To the Rescue: The Sales Associate as Retail Superhero | RetailNext

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To the Rescue: The Sales Associate as Retail Superhero

Bridget Johns
Bridget Johns
Head of Marketing and Customer Experience

The often forgotten, often maligned, often unheralded and almost always under-appreciated retail sales associate is the single most influential component in delivering a shopping experience that surprises, delights and exceeds the expectations of customers.

A few weeks ago I posted an article introducing the concept of retail superheroes. With Black Friday squarely behind us and the Holiday shopping season underway full steam, I thought it appropriate to focus the next installment of the superhero series on retail’s most unheralded superhero, the sales associate.

A running theme in conversations I have with retailers focuses on the changing role of the sales associate. Labor rates are rising, finding skilled associates is harder and harder, and figuring out what the role of today’s (and tomorrow’s) associate has become a top priority for retailers.

Sales associate - apparel

Technology is certainly a part of the equation, but it’s not the whole story. Retailers must focus on putting technology into their stores that not only saves on labor, but also makes associates more productive. In my opinion, the sales associate’s role is evolving and in the future store, teams will have a singular focus – the customer. Technology should eliminate most of the task work that we often ask our associates to do.

Earlier this year, I worked on a project with big box retailer who was struggling with in-store sales. They were getting killed by multi-category discounters and Amazon. When asked about the role of the associate, they commented that the associate was only scheduled to be selling 15% of their time.

Are you kidding?

To me this was a huge red flag – if you are hiring in-store associates and are having them spend 85% of their time doing non-selling tasks, there is a problem. Of course, there are always tasks that have to be done – restocking and cleaning come to mind. But pretty much everything else should or could be accomplished through systems and technologies.

Hardware associate, shopper with tablet

The superhero framework I outlined previously focused on 4 keys to success. For associates to be real superheroes, retailers have to empower them to reach this level. Imagine a store and associates that focus on the shopper’s individual needs, as they change, and every time they shop.


So, for the sales associate, this is what I think makes a superhero.

Highlighting the easy wins: For me this means:

  1. being authentically nice/helpful,
  2. going above and beyond with service, and
  3. surprising customers with the unexpected (as accomplished in a myriad of ways, and enabled and supported by the retailer)

Evolving over time: The sales associate has to evolve and digital must be a part of that evolution. Consumers want the associate to know more than they do, and retailers have to step up training and investment in their teams to accomplish this.

Realize ROI: For me, the role of the associate in realizing ROI is to embrace omnichannel initiatives like “buy online, pickup in store.” While credit for the sale may or may not go to the store itself, the associate should be motivated in an appropriate way to service that customer irrespective of the credit.

Operationalize new metrics: Finally, the sales associate has to be trained on the new metrics that will shape retail in the future. If Traffic 2.0 metrics like capture rate, visit duration and shopper-to-staff ratios aren’t understood and adopted by the in-store teams, the physical retail operations will never evolve.

As we venture deep into the holiday selling season, the role of the associate becomes evermore critical. We know that the best way to increase ATV and UPT and in turn, Sales per Shopper, are to get customers into the store and deliver an awesome experience. Customers who have excellent in-store experiences are more loyal and spend more, and the associate guides and most heavily influences the in-store experience.

I am looking forward to finding some retail superheroes in-store this holiday season. Aren’t you?

Join the #retail and #retailsuperhero conversations on Twitter @Bridget Johns & @RetailNext, as well as at