Want to convert more fashion shoppers? Empower your sales associates

Market Force just released the results its 2017 Fashion Retail Customer Experience study. For the fifth straight year, Nordstrom received the best ratings, and given the recent publicity about this brand dropping Ivanka Trump, the press has had a field day with the research (see Women's Wear Daily). Once again, Nordstrom’s emphasis on service gets the highest ratings of any brand in our research. Why does that matter? Conversion rates.

We asked consumers to tell us about their most recent experience shopping at their favorite fashion retailer. They rated their overall shopping experience as well as satisfaction with merchandise selection, atmosphere, checkout experience, etc. Consumers also indicated whether a sales associate assisted them during their visit and whether they made a purchase. Results?

42% were assisted by a sales associate.

On average, 85% made a purchase—however, 90% of those were assisted by a sales associate made a purchase compared to 82% who were not. An 8 point difference.

Skilled sales associates made a big impact on conversion rate. At Nordstrom’s, 90% of those who were assisted purchased something—compared to 63% who purchased when unassisted. That’s a 27 point difference and reflects the exceptional skills of the Nordstrom staff.

Even in brands with lower price-points, service made a difference to conversion rates, with brands like Ross Stores, TJ Maxx, and JC Penny’s getting markedly higher lift from their sales associates. 

Sales associates matter in every industry. Investments in both their training and continuous measurement on execution drives ROI. If you would like to purchase a copy of this research or talk more about developing a sales efficacy model and measurement system, contact us at 1-877-329-9621, or schedule a briefing to review the research.

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As Chief Strategy Officer, Cheryl aligns Market Force's strategic direction with our clients' strategic objectives. She oversees the North American client base, Analytics and Insights, Winnipeg Operations and Marketing. She has a Ph.D. in social psychology and broad business experience in both private and public companies.​

3 Things Women Want From Your Fashion Retail Sales Team

Shopping for new clothing: It can be the best of experiences and the absolute worst, with generally one of two outcomes. Women can leave your store with a spring in their step and confidence in how fabulous they look ... or they can leave discouraged and frustrated because nothing fits, they couldn’t find the right thing, or they had trouble putting together the ensemble they wanted. Your fashion retail sales associates can make all the difference to a woman’s shopping experience.

In our recent fashion retail research (just featured on CNBC news), Market Force Information found that only half of consumers in the US and one-third in the UK were helped by a sales associate. As noted in blogs by my colleagues, that engagement boosted customer satisfaction and conversion rates. What do successful sales associates do to drive satisfaction?

1. Make it easy to buy

One of the key drivers of satisfaction and purchase is simply being able to find the right merchandise—and yet even the best brands received relatively low marks for being able to find the right merchandise and sizes. Great sales associates help women find just the right white blouse or that lovely scarf on the mannequin. They help find the right size, and may provide several different sizes of the same item, noting that a brand tends to run large or small. When items are not in the store, sales associates need to call other locations or check the online store to locate the item. Sales associates can help bridge the gap between a bewildered or frustrated customer who has little time to explore and the actual sale.

2. Help the customer look their best.

Finding the right look—including those just-right accessories to pull an outfit together—is another key driver of satisfaction and purchase. Yet only 16% of associates in the UK and 26% in the US suggested complimentary clothing or accessories. What a lost opportunity! Sales associates can easily increase basket size while at the same time helping a customer feel she looks fantastic. 

3. Add two small touches.

Some brands emphasize their use of fair trade and thoroughly vetted working conditions for off-shore workers. Others may emphasize the source and quality of their materials. Ask sales staff to underscore and emphasize these points—especially with millennial—to differentiate your brand.

These tips will help your associates increase both customer loyalty and basket size. To measure how well they actually do that—in every location that carries your brand flag—we highly recommend you build a sales efficiency model and use mystery shopping and customer intercepts to measure performance. See our case study below on a sports clothing retailer for how they did exactly that.

Read the case study

Beth Whinnett is a Vice President at Market Force Information, where she oversees both the UK Operations and Strategic Relationship teams serving clients. Beth's background in sales and marketing give her a keen appreciation of the hard work required to grow a business, and that fuels her emphasis on quality delivery to clients. 

Are apparel retailers delivering a customer experience that inspires loyalty?

We all know that the fashion industry is highly competitive, with every brand investing heavily in its brand image, marketing, fashion design, quality, price, locations and customer service. Some retailers spend up to 30% of their sales on marketing—driving traffic to stores and e-commerce sites in the hopes of capturing both new customers and more wallet share from existing customers.

Yet, how well do fashion brands capitalize on that marketing spend? Do their individual locations create the experiences required to command loyalty from its customers? The answer is, quite simply, no.

This week Market Force will release its fashion retail industry research. Consumers have given us their opinions about their most recent experiences at the brands they visited. In both the US and the UK, one out of five customers said they had a dissatisfying experience, and less than half said they had a truly great experience. Those numbers really caught my attention. (See infograhpic of US fashion retail research and the UK fashion retail research.)

As I looked at the research, three things caught my attention about how brands can better serve their customers—and capitalize on their opportunities for sales.

  1. Sales associates need to engage with customers. One in three customers in the UK and one in two in the US were assisted by a sales associate. Yet that engagement is—quite literally—worth its weight in gold. Customers who interact with sales associates have 10 points or higher satisfaction ratings and recommendation ratings. More importantly, they spend more of their fashion dollars with brands that provide excellent service. Why? Associates help customers find the right size of clothing, check merchandise availability at other locations, and suggest complimentary clothing and accessories. That deliberate focus on service increases both conversion rates and basket size.
  2. Locations must be equipped to resolve problems. Although relatively few customers (about 6%) reported experiencing a problem during their most recent shopping trip, the manner in which management or sales associates handled those problems had a big impact. One in five customers who felt their problem was not satisfactorily resolved made a negative social media post. Managing social media requires time and resources and negative posts can damage the brand’s reputation—so encouraging your staff to proactively address problems will save everyone the frustration of trying to fix things online.
  3. Use technology to your advantage. 14% of UK customers and 20% of US customers use mobile apps to learn about fashion and share ideas with others, with Pinterest being the most important app. Helping customers create their own look using these tools can engage them with the brand—and turns out to be an important satisfaction driver for the in-store experience.

Whilst we can all get caught up in the omni-channel tech savvy retail world, where mapping out and manipulating customer journeys with contextualisation and personalisation is very real, we need to remember that the basic human elements need to be delivered to a higher standard than ever before to capitalise on all the footfall generation. Having spent the past 5 years working with some of the UK’s leading high street fashion retailers and avidly watching their terrain change into an omni-channel landscape, I am still surprised that some of the most important touchpoints (human interactions) are not given the same importance as their ecommerce channels.

For more information on this new research, contact us to schedule a briefing. You’ll see how customers rate individual brands and the opportunities your brand can seize to win in this very competitive space.

Edward Mason is Vice President, Strategic Relations, Europe. Edward leads the EU team of consultants and programme development professionals that match Market Force's capabilities to our clients' needs, serving the UK, France and Spain. He’s been on board at Market Force since 2009 and has managerial experience in entrepreneurial and venture-backed companies.

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To discuss your needs for improving performance for your multi-location brand, give us a call. We’d be happy to discuss best practices for measuring the customer experience and compliance to brand standards, using analytics to understand what matters most and the ROI for change, and technology solutions that integrate large quantities of data on one single platform. We look forward to a great discussion!

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