Retail is not Dead: Suggestive Sell Index

We continue to be told that brick and mortar stores are going the way of the dinosaur, that they will all be gone before long and that Amazon will be the one-stop shop for all purchases that we make. And to look at the number of retail store closings for 2017, there is certainly strong evidence to support that conclusion.

Source: "There's one major thing everyone gets wrong about Amazon and the retail apocalypse," Hayley Peterson, Business Insider, July 22, 2017.

And while it is true that certain retail store formats are struggling, the truth is others are thriving. One example is Ace Hardware. Ace Hardware just came in first place for customer satisfaction and loyalty in Market Force Information’s annual Home Improvement Study. They placed well in the study largely because of their focus on in-store selling. As they say, “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.” It is true that sales floor associates at Ace Hardware are just better at greeting customers, engaging them as to why they came in, assessing that need, making the appropriate recommendation and then asking for the sale. Simple, right?

Well, unfortunately a good number of retail brands don’t execute on this simple set of behaviors as effectively as they could. Some companies feel like asking customers for the sale feels like pestering and they worry about coming across as high pressure so they counsel their retail teams to avoid it. And even those brands that do share a sales process with their store personnel have difficulty sometimes ensuring that the process is followed consistently. As a result, retailers are leaving sales on the floor. Sales that could drive revenue. Sales that could help turn comps positive for a change.

Another large retail brand that works with Market Force absolutely gets it. In our research of their customer experience survey data, we found that those customers who received a product recommendation during their visit were more satisfied with their experience and showed a higher likelihood to recommend the brand after the visit. So we learned that upselling in this retail store drives customer experience and loyalty to the brand. This is counterintuitive to some people, but true nonetheless. This same brand was able to capitalize on this insight by measuring and improving in-store behaviors. After implementing a store-based training initiative, they were able to increase the percentage of times store staff engaged customers on the sales floor by 6% (from 71% to 77%) over the course of one quarter. During those 77% of customer visits where the customers were engaged, they reported 96% of the time a specific recommendation was made. And of those recommendations, the customer reported making that purchase 50% of the time, which translated to $32M in sales for the quarter.

Most retailers absolutely have the opportunity to capitalize on this aspect of in-store selling, including home improvement, home furnishings, wireless retail, fashion apparel and many others.  Collaborating with brands in these segments and recognizing the importance of upsell to customer perception and financial success, Market Force has developed the Suggestive Sell Index - a way of reporting on in-store effectiveness and the corresponding lift to retail sales that it produces. A white paper on the topic can be downloaded here. Brands can optimize their Suggestive Sell Index by following three simple steps:

  • Assess customer’s needs  Each team member that interacts with customers need to ask thoughtful questions about the customer and what they are seeking. Even a simple greeting followed by “what brought you in today?” can uncover critical insight into how best to serve that customer.
  • Make a recommendation  If the team member has been able to strike an authentic, not forced or robotic, conversation with the customer, they should have a general understanding of their need and be in a position to make a recommendation that most closely aligns with their need and helps them make a decision.
  • Ask for the sale  It is important that once the team member has made the recommendation that they follow through. ABC – always be closing. Simply asking, “Can I ring this up for you?” or “Can I put this in your cart for you?” helps move the conversation from an interaction to a transaction.

Brands that can effectively train their staff on these behaviors and then put measurement processes in place to ensure that they are being followed show higher customer satisfaction scores, better brand loyalty and increased financial performance. If you have retail stores or you are thinking about opening them, you would be wise to invest in the team members that you staff them with and ensure that they are following a best practices sales process. It is a truly strategic way to protect your brand, delight customers and drive powerful financial results. I can think of no better focus to have. 

  Download White Paper

Brad Christian is a Managing Director at Market Force and has been with the company for 11 years consulting retail brands on how best to implement customer experience programs that provide insight into strategic investment decision-making that helps them protect their brands, delight their customers and make more money. 

