The Changing Role of Digital in the Customer Journey: How the Pandemic Changed the Role of Your Sales Associates

It’s no secret that COVID permanently changed the customer journey, as shoppers shifted their buying to eCommerce, even for big purchases like home furnishings. While furniture retailing was already growing more digital, the pandemic dramatically accelerated the transformation. As a result, the role and significance of your brick-and-mortar stores permanently changed, too.

Caught in the middle is your team of sales associates. The sudden shift changed their role virtually overnight, and they may never be the same. Furniture retail sales associates who were accustomed to delivering one-on-one personal service in the showroom must now adapt to a new normal.

It’s your job to help them make the transition by investing time and money into the tools and strategies they need. While it’s both an opportunity and a challenge, establishing this new blueprint for your sales associates and your stores will help you improve your value proposition.

First, what has changed?

Due to necessity, COVID-19 taught consumers how to shop without coming into direct contact with others. Many embraced contact-free solutions like BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store), delivery, and curbside pickup, dramatically changing the way retailers operate. And experts expect the changes to be permanent, according to Digital Commerce 360.

While overall eCommerce grew 32% from 2019 to 2020, according to Digital Commerce 360, online furniture retail sales exploded in 2020. The sixth fastest growing online market, furniture sales for 2020 is estimated at $23 billion, according to STORIS, creating a big opportunity.


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But the new normal that the pandemic has ushered in is only the beginning. In “Rebooting Retail” from McKinsey & Company, this change is going to force retailers to “re-imagine the very nature and role of physical retail.” Physical stores will serve more as a complement to online stores, and technology will change the responsibilities necessary to run them.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that “over half of current retail tasks are technically automatable,” including checkout, changing price labels, and general merchandising. This will dramatically change the nature of work for sales associates.


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The new role of your associates

With new tech solutions at their disposal, associates will need to focus on two distinct responsibilities moving forward: better selling and creating an experiential shopping experience. 

Customers are conducting thorough research online before making a purchase. It’s vital that sales associates are armed with similar levels of information. Knowing the details of your products, such as design, construction, and materials, inventory levels, and individual customer history is pertinent. Associates also need to know product and brand backstories, as customers care about this more than ever.

Associates also need to create an experiential shopping experience, with an in-store environment that represents the brand and its values. Instead of being a salesperson, the associate must become a shopper concierge, moving beyond scripted interactions and into personalized assistance and problem solving. 

To assume their new duties, retailers must provide their associates with online tech platforms that help them engage with shoppers online. An associate can be physically present at their respective store while still assisting—and selling to—customers online.

Associates should also be equipped to make home consultation calls for consumers, both in-person and virtually. And retailers should change their compensation structure, rewarding associates for the sales they facilitate online.

What shouldn’t change

But not everything needs to be transformed. Despite an increased importance on digital, store associates are still very necessary. The associate is the face of a brand, and they’re the most valuable representation of a retailer’s experience—more than your website or ads, states Foko Retail.

Tech will never replace a need for human contact, but it’s imperative in helping associates deliver a better customer experience. People still expect to have “an informed, knowledgeable sales associate available when they want it, according to CIO

Research for RetailEXPO found that 64% of shoppers say knowledgeable sales associates make them more likely to visit a physical store, and 75% are likely to spend more after receiving high quality service from staff in-store

Putting the plan into action

Shoptelligence can help you help your associates excel in the new normal. For example, Interactive Ensembles allows sales associates to save time on creating high quality room inspirations to build the ticket, giving them more options to sell. This interface is easy to use and it’s easy to train sales associates with. 

Another important tool is Virtual Sales Assistant, which allows associates to handle virtual sales appointments where they can provide design assistance to shoppers in the comfort of their own homes. This helps associates create exceptional customer experiences and sell the whole room.

The customer journey is changing, but you don’t need to be left behind. By equipping your team with the tools and knowledge they need, the digital transformation can be a smooth one–for your customers, employees, and your company. 

To learn first-hand how Shoptelligence can help you better serve customers now and in the future, schedule a demo today.



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