13 January 2010

Commentary: Retail Service

The principles of selling goods have evolved while eroding the human aspect of the profession.

There was a time when sales people were specialists in their field, industry, product and brand. And they loved what they did and where they were. Now, with a few exceptions, they have been replaced by cheap, part-time help who are hired to present, fold and pack. But this is a logical progression when a company is unwilling to commit to and invest in good people. Why foster a career so that your staff would in turn be inspired and take initiative? The short-term cost cutting has become a long-term epidemic.

Not only are sales people generally motivated by only meeting sales goals, they may not even represent the brand they work for correctly. Beyond this, they are met by customers who are more educated and knowledgeable about the brand, product quality and pricing than they are. Customers even know when discounts start before the stores announce the sales. Thanks to the internet and the marketing departments of these brands.

This imbalance of information wreaks havoc on the retail floor. How can the sales teams have enough ammunition to sell if they are competing against their own marketing and advertising department? Sales teams need information and training to sell, and to sell well. But every spoon of information has been scraped away from the sales staff in order to use it in advertising campaigns, blogs and press releases - one season before the products hit the stores.

Ultimately, the brand is responsible for training and mentoring its staff to sell its goods on their behalf. Retail staff is just as important an investment as cashmere and spandex, and maybe more. This interaction would also return immediate feedback from customers in product, marketing and pricing. On the other hand, advertising on billboards, in magazines and online don't offer a clear indication of its success. Other than as a cost to the company.

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