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The Green Sheet Online Edition

December 25, 2023 • Issue 23:12:02

The very point of sale
Holiday season's blooper reel

By Dale S. Laszig

The very point of sale

The other day, during an interview, a source used the term "service provider," and I heard "surface provider." The phonetic similarities reminded me of six retail bloopers that happen every holiday season and seem quaint by modern standards. Despite our progress toward interoperability and fluid, intuitive commerce, some merchants are still acting like it's 1995.

Here are examples of decidedly retro trends in online, mobile and in-store commerce:

1. Too many choices: Personalization at scale is fundamental to today's commerce methods, but if a retailer hasn't had a chance to get to know a customer, in-store POS is not the place to start. A customer checking out during the holiday season would prefer not to see a thousand payment options on a screen, or to be prompted to answer a survey or give a sales associate five stars. That person wants to check out and leave.

2. Too few choices: Chatbots that recite multiple choice questions are a staple of today's call centers but do not always provide enough options. Frustrated callers who search for the right button to push—one that best describes their issue—can get stuck in an endless loop, or worse, get disconnected by systems that have no tolerance for matters that don't fit the call-in script. It makes sense to offer an "it's something else" button to avoid alienating customers.

3. Stalking by sales associates: Sales associates occasionally take courtesy and attentiveness too far by following customers as they browse, repeatedly asking if they're ready to buy. Some need to replace the saying, "always be closing" with "never be annoying." Online shoppers may also have privacy concerns when they see recently-browsed items reappear in their Facebook and YouTube feeds. Salespeople and ecommerce merchants need to respect individual privacy by giving customers more breathing room.

4. Ghosting by sales associates: Sales associates are in high demand these days due to labor shortages and the Great Resignation following the outbreak of Covid 19. An aging population, skill shortages and evolving workplace expectations also make good help hard to find. Sales associates who walk away, don't look up or otherwise avoid responding to customers are an even more troubling trend. Whatever happened to "be right with you" or "sorry for the wait"?

5. Lack of punctuality: Businesses need to open on schedule in keeping with posted business hours. Anyone who has looked up a store's hours of service or the exact time for opening bids at online ticketing and auction sites will expect merchants to respect them by being on time. Stephen Hawking once said, "Half the battle is showing up." So do it. A slow-moving employee who begrudgingly unlocks a door 10 minutes after opening time is not a good look.

6. Lack of product knowledge: Retailers sell products and services that consumers can buy from anyone, anywhere using phones and laptops. Knowledgeable, friendly staff and merchandise that people can touch and try on are reasons why consumers prefer in-store to online shopping. Sales associates who don't know their products or don't engage with customers hurt a company's bottom line. Training and mentorship programs can help create engaged associates.

Peak performance needed

For the last five years, holiday spend has accounted for 19 percent or more of annual retail sales, according to the National Retail Federation. NRF predicts over $950 billion in November and December sales this year, according to Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO. "It is not surprising to see holiday sales growth returning to pre-pandemic levels," Shay stated. "Overall household finances remain in good shape and will continue to support the consumer's ability to spend."

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz observed that annual holiday spend is increasing by an average of 3.6 percent. "Consumers remain in the driver's seat and are resilient despite headwinds of inflation, higher gas prices, stringent credit conditions and elevated interest rates," he said.

This holiday season, merchants need committed partners, not just technology. Let's help them eliminate bloopers and become true retail stars. end of article

Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and founder and CEO at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content strategist. Connect via email dale@dsldirectllc.com, LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/dalelaszig/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/DSLdirect

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