Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC.

With mobile commerce on the rise, retailers are upgrading traditional, in-store customer service methods to boost brick-and-mortar sales. Armed with comprehensive data, sales associates are empowered to offer in-depth clienteling bolstered by holistic insights to best align with the needs and demands of shoppers.

Here, Oscar Sachs, chief executive officer and cofounder of retail technology platform Salesfloor, discusses best practices and challenges for brands and retailers looking to improve in-store experiences.

This story first appeared in the February 15, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WWD: What are current challenges that retailers are facing as more spending occurs online and via mobile?

Oscar Sachs: Online shopping is expected to accelerate as the convenience of e-shopping grows with an increasing number of product assortments as well as quicker and cheaper shipping options. As products become commoditized, the main differentiator for online retailers will then become service, which has long been excluded from the online experience.

Therefore retailers must implement platforms that ensure that the omnichannel experience is maintained — it shouldn’t matter if a shopper is in-store or using their mobile device or a desktop — the experience shouldn’t change. This is not only in the purchasing experience, but also with service. The associate is the biggest asset in meeting this end as they can help bridge the gap that currently exists between the online and in-store shopping experience.

WWD: Consumer engagement is of the highest priority for brands and retailers — how can they stand out to shoppers amid the noise?

O.S.: In a study done by Salesfloor last year, we found that more than half of shoppers surveyed felt that online shopping lacked the same level of service found in-store. In looking at the differentiators between the online and in-store experience, the presence of sales associates is one of the biggest. Improving engagement through online channels thus goes back to the associate, as they play a key role in brand loyalty and increasing sales. However, it’s the online presence of associates from your local stores that can further enhance the seamless experience between in-store and online that so many retailers strive for.

In that same study, we found that 87 percent of shoppers are more likely to buy an item recommended from an associate, but what’s more is that 77 percent of shoppers are more likely to make a purchase from an associate that has helped them before. Therefore, this inclusion of local associates in the online experience can have drastic effects on sales and even encourage shoppers to purchase from them versus a competitor.

WWD: Who is aligning online and in-store experiences well – what about their strategy works?

O.S.: At Saks Fifth Avenue, associates use Salesfloor’s platform to create their own personalized version of the retailer’s website, so customers can now shop online directly with their favorite store or associate. Through this virtual storefront, the customer can shop with an associate like they would if they were in the store. Associates are then able to provide product recommendations and share valuable product knowledge, in real-time or after normal store hours.[…]This personalization factor is huge in not only providing an enhanced service but in creating a bridge between the online and in-store experience too.

WWD: We see customer service and authenticity becoming two large, overarching priorities among Millennials and Generation Z — what does this mean for online shopping experiences?

O.S.: Millennials and those in Generation Z have different shopping habits than Baby Boomers, they care less about brand names and have an increased focus on unique in-store experiences and high-quality products. What retailers must be mindful of is this is also a mobile-first generation, which is why “showrooming” becomes so prominent among this market segment since unfortunately, the things that often make a retailer special and unique are usually stripped from the online experience.

Retailers then need to create a new place and a new experience for customers online that brings what Millennials love about shopping in-store to online channels. But if we break down the boundary that inhibits Millennials from connecting with associates online, everyone wins.

WWD: In the current market, we see a lot of new methods being tested — in your opinion, what will prove to be lasting new services and what are simply gimmicks?

O.S.: There are a lot of products currently available that stores just aren’t ready for, either they’re too complex or don’t fit into the immediate needs of their roadmap. Retailers have a basic need right now which is improving the omnichannel experience in the most simple and seamless way possible for their customers and employees. The solutions that endure will be those that best meet the current need and are impactful in driving sales, increasing brand loyalty and encouraging engagement.

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