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Shoppers demand the human touch

Shoppers want more face time with staff who can offer a combination of social and functional skills alongside product expertise, the latest report from RetailEXPO (London Olympia April 29-30 2020) has revealed at a time when record numbers of customer-facing UK retail jobs have been axed.

Original research of 2,000 UK consumers in the show’s 2020 Vision report revealed that over 64% of UK consumers say highly skilled store staff that deliver better service and in-depth product information make them more likely to visit a retail store. And 75% of consumers say good customer service encourages them to spend more.

The fallout from negative staff interactions can be devastating for businesses with 64% of UK consumers saying bad customer experience would stop them from shopping with those retailers again. “With figures from the Centre for Retail Research showing more than 78,000 retail jobs were lost in the UK in 2019 as retailers try to cut costs, it is increasingly clear retailers need to use technology to liberate customer-facing staff,” says the report.

By enlisting technology to seamlessly execute tasks such as wayfinding, payment and sharing product information, retailers can free up employees to add real social value during in-store interactions. This adoption of tech should be mirrored back-of-house to digitise, automate and increase accuracy for time-intensive repeatable tasks such as merchandising, promotions and pricing.

And with 64% of shoppers saying they would shop elsewhere if a retailer didn’t provide an engaging shopping environment, RetailEXPO says this highlights the importance of providing enhanced customer experiences in-store to drive sales and improve performance.

Easing in-store friction by providing functional guidance such as showing shoppers where to find products (51%) and taking payments at the till (42%) was key for UK customers when it came to the value store staff add to the shopping experience. However, the social aspect of shopping is also crucial with 42% of shoppers prioritising genuinely friendly interactions with staff who were happy to engage in conversation rather than just focusing on making a sale. Two thirds (60%) say they want staff to show genuine passion for the products or services the retailer offers and use their expertise to make recommendations.

As some retailers introduce robots for some shelf-edge and customer service tasks, the indication is technology isn’t taking over yet, rather that customers want a blend of human interaction enhanced by technology. Half of shoppers want store staff to have access to additional information online via mobile or wearable tech, with staff lacking access to digital catalogues cited as a major irritation by 20% of younger shoppers (18-24).

Matt Bradley, Chairman at the RetailEXPO Advisory Board, says: “At a time when shoppers can buy almost anything online, the service offered by in-store staff is a key differentiator driving customer loyalty and increasing average order value.

“It’s clear that retail businesses who optimise their workforce by using technology to allow them to spend more time on the store floor with customers will enhance customer experience and therefore customer lifetime value. In 2020, delivering customer experiences that are deeply personal and distinctly human is more important than ever.”

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