Online shopping is changing the way people shop, but not in the way most people might think. While it’s true that many are abandoning traditional shopping centers and out of town retail parks to simply shop online and avoid the hassle of in-person salesmanship, it’s also true that many stores are responding by adopting entirely new retail models.
Perhaps the most popular of these models is the one known as “Open Sell.” The Open Sell model dictates that consumers should generally be left along as they shop, with retail sales associates coming to their side only if they require assistance with a product or if they have questions about how something works. Of course, salespeople will also be required for the checkout process in many stores. Notably, however, at least one Open Sell establishment has even gone out of its way to eliminate the checkout counter.
Open Sell: What is it, and How Does It Work?
Open Sell is one of the hottest new retail trends, driven largely be the desire to replicate an online shopping experience in offline stores. The process involves removing sales associates from the vast majority of the purchasing process, if consumers wish them to simply be absent. A great example of this can be found at most Clinique counters. The store adopted an Open Sell retail philosophy in 2012, instructing its salespeople to stop aggressively talking to customers and reaching out as they pass the counter. Instead, those same salespeople now exist behind the scenes, ready to answer customer questions if they arise but not directly targeting customers for sales pitches.
Instead of an aggressive salesperson, an open counter greets today’s Clinique customers with Clinique products put out for testing and demonstration. They can try on the various products before buying, and select only those that look or feel the best. A salesperson can answer questions about colours, ingredients, materials, and they can assist the customer when they need to pay for the order. Otherwise, the counter is simply open and available to all, with fewer distractions that ever before.
Another retailer working within an Open Sell environment is Apple, which was perhaps the first company to boldly embrace the concept in multiple parts of its retail business. The company goes well beyond Clinique’s attempt to replicate a distraction-free online shopping experience in the offline marketplace. Its demonstration computers, phones, and tablets are available for consumer use during all regular business hours, and consumers can pick up their favourite accessories or devices largely on their own. They can even check out on their own using the Apple Store mobile app. Only large-ticket items, like iPads and laptops, require the assistance of a salesperson. Optionally, of course, customers can opt for One-to-One training and personal shopping, in-person Genius Bar services, or help with general sales questions.
An Alternative: Try it Before You Buy It
While Open Sell is catching fire in retail and spreading quickly, it’s not the only way that brands are trying to compete with the ultimate, distraction-free convenience of the online retail marketplace. In fact, another big play for customer dollars is in the “try before you buy” movement. This philosophy is demonstrated best, perhaps, by T-Mobile USA’s recent Test Drive program for its evolving network in the United States. After years of struggle and decline in customer numbers, the company has upgraded its network to 4G LTE and has added more than 1.5 million customers in just a year. To win more, T-Mobile is setting willing testers up with an iPhone 5S that runs on the company’s latest network technologies. For seven days, they can use the phone at work, at home, and everywhere in between, to see if they get enough reception to make the switch to T-Mobile.
This approach has been wildly popular: In just the short pre-registration period, the company was signing up roughly 6 customers per minute for its Test Drive program. If just half of T-Mobile’s testers ultimately decide to make the network their full-time operator, the company could stand to add up to 1.5 million more customers over the next two quarters at that rate. The reason this works so well with customers is probably obvious: For them, it takes the risk out of a big purchase decision and gives them a period of time to test the network as part of their daily routine. For T-Mobile, the trial allows them to eventually sign up only those customers who know the network will work for them. That reduces churn and customer acquisition costs, reduces customer retention costs, and creates a long-term profitable business.
In the Absence of Traditional Salespeople and Strategies, Displays Matter
While companies are focused on reducing the interaction of shoppers with a team of retail salespeople, they must forget not to completely remove helpful material and dialogue from the shopping experience. Indeed, in the absence of a traditional salesperson, companies should be prepared to focus more heavily on point-of-sale displays that communicate key points about a product’s merits and its best uses. These displays can answer common customer questions before they’re asked, drive home the company’s most common marketing slogans and strategies, and captivate customer attention even when a salesperson isn’t directly targeting them or speaking to them from the counter. Electronic displays allow for greater customer interaction, and can even serve as self-checkout opportunities that reduce overhead and increase the efficiency of purchasing.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this commitment to point-of-sale displays comes from Assigns. Assigns produces point-of-sale systems and displays that supplement printed materials, with interactive sales material that walks customers through common features, common questions, and even the checkout procedure. As a result, customers feel as though they’re buying online but trying in-person, giving them the flexibility and knowledge to make a far better, more educated purchase.
This approach has worked well for Clinique, it continues to work well for Apple, and it shows real promise for brands like T-Mobile. These displays, combined with innovative retail sales strategies like Open Sell and Try Before You Buy, are 21st century shopping methods that accommodate the desire for a product trial and the preference for online convenience during checkout.
Danny Chard is the Managing Director of Assigns Point-of-Sale and Graphic Display Systems in both standard and customised formats and sizes. Our range of Graphic Displays are designed to enable retailers to get their products and services noticed on all levels, whatever the retail environment.