How Retail Managers Can Bring Out the Best in Evolving Times

Group of retail managers

Access My FREE 5-Part Retail Sales Training Email Course!

Since the pandemic, retail manager and associate roles have significantly evolved. Gone are the days when favorable weather or well-stocked shelves guaranteed success.

Today's retail consumer demands a proactive approach to leadership and a keen understanding of customer engagement. Here are some of the challenges retail managers and associates face and strategies to overcome them, ensuring your retail success even in slower times.

Understanding the Shift in Retail Dynamics

  • Changing Consumer Expectations: Consumers today are more informed and have higher expectations for speed and selection. The ease of online shopping has raised the bar for in-store experiences. Why should shoppers leave the cocoon of their home offices, battle traffic, and face possibly uncaring associates? Because they are open to discovering what they want and something more.

  • The Importance of Soft Skills: Effective communication and empathy are crucial for engaging customers. Associates' soft skills play a pivotal role in creating memorable shopping experiences. However, social anxiety is real for younger associates and can impede their presentation.

  • Recognizing Subtle Cues: In a world where verbal communication is often minimal, the ability to read non-verbal cues and understand unspoken customer needs is vital. However, few will come to a retail job thinking this is important unless you train them and show them why it matters. The Wall Street Journal recently ran this story: We Now Need College Courses to Teach Young Adults How to Make Small Talk. It said that professors are teaching elementary chitchat skills to students who are woefully behind in the basics of human interaction. 

These changes aren't necessarily new, but they do illustrate that no one - from retail associates to shoppers - wants to feel like a cog in a wheel. Retail managers must focus on developing associates as the individuals they are to get the most out of their stores.

The Role of Retail Managers in Navigating Change

  • Leadership Beyond Management: Retail managers must transition from traditional task managers to being inspirational leaders. This involves coaching associates to develop their soft skills and adapt to changing retail trends. Moving merchandise must be refocused from sorting and shipping to selling and adding on.

  • Fostering a Learning Environment: Retail managers must encourage continuous learning and development. This can be through regular training sessions focusing on customer engagement, product knowledge, and adaptability. A learning mind is an engaged mind. It could include formal 3-5 minute online courses, role-playing, or even a two-minute lesson about store upkeep. The point is to engage, not ignore staff.

  • Creating a Culture of Empathy: Retail managers must cultivate an environment where associates understand and anticipate customer needs. This involves training them to be observant, patient, and responsive. Ask if they remember when they entered a store and felt out of place, overwhelmed by choices, or confused by signage. Help them see how someone might feel when first entering your store—especially if it is a higher-price-point store like photography, furniture, or electronics. 

While managers might understand these concepts, what tools do they need to help associates grow? 

Strategies to Enhance Customer Engagement

  • Developing Effective Communication Skills: Train associates in conversation, teaching them to listen actively and respond thoughtfully. Often, we only teach our crew to ask questions, but we have to start by teaching listening and the ability to restate what was heard. 

  • Building Emotional Intelligence: Encourage associates to develop empathy, allowing them to connect with customers personally. We don't always have exactly what someone needs or can give them what they most desire. Understanding and sharing a customer's feelings will help your associates work through uncomfortableness on the way to a solution - even if it isn't perfect.

  • Adapting to Individual Customer Needs: Teach associates to tailor their approach based on the customer’s demeanor and responses. This is particularly needed the more expensive the average sale in your store. No one wants to be treated as if they are on an assembly line. 

Once those basics are covered, you'll want to see how technology can facilitate removing friction from the shopping experience. That takes data and ways to access it in real time.

Leveraging Technology to Complement Human Interaction

  • Integrating Digital Tools: Use technology to enhance the customer experience through personalized recommendations or streamlined checkout processes. If you can see a customer's virtual closet or accessories, you are much more likely to make recommendations that they say yes to. 

  • Data-Driven Insights: Utilize customer data to understand preferences and trends, enabling associates to make informed suggestions and provide a customized shopping experience. As AI comes into more software and POS systems, it will be essential to know how to get the right data, not just be happy you were up 2% over last year.

Even with the right tools and training, providing excellent customer service can be challenging. Don't give into the next doom scroll on your smartphone!

Overcoming Challenges in Tough Times

  • Proactive Problem-Solving: Equip your team with the skills to anticipate and address potential issues before they escalate. Let them use their brains before you instinctively try to fix a problem for them. 

  • Emphasizing the Value of In-Store Experience: In tough times, the unique value of in-store shopping – personal interaction, immediate gratification, and sensory experience – becomes even more crucial. You may not see as many people coming through the doors, but those who do are more open to suggestions.

  • Staying Agile and Adaptable: Encourage a mindset of flexibility and adaptability among your team to swiftly respond to changing market conditions and customer preferences. Things change in retail all the time: seasons, trends, processes. Let go of reacting or bemoaning change to welcoming it and seeing the bright side. 

In Sum

Retail managers' and associates' roles are more critical than ever. By focusing on leadership, customer engagement, and technology, retail managers can create an environment where associates are empowered and customers feel valued. Then, every interaction is an opportunity to build lasting relationships.

Key Takeaways for Retail Managers:

  • Lead with Empathy and Inspiration: Transition from managing to leading, focusing on developing your team’s soft skills and emotional intelligence.

  • Foster Continuous Learning: Regular training and development sessions are essential to keep up with the evolving retail landscape.

  • Leverage Technology Wisely: Use digital tools to enhance, not replace, the human element of retail.

  • Adapt to Changing Consumer Behaviors: Stay agile and responsive to shifts in consumer preferences and market trends.

  • Focus on the In-Store Experience: Differentiate your store by offering a unique, personalized shopping experience that can’t be replicated online.

Retail managers and associates who embrace these changes and continuously evolve are the ones who will lead their stores to greater heights, regardless of external challenges.

To upgrade your crew's skills, click below to check out SalesRX, my online retail sales training program.


Learn More About SalesRX