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Archive for May, 2014

Transposing brick-and-mortar sales experience online

I come from a family of retailers. My parents, siblings and close family are almost all in retail. More specifically clothing. While observing recently how (good) retail salesperson interact with customers and close sales, I couldn’t help thinking about how we could transpose the brick-and-mortar sales experience to e-commerce.

I believe the retail sales process can be divided into 4 distinct steps: Greetings, Problem-solving, Up/Cross-selling and Closing.


Greetings

Retail storeWhen you enter a store, bad salespeople say nothing (and continue doing whatever they were doing), average salespeople come to you and ask if you need help (to which you usually answer “no thank you”) and experienced salespeople just smile and say hi (making it obvious they’re here to help).

She can start chatting with you. If you’re a regular, she recognises you and engage directly. This is human interaction at its best and it can hardly be transposed into e-commerce. That is one of the reasons why e-commerce will, I believe, never kill brick-and-mortar stores. You can’t virtualise human interactions.

Problem-solving

retailLet’s say that you’re looking for the perfect dress for saturday’s cocktail party. You enter the store and ask the salesperson about cocktail dresses. The average salesperson will show you cocktail dresses that you might like or dislike. If the latter, you leave. The experienced salesperson, might actually show you skirts or jeans that could fit you better than your initial idea. Again, this experience is hardly transposable to e-commerce as this would imply a 2-way, real-time, interaction between the customer and a (human or virtual) sales agent. In the case of a human sales agent, even if you provide 24/7 customer service or live chat (like Zappos), I doubt you can offer this service to all potential customers at the same time without drastically increasing your costs.

On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence technology is almost ready to put virtual sales assistant within everyone’s reach. Companies like London Brand Management, AI-Applied or Expertmaker already offer virtual shopping assistant enabling customers to get help in real-time (allegedly) the way a human sales assistant would have done it.

Up-selling and Cross-selling

cross-sell-up-sellUp-selling and cross-selling are sales strategy where the customers are provided an opportunity to buy related products or services when making a purchase. As the term indicates, when up-selling the suggested products and services are slightly higher priced than the one considered. Ubiquitous example of upselling is the offer to super-size in fast food restaurants. Cross-selling is simply suggesting additional items or add-ons to a customer making a purchase. The philosophy behind these sales strategies is that salespersons should not just passively take orders, but instead be active sellers.

Both up-selling and cross-selling have been used since the early days of e-commerce to drive more personalised shopping experiences and increase average order value. Now with the introduction of sophisticated web analytics and big data tools these strategies can be executed in highly nuanced and effective ways. On e-commerce sites cross-selling is offered for instance by providing customers ”better together” combos and up-selling by offering more expensive models near the shopping basket. Up-selling and cross-selling is a great example on how the retail salesperson example not only translates into e-commerce but is, with the help of data analytics, even better managed.

Closing

SalesAt the end, salespeople are here to close sales and make money. Whether you’re in the brick-and-mortar world or the e-commerce world, everything ends up at the counter (until next time of course). Depending upon the research source, the conversion rate for brick and mortar stores is at minimum 20% (much, much higher in the grocery category), while online is a maximum 3-5% (and some quote far lower numbers). Actually, the more time a customer spends in a store engaging with the retailer, the more likely they are to make a purchase. According to a Kurt Salmon study, 45% of customers who walked into a store, left within two minutes without ever engaging with the products or sales associates. But when customers were engaged by an asso­ciate or started interacting with the products, they were nine times as likely to try something on. And once they tried on a product, they had a 52% chance of buying it.

Here again, human interaction is a key element of brick-and-mortar success over e-commerce, to which you should add product interaction. As of product interaction, one way that e-commerce use to solve this problem is free shipping and return (some retailers that have stores, like Zara, even accept returns in the store of your choice). As of the human interaction, as we’ve seen before, it’s still very difficult to transpose online. E-retailers now mainly concentrate on retargeting practices to bring back customers that were about to buy but did not by serving ads related to what they were about to purchase.

Conclusion

May brick-and-mortar retailers rejoice, online has not killed the store! While many customers now shop online, e-commerce still cannot beat the human touch and expertise of an experienced salesperson. But new advances in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data and closing this gap. Maybe the stores will also get more and more connected?

Personal Branding

Brand Called YouIn a recent story from Fast Company, Douglas Friedman, an accomplished photographer, was having a meeting with a well-respected advertising agency in Los Angeles. But before Friedman could show off his physical portfolio, his judges asked him about a trip he took last Christmas. “They all followed my Instagram, and that’s all they wanted to talk about,” he told Fast Company. “And it’s what landed me a big advertising campaign.”

If you’re surprised about this behaviour than you’re most certainly not aware that more than 45% of HR decision makers already use social media tools in recruitment (see source). Said differently, if you don’t market yourself online, there is a pretty good chance that you won’t be getting this job you’re looking for.

Personal Branding?

Tom Peters, an American writer on business management practices, first introduced the concept of Personal Branding in a 1997 Fast Company article. At the time, Peters was claiming that, to stand out from the (professional) crowd, you should market yourself the way big brands market themselves. If the notion was cool at the time, it is now life or death. With an increasing number of college graduates and globalisation of education, there are more and more people with a background similar to yours, competing for the same jobs (or opportunities) than you, most certainly cheaper than you.

gary-vaynerchukOn the other hand, if you master the Personal Branding concepts, you can really catapult your business. Take for example, now social media consultant Gary Vaynerchuk. Back in 2006, he was already transforming is father’s liquor store into an Internet wine store named Wine Library but, at the same time, was realizing that customers coming to the physical wine store were mostly coming for his advices. This is when he had to idea of starting Wine Library TV, a video podcast hosted by Vaynerchuk, featuring wine reviews and advice on wine appreciation. The show was watched by more than 90,000 viewers and helped him increase the family business from $4M to $45M.

How does this apply to you?

I count 3 situations where Personal Branding applies to you:

  1. Personal Branding for freelancers: since your customers buy your skills (if you’re a designer) or your knowledge (if you’re a consultant), Personal Branding allows you to get more visible to prospective customers and increase your perceived value.
  2. Personal Branding for executives: Whether you’re looking to get another job in the same industry or change industry, Personal Branding is a way for you to advertise your expertise in your industry and be noticed by management and potential employers.
  3. Personal Branding for CEOs: brand yourself like Gary Vaynerchuk to raise awareness on your business and your products.

Where to start?

Online! Unless you’re an artist or designer, LinkedIn (or Viadeo) is usually the first step in creating your online identity. Then, depending on your field, choose the best social media to advertise your expertise, knowledge and skills. I will summarise in a future post which social media to use and how to use it for your Personal Branding.

Bud CaddellWhat to talk about?

I’ve found Bud Caddell’s definition of how to find happiness in business, a great tool to find what to write and communicate about online.

If you manage to find the intersection of what you do well (your skills and expertise), what you want to do (get a manager position, change industry, get customers) and what people are ready to pay you for (skills, knowledge), then you’re certain to get awareness and improve you credibility in your given field.

If you want to know more…

I strongly recommend LinkedIn Reid Hoffman’s TheStartupOfYou. I also talk about Personal Branding in my upcoming MooC on Growth Hacking (in French).