Retailers today are under pressure to control costs as a way to improve profit margins. Labor costs are often the largest controllable expense and, therefore, the most obvious choice for cut-back since retailers don’t want to cut corners on product quality. Macy’s, for example, has 52,000 fewer workers than it did a decade ago, but nearly the same number of stores.
The in-store experience will be impacted, since there are fewer employees to keep displays merchandised and engage with shoppers. Frustrated shoppers are left doing laps around big stores to find an associate who can answer their questions — and sometimes even just check them out.
Brands who sell products through these stores suffer as a result: 86% of U.S. consumers say they have recently left a store due to long checkout lines, resulting in an estimated $37.7 billion in lost sales.
Another dimension that compounds a brand’s challenges is that retailers are focusing whatever resources remain on selling their own brands, which drive better profit margins. Target recently added 12 more exclusive brands, and Amazon now sells more than 70 private labels (mostly in clothing categories).
To add even more pressure, Millennial and Gen Z shoppers are demanding a more immersive brand experience in stores, and they are unforgiving when their experience disappoints. To succeed, brands must take more ownership of what’s happening with products in stores.
With shopper demands changing so quickly, brands need real-time tools that give them visibility into store-level execution so they can make in-flight corrections to fix issues. Trained and invested store associates are also crucial to helping brands achieve this. Rather than relying on retailers to champion their products, brands need to invest in their own field teams to improve the in-store experience.
Brands can send dedicated field agents into stores to perform functions like checking on promotions and displays, running demos and hosting associate training. Retail execution and monitoring technology informs these field teams what the most crucial retail execution issues are so they can spend time fixing the right things.
Recently, one CG company used retail technology to identify poor consumer engagement in the warehouse channel. Brand agents performed demos, engaging tens of thousands of consumers, distributing almost as many product samples, and driving a sales lift of more than 500% during demo days. Even more powerful, the stores staffed by on-brand field agents drove a sustained 15% sales lift over the retailer’s demo team in the two-week post-event period.
There’s a reason that consumers venture into a store instead of ordering online. They’re seeking a more immersive experience and the ability to consult with someone who’s knowledgeable about products.
Data helps brands deliver on those shopper desires by optimizing the effectiveness of their field teams. With more information about what’s actually happening in stores, brands can take the in-store experience back into their own hands. They’ll reap the benefits through increased sales and a superior brand reputation.
About the Author Gina Ashe has 20 years of experience in technology and retail that spans startups to Fortune 100 companies. She currently is chief executive officer of ThirdChannel, Inc., a retail intelligence platform that enables manufacturing brands and retailers to see what's happening – or should be happening – with their products in thousands of stores in real time.