Clienteling can connect brick-and-mortar and online experiences by empowering store associates to serve online customers and sell on the web in a personalized way.

Oscar Sachs

Oscar Sachs, CEO of Salesfloor Inc.

Store closures and social distancing measures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged consumers to significantly increase their time shopping online in the past few months. That will undoubtedly carry over to the holiday season when retailers compete for consumer attention online more than they ever have before. 

When Amazon pushed Prime Day later this year and the holiday shopping season started earlier than ever. This year, retailers will have to leverage the best advantage they have over competitors: their store associates. But with store traffic expected to be down this season, how can store associates still be an advantage?

Below are four ways consumer behavior will be different this holiday season and how clienteling—techniques sales associates use to establish long-term relationships with customers based on preferences, behaviors and purchases—can help retailers get closer to consumers. Clienteling can empower store associates to serve online customers and sell virtually in a personalized way.

Bridge the online/offline gap

Deloitte expects online holiday sales to increase by 25% to 35%. At the same time, eBay has reported that most (54%) of their shoppers claim they will be doing all of their holiday shopping online, and nearly three-quarters plan to buy more of their gifts online this year. BlackFriday.com also reported that consumers would prefer a digital experience this holiday season. Retailers with a weak online presence will be at a disadvantage.

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Retailers that have an online presence and can also bring the in-store experience to online customers will thrive. Clienteling helps retailers bridge the online-offline service gap by enabling their store associates to assist online shoppers in real-time. Customers obtain quick replies or personalized suggestions from local associates via the retailer’s website with live chat, video calling, text messaging, or e-mail. With a large portion of this year’s holiday shopping done online, it’s an opportunity for associates to accompany online customers in real-time as they shop, providing the same service they would in stores, and ultimately convert online customers and drive sales.

Leverage consumer trends

The pandemic affected many consumers financially, which has caused retailers to be concerned about a possible year-over-year drop in sales. A recent report by Deloitte indicates the growth rate for retail sales will be less than in previous years. But Deloitte expects retail sales to rise between 1% and 1.5% during the November to January timeframe. 

Retailers will need to stand out from competitors more than ever this holiday season to ensure they are the brand of choice when consumers decide to shop. Personalizing the customer’s experience will be key, especially throughout their online journey considering the surge in online shopping. 

80% of customers are more likely to purchase products or services from brands that provide personalized experiences. Clienteling creates customer loyalty by enabling store associates to build lasting, one-to-one relationships with customers at scale. They communicate digitally in a personalized way with relevant messages and recommendations tailored to the individual based on their profile and past purchases.

Communicate personally 

Traditionally, Black Friday has involved getting consumers in-store. This year, retailers must limit store traffic and reinforce public safety measures during the busiest time of the year. Many will facilitate online shopping by increasing their ecommerce inventory and closing stores on Thanksgiving Day to compensate for limited store availability. They will also stagger their promotional events to entice consumers to begin shopping well before Black Friday. 

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The most personalized way to keep customers aware of holiday specials is to send them communications sent from a local, known store associate. This personalized, two-way communication allows associates to tailor their message with content or products relevant to the individual customer, communicate in the customer’s preferred digital channel, and even add shoppable links or product images. Retailers can also grant their loyal customers VIP access to Black Friday sales or other events before they are available to everyone. 

Retailers that use clienteling give their associates the tools they need and provide information on the customer’s profile and shopping history. Associates then craft relevant, personalized messages and send them via the customer’s preferred communication channel.

Take advantage of early holiday shopping

According to a recent AlixPartners study, an estimated 49% of consumers planned to start their holiday shopping before Halloween, up by 7% compared to last year. Retailers want to encourage consumers to begin shopping earlier to extend the holiday season and compensate for sales lost while stores were closed.

Retailers can maximize their efforts to drive sales earlier than usual with event and appointment booking tools. Such tools allow customers to request virtual, phone or in-store appointments with an associate at a local store. Store associates can also initiate these appointments to control the number of people in the store while giving customers their undivided attention.

Store associates have always been the face of brands, but this year, they play an even more critical role with consumer behavior expected to change. The ability to serve and sell to online customers will be a vital driving force for ecommerce sales. Having knowledgeable, passionate store associates with the right clienteling tools will help retailers sail through these uncharted waters we’re currently facing so that they come out better positioned than ever before.

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Salesfloor Inc. designs and develops mobile clienteling, application, analytics and cloud software. 

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