Will Tablets Usher in an Era of "Dumber" Retail Sales Help?

The ubiquity of tablets is well underway with retail being one of the industries to begin roll-outs to customer facing employees. The idea is that a more empowered salesperson will provide shoppers with better information, personalization, and service. But will it, or will it mean the further dumbing down of the retail sales force?

Some stores have built reputations for their knowledgeable/helpful sales people. It's part of their brand and reflects a mostly bygone era where many people made careers in specific product segments of retail. Now with the promise of extensive/powerful information immediately available at a salesperson's fingertips, it's logical to infer that the selling process will result in a better experience for consumers and more sales for the retailer. The point where this theory collides with reality is where the available workforce intersects with the hiring/training practices of most retailers.

There aren't many stores that employ skilled/experienced/career salespeople. Rather, they have low cost labor and the resultant high turnover. Those factors elicit the question "How will salespeople use tablets to help customers?". The minority of professional sales staff will likely embrace tablets and the information they provide as an additional tool to enhance their job and skill set, to make shopping a better experience for their clientele. The majority of retail sales help, the lower skilled, more transient sales associates, will likely lean heavily upon tablets to do much of their job for them. That means it's quite likely that the promise of tablets and other portable devices utilized by merchants will not come close to the hype the industry is assigning to them.

Employees that have struggled to help shoppers without technological aids are the same ones that will get outfitted with the new devices, quite possibly with minimal training.  Think of a today's typical part-time clerk that can't answer questions; now they'll be reading off of a tablet and having no capability/sensibility to truly assist customers beyond regurgitating what's on screen. It merely creates a digitized version of the inadequate sales support predicament that goes unaddressed in too many stores. And... if company executives and store managers turn a blind eye to the potential pitfalls and convince themselves that tablet technology will make their stores more customer centric just because salespeople have them at hand, they will exacerbate the problem and ultimately lower customer service. In other words, poorly planned tablet deployments may become the enabler of an even lower qualified sales force.

There's so much more to great customer support and memorable shopping experiences than band-aid digital remedies. The key for retailers is to avoid assumptions that mobile information devices will solve customer relationships simply by doling them out. To make tablets truly transformative customer experience tools, retailers must build a mindset and motivation among sales associates to focus, focus, focus on customers needs and not cool devices, but can they?.

RetailWire logo

This article is featured on retailwire.com


SPIA is a 2012 UX Award Winner!