Tags: retail

Want to convert more fashion shoppers? Empower your sales associates

Market Force just released the results of its 2017 Fashion Retail Customer Experience study. Consumers rated John Lewis as delivering the best results, followed by House of Fraser, Zara, Next, and Debenhams. Perhaps the most compelling finding in the research was whether consumers were assisted during their shopping. Why does that matter? Conversion rates.

We asked consumers to tell us about their most recent experience shopping at their favourite 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?

37% of consumers were assisted by a sales associate.

On average, 85% made a purchase—however, 72% of those who were assisted by a sales associate made a purchase compared to 78% who were not. A 6-point difference.

Skilled sales associates made a big impact on conversion rate. At John Lewis, 84% of those who were assisted purchased something—compared to 66% who purchased when unassisted. That’s a 19-point difference and reflects the exceptional skills of the John Lewis staff.

Even in brands with lower price-points, service made a difference to conversion rates, with brands like TK Maxx and H&M 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 44 1908 328 008. Or let us know of a time that works for you 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.​

Tags: retail

Pushing Sales Above All Else Hurts Your Brand

It’s Q4 2016, and many of us are in the last quarter of our fiscal year. We’re assessing performance against targets, looking how to close gaps, and simultaneously planning for 2017. As executives and stakeholders in the success of our companies, we all want to achieve our goals, reward our teams, and personally benefit from that success. But what happens when we push too hard for revenue and sales—and how do we know what “too hard” means? Two recent personal experiences reminded me of how thin the line can be.

In September I visited New York City. Now, to be honest, I really hate shopping, but for some time I’d wanted to go on a shopping spree in this beautiful city. I stumbled into a retail store that carries my favorite high-end brand and spent an entire morning there. Two sales associates ended up working with me—but they provided very different experiences. One woman seemed younger and perhaps less experienced than her colleague. She was eager to please and extremely complimentary—in fact, too much so. No matter what I tried on, she said “That looks wonderful on you!” or “You look fabulous!” Sometimes I looked in the mirror and thought, “Nope, no way”. The other sales associate was much more honest, and would literally say “That just doesn’t work for you” or “That’s not a good fit”. Which one do you think I trusted? Which one did I want to buy from? Which one did I think was less concerned about her commission and more interested that I was happy with the experience and my purchases? You got it—the more honest one.

Very recently in preparation for a meeting I visited a wireless retail store. My goal was to experience the sales process. When I walked into the store, the sales associate was alone and was working with a couple who was trying to set up their phone. When he learned that I was thinking about buying a new phone, he immediately dropped his attention from the hapless couple and worked to sell me on a new plan. He did a pretty good job—until I asked him to show me a coverage map. I live in a rural part of Colorado and I wanted to know whether I would have good service. Otherwise any plan—no matter what the price—is worthless. The young man looked at the online coverage map and said “coverage is rated at best or good”. I leaned over his shoulder, and could clearly see that the area around my home was marked as spotty—perhaps good. This young sales associate fudged the truth to try to land the sale. I will not buy from this brand.

When we push our teams so hard for the sale that they undermine the customer experience, our brands suffer. A recent extreme cautionary tale is what happened at Wells Fargo, where associates opened accounts without customer consent. As we think about 2017, let’s remember that customers reward us with their loyalty and increased wallet share when we clearly communicate we care about them and want their business. It’s a virtuous cycle that we need to emphasize as we lead our teams.

For more information about that virtuous cycle, please link to our video with Forrester called “Show Me the Money.” It’s all about how our emphasis on customer experience leads to the ROI we want.


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.​

Tags: retail

Our Wireless Carriers: What We Love and Hate

Smartphones. Ubiquitous, necessary, entertaining, and the way we connect to our world. Behind those smartphones are our wireless carriers who provide the infrastructure that allow us to make calls, download data, watch videos, play games, and read the news. So what kind of customer experience do the wireless carriers provide—and what do we love and hate about them?

