Retail’s Darkest Secret: The Knowledge Deficiency Gap

Shelley E. Kohan
Shelley E. Kohan
Vice President of Retail Consulting

Shoppers are arriving at stores armed with an unprecedented amount of brand, product and pricing information, and in doing so, they are exposing retail's darkest secret.

The rapid store format redux arising from retail’s emerging trends in 2015 has proven that retailers are marching ever forward into a disruptive industry landscape. Big format stores are investing in smaller format editions, department stores are dabbling in specialty and online e-tailers are dipping their toes into the storm-laden oceans of physical stores.

However, despite all of the market research, strategic development, capital investment and operational execution of newly designed stores, retailers must not overlook brick-and-mortar retail’s darkest secret – and perhaps largest problem – “the knowledge deficiency gap” of sales associates. Shoppers now come through the door armed with an arsenal of researched information on products and pricing. The hidden truth is often customers know more about the brand, products and policies than store associates themselves.

The use of enabling technologies can greatly diminish the knowledge deficiency gap in stores and, at the same time, provide important measurements for performance. There are three key elements to help maximize the in-store experience and lessen the “gap” – proximity marketing, interactions analysis, and mobile device usage.

According to Forbes, 57 percent of consumers are likely to engage with location-based advertising. Instead of relying solely on associates to discuss new products, offer complimentary items or promote specific items, retailers should use enabling technology to consistently deliver the message across all doors. Proximity marketing drives loyalty, engages customers and promotes two-way dialogue with shoppers. It shouldn’t replace sales associates, but rather act as a complement.

Interaction analysis allows retailers to finally measure the traditional creed of greeting customers within a certain assumed best-practice time frame (e.g.; 20 seconds on assisted selling floors at specialty retailers). Creating and measuring standards of interactions will motivate associates to become more interactive with shoppers, and more knowledgeable about products and services. Understanding key time measurement benchmarks of value added interactions will drive more and more productive interactions, answering the age-old question, “How much time should associates spend with customers to maximize sales?”

Using tablets within the physical store helps aid associates’ knowledge of many product/company
factors while driving mobile marketing initiatives. According to Gartner, the unit sales of tablets will, for the first time, exceed unit sales of personal computers in 2015. Consumers continue to adopt tablets and mobile technologies quickly, and they are tools that are easily mastered by both sales associate and shopper alike. Associates and customers should be empowered to use tablets, and while many retailers have rolled out tablets in the stores, the usage needs to be measured in terms of how often and to what content is being accessed, and the measures will vary widely by retail format. Providing technology is one aspect, but using technology coupled with insights on collected data can help stores drive performance.

Physical retail is here to stay, and while the lines between format and integration levels become quite blurred, the in-store brand experience remains a differentiator among other channels. The brand experience is key and closing the knowledge gap between associates and customers builds loyalty and brand equity.

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