frontline retail staff social selling

Businesses wake up to the fact their employees are their most powerful asset

As Covid-19 restrictions lift in the UK, how should retailers respond to the resulting shift in habits and behaviours, as the trend for online, social, mobile and local shopping intensifies?

Fenwick boss John Edgar says the answer lies in your employees. In Retail Week’s Customer Champions report, Edgar says of the pandemic: ‘It has proved your biggest asset is your people. If you can’t get the people behind you, you cannot respond to a crisis because you cannot do it all yourself.’

Thierry Garnier of Kingfisher agrees: ‘Our colleagues are the driving force of our business.’

Frontline staff in the spotlight

The role of frontline staff has been thrown in the spotlight since the pandemic began. Their work became an act of heroism in the darkest days of 2020. People going to work to keep the nation’s essential services moving elevated the importance of employees in keeping businesses afloat, and the nation on its feet.

This renewed focus on the importance of staff is here to stay. As people spend more time at home, appreciating the connection and safety that shopping locally brings, we’re seeing businesses move to equip their frontline staff to create a ‘team of empowered customer champions at your business frontline’ – Retail Week.

‘Creating a connection between the team in store and the community has been vital in us creating a great customer experience during the pandemic. It all began with asking honest questions.’ Qamar Nawaz, Co-op Food Store Manager, Lees, Oldham.

New roles emerging for frontline staff

Customers are using stores as a way to experience products, to get inspiration and visualise how things go together. New roles include greeters at the door, seen at all major retailers, alongside others such as Morrison’s supermarket who cut 3000 managerial roles to invest in more frontline support.

But it’s online where we’re seeing the biggest shift in the role frontline staff plays.

Pandemic powered social shopping

The pandemic powered a 43% rise in so-called ‘social shopping’ – buying from recommendations on networks like Instagram – according to Mastercard. It’s a trend that shows no sign of abating. For Gen Z, the fast path to purchase and sense of community that social media delivers are key driving forces. And it’s not just the younger generation. In the over 55s, there’s been a 42% increase in social shopping in the last year.

From the safety of home and their mobile phone, customers are reaching out to brands for inspiration, advice, trends, latest offers and ease of purchase. A significant 92% of people who shop socially say they’ve bought something through Instagram.

While paid ads and influencers drive a massive amount of reach, retailers are turning to their frontline staff to provide a new type of customer experience on social media.

Businesses of all sizes benefitting

John Lewis & Partners, exemplary in their delivery of customer service, were early adopters of employee advocacy back in 2017. But since the pandemic began, they have levelled up their #WeArePartners programme and put more  emphasis on the role of their personal stylists in Fashion and Home & Garden to reach out and connect with customers via social media, offering 1-2-1 video calls to support people in their selection of products, answering questions, pointing out key trends and driving them through to point of sale.

The Post Office has equipped Postmasters to engage directly with customers sharing local and regional content on social media, providing vital information like opening hours, what’s in store and what’s happening in the local community.

It’s not just the big brands who stand to win this time. According to Mastercard, ‘supporting small business is also a key driver for this growing trend, with 35 per cent of Brits purchasing from newly discovered independent brands and businesses when shopping through social media in 2020.’

Personalised, localised content powered by frontline staff

Personalised, localised, focused on brand values with a concern for local communities, these are all hallmarks of the new marketing we’re seeing emerge from the debris of last year’s chaos.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to turn your employees into influencers at work, we’re launching a new course in September.

Combining the best principles of influencer marketing and content marketing, we show you how to  activate your employees as trained experts on social media. Your employees will be able to interact with customers, share products, services, reviews, tap into local conversations and promote national brand campaigns.

Contact us to register interest and find out more.

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