parcels between the stockroom and tills – it feels a bit like her brother’s part time job at the local sorting office! Still, her first pay check will get her that dress she’s been after from boohoo.com.
Four ways to empower your fashion store staff and increase sales
Yes, technology has changed the shop assistant’s role dramatically over the past three decades and that has had an serious impact on engagement levels. As with many industries, shop workers are keenly aware their job can be done more cheaply by machines, in this case e-commerce. Working in a fashion store becomes a McJob lacking passion and loyalty.
It needn’t be this way. Here are four steps to return pride to the shop floor and boost sales:
Give sales assistants a meaningful role
Sales assistants are crying out to be more than just shelf stockers or ‘click-and-collect’ lackeys. Their sales motivation will rocket if they have ‘permission’ and time (more on this below) to offer the customer a human engagement they just won’t get online. How about ‘personalisation specialist’ as a modern day shop floor job title – someone that can offer styling advice, gather data and ensure that the customer buys clothes that look great no matter which channel they use? Imagine that. Returns that are less than 10% via e-commerce too…
Give them information
Putting the sales assistant on the fashion shop floor without online access is like sending them into battle without a bayonet. Thanks to smart phones, today’s shopper knows everything about your product:, how much it costs, if it’s cheaper elsewhere, and even stock levels. In some cases, we’re left with a situation where the customer has to educate the shop worker – frustrating for both sides and certainly humiliating for the latter.
It’s vital to arm your sales assistant with exactly the same technology as their customers to put them on equal footing. Moreover, they need to be able to access it in the same time it takes the customer to whip an iPhone from their pocket. Better still, give them access to information that actually helps the customer experience every time they visit the store.
Now give them clever technology (that’s relevant to fashion)
Your sales assistant now has the same ‘knowledge’ as your e-commerce platform. What they can offer over and above this is customer experience. In-store technology that marries human interaction with smart analytics can help them deliver this efficiently. This could be via a smart changing room mirror, or a system like HOLM, an app that suggests clothes according to the customer’s body shape (one of more than 4,000 body shapes HOLM’s algorithms recommend to). An ‘express styling’ service that takes two minutes to win a shopper’s loyalty.
Give shop floor staff time back to serve (using tech to drive efficiencies)
But the shelf stocking and ‘click-and-collect’ ferrying still needs to be done, right? Yes, but you can reduce these tasks by employing the right technology elsewhere in store. If the sales assistant helps a customer create an accurate online profile, returns from that customer will decrease. The result? Less parcel sorting on the shop floor. Likewise if, thanks to an app, the customer only picks up items that suit them, the fitting room ‘leftovers rail’ suddenly doesn’t need emptying as often. Basket sizes increase and everything is far more productive. Given the right tools, sales assistants can tick off the day to day jobs and serve the customer.