Market Force has just released the results of its CX competitive benchmarks for wireless carriers in both the US and the UK. In addition to identify category winners the research pointed to some key themes:

What We Hate:
  1. Contracts. Consumers gave much higher ratings to non-contract providers (vs. full service) across the board. In the US, seven brands scored higher than any of the four full service providers, led by Consumer Cellular. Non-contract providers are disrupting full service providers—as evidenced by T-Mobile’s dramatic changes to no longer require contracts.
  2. Dropped calls and poor connection quality. In the US, 12% of consumers (17% in the UK) planned to switch providers in the next 12 months—with value being the top driver. And what do consumers say is a source of poor value? Dropped calls, poor quality connections, and slow data transfer rates—all related to connectivity. 
What We Love:
  1. Great sales associates. Great sales associates create great customer experiences. They ask about what we really need and make pertinent recommendations. In the US, 40% of consumers (33% in the UK) buy what the sales associate recommends.
  2. Self service. We need and want a good website with the right information and content. It’s much better to do it yourself online than haggle with reaching the contact centre, online chat, or going to the store. In the UK, a great website predicted both customer satisfaction and value ratings.  

With the big four carriers there are limited options for consumers. Many of us are opting for non-contract providers who focus on network quality, great sales associates, and a self-service model. Find out more about what makes us choose one carrier over another by scheduling a briefing. We’d be glad to walk you through 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.

Tags: retail

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 emphasise their use of fair trade and thoroughly vetted working conditions for off-shore workers. Others may emphasise the source and quality of their materials. Ask sales staff to underscore and emphasise 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.

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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. 

Tags: retail

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 capitalise 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.

As I looked at the research, three things caught my attention about how brands can better serve their customers—and capitalise 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 money 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.

Tags: retail

Focus Sales Associates’ Attention and Increase Conversion Rates

I’ve been working with retailers for over a decade and I see a common struggle: Sales associates are given a list of items to be done during the day—important things, such as cleaning, merchandising etc. Although they may diligently focus on the items on their ‘to do’ list, they may do that at a cost: Ignoring or underserving their customers.

You’ve no doubt experienced this: A customer walks in the door and the associate remains absorbed re-arranging the merchandise on the shelf or marking new price tags. The customer wanders around the store, picks through a few items, and then leaves. The sales associate missed the opportunity to engage—and that impacts conversion rate and sales.

A clean, well merchandised store is important, but if you want to drive brand loyalty and same store sales, your associates need to do more than clean and stock—they need to connect. How can you focus your sales associates’ attention so their store produces better conversion rates and same store sales numbers? 

Leverage your location-level data to understand ‘what’s most important’

Almost every brand collects data about how their locations adhere to brand standards (mystery shopping or audit), what customers think about the brand itself and the experiences they have shopping either online or in stores via customer experience surveys. The key to understanding which of those behaviours most impacts sales is to analyse your customer—that data is worth gold when bumped up against financial data for the store, including sales, loyalty card data or through location-based data, like traffic counters, dwell time, and conversion rates.

Once all that data is assembled, the analysis should focus on pinpointing the critical drivers of conversion and/or average transaction size. As an example, in one study conducted by Market Force for a specialty retailer, analysis of customer experience data identified six “helpful acts” for sales associates to perform that showed a positive impact on customer loyalty. Once we added sales and transactional data to the analysis, we found that three of those six ‘helpful acts’ in combination directly impacted not only customer satisfaction but also conversion rates and average basket size. Those locations that executed well on the six drivers had a 6% higher conversion rate than those that did not.

Now that you know what’s important, train your teams to drive customer loyalty and revenues

By creating the predictive model that shows which sales associate behaviours most impact loyalty and conversion rates, you will empower your teams to focus on those specific behaviours that matter most. Once you have trained your teams, relentlessly measure execution of these behaviours—and watch your conversion rates and sales rise.

Kelly Massey serves as vertical practice lead for retail brands. She works with clients ranging from home improvement retailers to iconic fashion brands, focusing on how to improve same store sales and conversion rates at every location. 

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