Vice President Store Development of Neiman Marcus Group named speaker at the upcoming Dubai Future Retail event

United Arab Emirates: Monday, October 15 - 2012 @ 09:50

For centuries, souq store-holders passed on the art of selling from father to son. Closing the deal was part of life. Across the region that art is in decline. Sales staff increasingly are separated from customers by the internationalization of the sales force, reliance on retailer websites and the pace of technological change. Many retailers are content to let consumers examine products independently. Many prioritize shop-floor staff numbers over staff quality. And others fail to provide incentives to close deals on the shop-floor: commission-based salary packages are a rarity outside the small coterie of luxury retailers.

The case for reviving the art of selling is compelling. According to Richard Adams, Retail Director, Acuity Middle East: “Research suggests that 42-43% of UAE and KSA consumers occasionally, rarely, or never visit stores with a clear sense of what they wish to purchase. And 44-45 % of UAE and KSA consumers are open to advice on what to buy on entering stores, even after evaluating products and reading reviews online”.

Consumer research points to three conclusions. Retailers are losing potential sales if staff are not ready, willing and able to assist customers to make informed purchasing decisions. They are losing if they fail to create exciting visual marketing environments. And they have every thing to gain by reviving the art of selling. That means getting back to basics: greeting customers, asking about their needs, demonstrating products, and closing the sale. Adams says: “Getting back to basics sounds simple, but all too often the basics are neglected. Failing to close is a particular problem. Client studies consistently reveal fundamental deficiencies in this area.”

Investing in front-line sales staff

According to Adams, some of the region’s top retail executives resist investing in high quality sales assistants. One CEO suggested that his staff –hired mostly from villages in the Philippines and Indian Sub-Continent – could not be trained adequately to use sophisticated CRM systems and often took up to two years to follow basic customer service protocols. Adams takes the opposite view: medium-to-high end retailers in particular cannot afford not to hire and train savvy staff. “Yes it’s expensive. And yes it takes time. But if half the customers coming into stores with no fixed ‘shopping list’ in mind are induced to make an in-store purchase, assuming conservatively that half of these were previously non-purchasers, overall conversion rates jump by more than 15%”.

Developing an effective frontline sales team

Successful retailing is built on successful employees. This puts a premium on hiring good employees from the outset, training them and rewarding them.

Adams notes: “There is good research evidence that effective sales associates share certain common attributes. Most are extroverts, passionate about their work and enjoy helping others. These desired attributes need to shape recruitment and staffing policies.”

Training staff about the products they are selling is critical. “Sales associates cannot be expected to demonstrate products successfully or to give meaningful advice – often to well informed customers – if they have not been given product specific training. How can you know if your product training is insufficient? Ask your sales associates. If your staff are conducting extensive independent research on the products they are selling, give them a bonus and learn a lesson – your product training needs to improve”.

As a people-centred business, successful retailing places a high value on rewarding good, motivated staff both financially and through increased responsibility. Adams observes: “Hiring for desired outputs, not just cost, has to become more important across the region.”

Creating a customer friendly in-store environment

A vibrant in-store environment also influences purchasing decisions. Gorischek comments further on how in-store design helps to drive profit. He notes: “It is vital to entertain customers visually in-store. Customers are attracted to an appealing environment.”

A number of techniques help to increase the length and enjoyment of shopping trips. Gorischek says: “Styling fashion accurately is critical. Mannequins are used as educational tools. We create visual hotspots – literally bright areas in the store every few meters – so the eye is trained on merchandise and customers are rewarded visually. We use art work and elements made by artisans– 95% of them created by local craftsmen.We pay great attention to in-store music. Sound is a key part of a modern store. Music should appeal to customers and boost morale on the shop floor. Creating a unique in-store environment makes it harder for competitors to copy us.”

Innovation and ingenuity in in-store design are critical but big design budgets don’t always translate into big successes. As Gorischek describes it: “I am always looking for the next thing. I want to delight customers. I want to entertain. And I don’t want to do the same thing for too long. Money does not mean success. Some of my best work was with small budgets. What counts is developing a store design that works for customers and sales associates. If you can’t place product successfully in-store, you have nothing”.

Studying where and why customers make purchasing decisions is also hugely important. Adams notes that: “In a recent client study, we showed that high brand awareness and good shop accessibility are not enough to drive sales if stylish and high quality products are hard to locate in-store. We also showed that improved visibility and signage designed to aid awareness can quickly result in a significant uptick in sales.”

Ultimately, understanding and reacting to consumer behavior is vital to business success. In the largely off-line retail world, no amount of on-line information or clever marketing will make up for an in-store environment that is tired, uninspiring or simply hard to shop. Nor will gimmickry compensate for sales personnel who are unwilling, or unable, to assist customers and close sales.

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Monday, October 15- 2012 @ 9:50 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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