As Retail Reconfigures Into Click and Mortar, a New Kind of Employee Is Born The hybrid of physical stores and online brands requires staff expert at both face-to-face selling and sophisticated technology.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Many people were surprised in the last year to witness Amazon opening physical bookstores. In one way, it made perfect sense: Amazon is the largest seller of books in the United States. But in another way, it underlined a new trend followed by companies like Warby Parker: a pivot to the so-called "click and mortar" business. In this format, rather than relying only on a traditional bricks-and-mortar business, or on a digital-only presence, companies seek a blended strategy that creates experiences for customers that previously were simply not possible.
IKEA has had strong sales both in-store and online for some time now, but continues to lean into click and mortar strategies, including a studio in one of their stores in Poland which can be reserved and used for free. IKEA had long enjoyed confidence from customers regarding furniture and furnishings, but not so much so regarding their appliances. This "try before you buy" possibility not only engendered goodwill (most Warsaw residents didn't have an apartment large enough to host 16 friends and were overjoyed to have an opportunity to "host" friends free of charge) but also led to increased sales (over 20 percent) at that location.
Who you are going to want.
These types of businesses are creating experiences that customers haven't seen before. As such they are going to require a different type of employee that will be above and beyond the standard retail employee of old. Here are four traits to watch for in the best new hires of the click and mortar era.
Savvy with technology.
Amazon's new bookstores feature their voice-activated Echo products, as well as purchasing using their smartphone app. Gone are the days when retail employees could plead technological ignorance. Customers will expect staff to not only know technology but to have at least mid-level competence in assisting with technology.
Whether an app is acting up or something isn't scanning, click and mortar staff will be expected to help a customer with their technology in an active and effective way. Failing to do so could lead not just to a short-term loss, like a failed sale, but a long-term one: damage to the brand.
Oriented toward selling.
Brands will want to leverage the "showrooming" of having a physical location into actual sales, and to encourage customers to complete the sale in the store, even if that means the customer will take delivery of it at a future date. Customers might receive push notifications to let them know they can get a special discount if they complete a sale before leaving the store.
Sales-oriented employees might be armed with special discount codes that they can use to help encourage customers to buy. By using a flash form of urgency, staff can truly drive sales by giving a human touch to what would normally have been just a pop-up ad.
Focused on social events.
The Apple Store model has been flatteringly imitated by both Microsoft and Samsung. Yet, neither brand has managed to capture the energy and attention so effortlessly created by the minimalist architecture and design of an Apple Store.
Apple has been doing for years what other brands are only recently catching up to: in-store events featuring opportunities not available anywhere else. Whether it was a short class in how to edit photos on a Mac or a seminar of special tips and tricks for your iPhone, Apple led the way in making people feel comfortable with their technology and making their stores a "third place" -- a place they felt at home, rather than a "retail store."
Creative and competent with social media.
Not everyone has the budget of an Apple or an Amazon, but most businesses will still have to play by the rules and standards set by these giants. Therefore, in the absence of marketing or PR teams, it will be on employees to come up with interesting ways to leverage technology and social media to bring customers into stores, or once those customers are there, to interact with them in a fun and unique way.
This could be through Snapchat filters, interesting Instagram stories, instructional YouTube videos, or engaging Twitter threads. By giving employees who have strong social media awareness creative license with the brand experience -- within reasonable boundaries -- customers will find even more reasons to interact with the brand digitally and come into retail stores, and both interactions will inevitably lead to more sales.
The recent bankruptcy of Toys R Us is an ominous reminder to retailers who have not yet decided to add clicks to their bricks. Whenever possible, it's best to engage customers in many different ways, thereby giving them many possible ways to purchase. The blended strategy of clicks and mortar is a template with many variations, and the best hires will use that to the advantage of your brand and your customers.