How Important Are Retail Associates to Your Business

A study recently published by Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and Verde Group discusses the findings of a survey of 1000 randomly selected consumers. The objective of the survey was to discover what problems shoppers were encountering during their shopping experiences at retail stores and which of those problems were most likely to be discussed with others and which actually put customer loyalty at risk.

The findings were, of course, predictable. In the final analysis, sales associates appear to be able to ‘make or break’ the shopping experience. I don’t believe we really need surveys to figure this out but, given the simplicity of the findings, they will likely be of some use in convincing retailers of the reality. DMSRetail.com has always maintained that retailers should pay more, expect more and get more.

The study may also be useful in identifying actual behaviors that retailer’s can address in order to ensure their customer loyalty is not at risk. The bottom line is that the majority of customers take greater issue with sales associate problems than with store problems. So, if you address the behaviors of sales associates and do an adequate job with your store, merchandising, pricing, etc. you should be able to keep your customers satisfied with their shopping experience, encouraging them to speak about your organization only when they have something favorable to say and, of course, to keep coming back.

The most damaging sales associate problems were found to be:

1. Not being able to find a sales associate

2. Being ignored by sales associates and

3. Insensitivity to long check-out lines.

I’m sure that could not come as a surprise to anyone in retail management. Those problems have all been addressed, haven’t they? How is it that they continue to be issues facing consumers in 2007?

To this retail consultant the study provides very interesting reading particularly when you get to the part where the retailer is let off the hook for the problems presumably created by sales associates. It is absolutely unbelievable that this paper would justify the retailers that provide inadequate wages and insufficient staff levels to properly take care of their customers. They say that most of the required sales associate behaviors are trainable and recruiting a certain type of individual in the first place will solve these issues.

It is suggested, in the study, that competition in the retail industry may not permit higher wages or bonuses to be used to recruit better talent. It is also suggested that hiring more workers won’t necessarily help but having staff who are sensitive to the customers needs may. So, having too few associates is acceptable as long as those associates are sensitive?

It doesn’t work that way. Having too few associates on the sales floor shows the company’s lack of sensitivity to both the customers and the associates. Even the most sensitive associate will lose their focus on their customers if the tasks involved in maintaining the store are overwhelming or if there are too few sales associates to properly service all of the customers. At some point even the most sensitive associate will feel that the company doesn’t provide enough hours (payroll $) for proper floor coverage and execution of tasks so it can’t really be that important.

It goes without saying that Store Managers should be recruiting associates who are friendly, outgoing, intelligent, well presented, image appropriate, respectful, sensitive, and the list goes on. If all sales associates were model hires, the problems for customers would largely disappear provided the store is sufficiently staffed. But most retailers are not willing to pay higher hourly rates or to compensate based on performance. They cannot attract the model individual so they continue to hire, and attempt to train, unqualified individuals who are willing to accept lower wages. Often these associates cannot be counted on to take care of business the way the retailer expects them to. On top of that, there are usually too few of these individuals on the sales floor. Wages and compensation plans for retail store employees need to be studied again and again until a solution is found. Usually that solution can be found by cost reduction measures being applied to other areas of the business – instead of the store sales floor – and by scientific evaluation of the correlation between sales and payroll.

I can’t begin to explain why this is not being discussed in more boardrooms.

Holiday & Travel Guide For Santiago, Cape Verde

Sightseeing

Santiago is one of the larger islands in Cape Verde: Cidade Velha has the 15th century ruins of what was once a magnificent cathedral and fort and there is also a delightful museum exhibiting the city’s history. You could possibly explore the whole of Santiago within a couple of days, with its many small traditional villages and wonderful botanical gardens, with cobbled streets and very scenic areas to leisurely explore. The national Maritime museum in the nearby town of Cabo Verde is well worth the visit; it houses treasures that have been retrieved over the years from ship wrecks around its islands. Even though this is a reasonably small island, there are still plenty of activities for tourists such as, but not limited to, bird watching and nature walks. Praia is the capital of the island and is quite a busy, bustling and crowded town. You can hire a small boat and explore the other islands in the Cape Verde if you wish to get out and about, they’re not that far apart and the scenery of these volcanic islands are wonderful.

Beaches

There are many beaches around Santiago Island, but many of them are dark in colour from the lava sand that makes them. They don’t look very appealing and once they are wet they’re very muddy, but you will find two very nice golden beaches with clear waters in Tarrafal and Sao Francisco, these offer water sports like sailing and wind and kite surfing.

Eating

The majority of the cuisine here is mostly Creole and Portuguese influenced. There are many fish dishes, as the islands are plentiful with sea life such as octopus and tuna. Stews and rice meals are the norm, but you will find restaurants serving pizza and Italian restaurants are found in some of the larger villages. Be warned, the islands are very laid back so don’t go to the restaurants expecting to be served quickly, you will need a few drinks before it arrives to the table, but it is well worth the wait.

Shopping

If you’re looking for a shopping heaven then you won’t find it in the Cape Verde Islands, at the most you will find necessary items, and the usual local hand crafted tourist gifts like jewellery, pottery and basket woven items and cloth are available everywhere. If you don’t mind a busy and crowded area, then the open local markets around the island are extremely colourful and the friendly local people do make the market visit quite an experience.

Nightlife

Local live music entertainment is the main attraction and is mostly found in the hotels, there are no lively vibrant nightclubs though, it is very low key and you will mostly people watch whilst having a drink at the local bars. There is music all around the island but there is no techno or upbeat rhythms unless you have brought along your own ipod; you will find the local music is traditional soulful Creole music that is a combination of guitar and violin.

Happy Holidays

A Night at the Opera Is Anything But Monkey Business!

A Marx Brothers comedy gem is the film, “A Night at the Opera,” in which they lampoon the stuffiness of fans of this classical theatrical form.

But there are serious insights and lessons to be gleaned from the REAL opera, which I’ve only recently been attending with any regularity.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing Verde’s “La Traviata,” starring amazing soprano, Renee Fleming.

Apart from the soaring voices and tragic story, what stirred me was something I’ve experienced elsewhere, seeing great theater in New York and London.

In a word, it’s EXCELLENCE.

The world of opera is uncompromising. Greatness and perfection are appreciated, understood, and above all, demanded by discerning fans and trigger happy critics.

You can’t get away with serving up the mediocre.

Last week, at another Verde opera, “Don Carlo,” a rotund gentleman sitting in front of me in “The Founders’ Circle,” complained to his neighbors, “I don’t know where they got that soprano!”

Unceremoniously, he left the theater before the final act had concluded; a slap in the face to the performers and the director.

He knows quality when he hears it, and he simply won’t tolerate anything less than world class performances.

Compare this attitude with what legendary sales trainer, Zig Ziglar, has derisively referred to as “The Get-By.”

The Get-By is an effort that is adequate, just enough to pass, to not be completely and utterly rejected by the masses. Pretenders of all kinds, poseurs, con men and women, as well as the simply and blandly average, perform at the Get-By level.

Excellence doesn’t happen without intelligent and sustained efforts, exertions that are monitored, measured and managed by the performers, their overseers, and by their publics.

The opera reminded me that a mere “search” for excellence, as one author put it, is inadequate.

We have to produce it, each and every one of us, who aspires to an exceptional life, one that is filled with genuine achievement, deep experiences, and rare pleasures.