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New Survey Shows What Consumers Want From Store Associates

Posted by Amanda McLaughlin on Sep 22, 2021

The digital revolution is changing countless jobs. One position that’s shifting drastically in duties and responsibilities is that of the retail store associate. He or she needs to know not only about operations and inventory, but also how these work across every channel. Additionally, they need to convey their deep knowledge to shoppers, be it about the brand or the product. Really, it’s more than being adept at using company software and hardware. It’s about knowing how they can support the many stages of the customer journey. 

We were interested in these changes and surveyed almost 600 U.S. consumers across a wide range of ages, income levels, and shopping frequency. The objective was to find out what their expectations are for the store associates they interact with. Additionally, we wondered: have their desires changed in the wake of the pandemic?

Survey Results

Their answers are both expected and surprising, affirming and challenging. Here are some highlights of what shoppers want to see from associates.

More Devices

A good majority of respondents (54%) say associates should be equipped with a mobile device allowing them to easily check on inventory. Two out of three like it when an associate looks up an item that may be in-stock on their device, rather than physically checking the stockroom. More than 60% of frequent shoppers want to see this, which probably tells us that people who regularly shop have seen how effective shopping can be when they’re assisted by a mobile-equipped associate. 

Sell It To Me Now

More than two out of three shoppers want an associate who can sell them an out-of-stock item and have it shipped to their home or another location. And a good 57% like it when an associate is able to sell them a product that’s in-stock and an item that will be shipped to them, in one transaction. It’s becoming increasingly clear that shoppers are less concerned with how they buy than they are with getting what they want. Simply and easily.

More Checkout Options

Consumers who’ve wanted to return to in-store shopping haven’t liked the return of that old favorite, the checkout queue. Accustomed to the quick checkout procedures of online shopping, people want the flexibility to avoid lines. A solid 39% of consumers say they want a self-checkout capability on their own device. Interestingly, millennials and most Generation Xers (18-54) are aching for this. However, just 16% of those over 65 see mobile checkout as an advantage. 

Make Me Loyal

Your best customers already know about and (hopefully) use your affinity program. But most feel like keeping a loyalty card or key fob handy at checkout is annoying. Nearly 41% of frequent shoppers, which is likely those most interested in loyalty, believe store associates should be able to access their loyalty account and apply awards using just their name. 

No Receipt, No Problem

Returning items bought online in-store without a receipt should be a no-problem transaction according to 51% of consumers. One might think that figure should be higher, but more than 25% of respondents had no opinion, which probably shows that retailers make shipping returns online very easy to do.

Who Am I?

Just 27% believe that if they give an associate their name he or she should be able to quickly access their shopping history, sizes, and other preferences. This probably isn’t surprising given concerns about privacy, but nearly 31% are neutral on the question. There is plenty of room for brands to show their shoppers how they can benefit from sharing this data. 

Let’s Meet

About one in five consumers like the idea of setting up a video chat with an associate to make a purchase. The same amount prefer interacting with that person and buying products through text. On the other hand, 33% favor setting up an in-person meeting. Seems there’s a bit of an opportunity for growth in these areas. In general, communicating with consumers via text seems to be gaining favor. 37% of shoppers saying they’re open to hearing from associates about new products, promotions, and store events via that channel. 

We Need to Talk

A retailer that facilitates associates communicating with shoppers is doing the right thing. A full 58% want to chat with associates via the retailer’s website and a similar percentage want that capability when on a store’s mobile app. More than one in four say they want to communicate through a social media app. Most surprisingly, 81% of shoppers say they expect to reach a real, live associate when they call a customer service number. Key words, real and live! Even the best bot-assistant or customer service rep can’t beat a knowledgeable store associate on the phone. 

The Takeaway

Post-pandemic consumers are ready to shop. While there may be some reticence because of the ongoing pandemic, 45% say they’re more comfortable shopping in a store compared with last year. Just over a quarter of those surveyed say their expectations for store associates have increased since the pandemic, with nearly a third of those being frequent shoppers. Their message to retailers is clear. We’re interested in how you’ve changed the in-store experience and it better meet our expectations—or else!

Overall, the survey shows that the ideal store associate experience is framed by the retailer’s omnichannel capabilities. Specifically, the need for seamless transactions, flexible engagements, and the personal touch. Let’s start calling retail store associates, omnichannel store associates. It’s the best reflection of their job today and is what shoppers expect. 

For a complete look at the data, check out this video created for Dreamforce 2021. Watch it on-demand now!

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