Ready or not, automation is coming to retail. Whether it's Amazon's delivery drones or in-store robots that scan a warehouse's worth of inventory in a matter of minutes, unattended commerce will be a fact of future life. Until that happens, though, retailers better not lose sight of the sales associate and the effect they have on consumers.
According to a study conducted by Mindtree, the in-store sales assistant still has a very relevant and influential role to play in the average shopper's path to purchase. While most consumers start researching items on their phones or otherwise outside of the store (only 2 percent of survey respondents said they began their purchases by talking to an associate), 34 percent had interacted with a sales assistant before checking out. Moreover, 70 percent of respondents indicated that they were interested in talking to a sales associate at some point during their trips through the aisles.
Depending on the product category, interaction with sales associates is a near-universal part of the in-store path to purchase. For example, 91 percent of shoppers looking for sports equipment talk to sales associates — even more than do for cars and car products (88 percent). Consumer electronics shopping drew 86 percent of consumers into contact with sales assistants, with apparel, home improvement and personal care products all notching numbers over 50 percent.
It's a good thing so many customers are still chatting up sales associates, too, because positive interactions with employees lead to 43 percent higher conversion rates than shoppers who have no interaction with sales assistants at all. And with the average employee spending 46 percent of his or her time talking to customers, there's always room for improvement on the checkout conversion front.