Many consumers consider retailers' front-line sales staff to be the single biggest detrimental factor in their shopping experiences, resulting in more lost business and negative word of mouth than any other retail problem, according to the 'Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study' from the Verde Group and the Baker Retail Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
The survey of 1,000 American consumers found that "not being able to find a salesperson" is the most critical retail shopping issue of all, and is experienced by 33% of all consumers who reported having had a problem. Many of these shoppers were so annoyed by the lack of sales assistance that they vowed not to go back to the store at all. The survey concluded that retailers lose 6% of their shoppers due to a lack of adequate help in-store.
Lack of human contact
Almost as damaging to business is the 25% who reported being ignored by sales staff, receiving not so much as a smile, a greeting, or even eye contact. This turns 3% of customers away from the retailer permanently, and is the number one problem customers said they are likely to share with others.
Paula Courtney, president for the Verde Group, explained: "A host of issues - including the disappearance of salespeople when they're needed, long checkout lines, over-solicitous and insincere salespeople, and being ignored by sales staff - is simply alienating shoppers and losing sales for retailers."
Negative word of mouth
Stephen J. Hoch, director of the Baker Retailing Initiative, noted that one in three customers spreads negative word of mouth about shopping problems, and each person tells an average of four others: "Interestingly, it's the younger consumer aged 18-29 who is least satisfied, while the older consumers are, the happier they are with their shopping experiences."
The study concluded that retailers are not improving or paying enough attention to the front-line competencies that are required to win and retain customers. This was particularly true of 'Category Killers' (the large retail chains that dominate their product category). Regardless of the time of year, these are responsible for the greatest number of shopping problems (66%). Consumers rated department stores more highly, but stilled report problems there 52% of the time.
Core sales staff competencies
Based on the study's findings, Verde Group and the Baker Retail Initiative identified the four core competencies that salespeople must have in order to drive loyalty and keep customers coming back for more:
- Educator: Explains products, makes recommendations and tells the customer where items can be found;
- Engager: Approaches the customer, smiles, makes eye contact, and helps the customer no matter what else they are busy doing;
- Expeditor: Sensitive to the customer's time constraints and helps them speed through long checkout lines;
- Authenticity: Lets customers browse on their own if they want to, and is genuinely interested in helping them whether a sale is made or not.