Breaking It Down: The Art of the Sale

Mobile technology gives salespeople a boost.



“I actually have one of my PhD students working on this exact thing for her dissertation,” Spangenberg explains. “It's really new; our knowledge of the effectiveness of these mobile point of sale technologies is really in the early stage."

Spangenberg is no ordinary customer; he’s also the dean of UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business and an expert in consumer psychology. This moment in retail reminds him of the early days of his research career, starting over 30 years ago, when he studied how music, colors, and smells would increase or decrease shopping time, or affect purchase intentions. This time powerful new tech is triggering another big shift, with some businesses experimenting to varying degrees of success. Spangenberg is certain the science will follow.

Core retail functions are going mobile as point of sale systems move to tablets, phones, and kiosks, shaking up the store as we know it. Ironically, this has put a premium on old-fashioned salesmanship, with customers looking for entertainment and expertise in their brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Before long, artificial intelligence and 5G connectivity promise further changes, ironing out many of the frictions we encounter on the path to purchase.

Line busting is common practice today thanks to the prevalence of credit card payments and registers that look like smartphones. Sidewalk sales no longer require long (easily tripped-upon) extension cords or lugging out hulking register stands. Pop-up stores have also flourished thanks to this technology, and increasingly, stores are rethinking their traditional formats, with the Apple store ditching checkout lines altogether. 

“It's a little bit more friendly, a bit more open,” says Rachel Arthur, a London-based journalist who specializes in the intersection of fashion and technology. “I think the layout of the store is changing as a result of that because it's not necessarily about one area being for payments and another area specifically for certain types of merchandise or even for trying things on. It's much more fluid; you can pay anywhere you want, customer service is always top of mind.”

This is just the beginning of a trend that promises to overhaul how stores look. 

“The more extreme example of this we’re starting to see emerge is for completely autonomous stores, as with the likes of Amazon Go,” Arthur explains, referring to a new concept where customers are automatically logged in upon entering the store, pick up their goods, and are charged automatically on the way out thanks to a combination of in-store cameras, computer vision artificial intelligence software, and sensors. “I think we're certainly going to see more instances of these features rolling out in the future.”

For most retailers, changes will come more gradually. Brands like Anthropologie and Nordstrom Rack haven’t ditched the cashier altogether, but shoppers can approach any sales associate for a second opinion on a pair of jeans--or a speedy checkout.

Meanwhile, hardware and software companies are busy building the digital infrastructure needed to support these tools.

Nobody has to shop in a brick-and-mortar store today, so the experience, the personal connection, the courtesy ... all of these are more essential than they ever were before.

Micah Solomon, Customer Experience Expert

Lenovo specializes in compute capabilities to support the connected stores of tomorrow, which may feature interactive selling techniques like point of sale and self-service kiosks, as well as other cutting-edge features like real-time pricing, optimized assortments, and responsive in-store promotions. They work with Intel and third-party solution providers to test prototypes for the technologies that shoppers will take for granted over the coming years.

Yet for all the investment in circuitry, in most cases the store’s human employees will play a greater role than ever. 

“The connected, well-informed employee is a critical component of the customer’s experience,” said Bob Hoblit, a retail expert at Lenovo. “Consumers’ frustrations with retailers have centered on the shopper having better access and information than the retail associate. At minimum, customers expect store associates to have access to and to use the same level of technology that they have in their own pockets.”

This means associates must be able to quickly check inventory, show an item in an alternate color, and redirect customers to another store where the item is in stock. It requires a lightning-fast connection, elegant UX on their mobile device with features like “show and tell” for screen sharing with customers, and access to unified data across the enterprise.

But there’s more to it. Even as more people shop online for goods, the majority of people still shop in physical stores to see and feel the product before buying, and experts claim the human touch makes all the difference.

“Nobody has to shop in a brick-and-mortar store today, so the experience, the personal connection, the courtesy ... all of these are more essential than they ever were before,” said Micah Solomon, a customer experience consultant and author of several books on customer service.

Technology can boost customer satisfaction as associates access company-wide inventory and delve deep into product information.

But Solomon warns that traditional sales techniques are still as relevant as ever, and that employees must “get their eyes off the screen enough to make and nurture a personal connection with the shopper.”

Successful sales associates today must finesse the art of taking out their device at the crucial moment, never forgetting the value of eye contact, attention to body language, or the power of a winning smile. 

When done right, these invaluable skills have a proven impact on the bottom line. The positive opinion of an employee is one element of social proof, which is a powerful motivator for customers to make certain decisions. It reduces what behavioral psychologists call “post-purchase dissonance,” when shoppers may regret the impulse to buy an item, and might subsequently return it. 

The next generation of technology will go even further. Artificial intelligence can help narrow the overwhelming range of choices in-store, prompting customers and sales associates with recommendations.

“When talking about the traditional skill set of a salesperson, one of the tricks is to provide the right consideration set, whether technologically or non-technologically,” said Spange /content/www/de/de/retail/point-of-sale/overview.html nberg.

“AI can actually do some of this processing for us, and I think it could be the next generation of retail advancement. It's almost like online dating profiles—we’re getting really good at making matches and finding people that like each other and ultimately love each other. With that same kind of input, we could do that with people and products.”

Intel and Lenovo are supplying the compute capabilities that power the next generation of retail technology, from mobile point of sale systems to real-time analytics that track in-store sensors. Click here to see how Intel is building the stores of the future.