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Shoppers Prefer Smartphones To Store Employees

A new Accenture study finds shoppers prefer to interact with their smart phones rather than with retail employees.

According to Accenture, 73% of shoppers who have questions are reaching first for their smartphones, compared with 15% of shoppers who would rather speak with a store employee.

Also, 71% of shoppers prefer their smartphones for locating local stores with items in stock, compared with 17% of shoppers would rather get the information by speaking with an employee. Ouch.

In some ways, the "I'm just browsing, but thanks" trend makes a lot of sense. Dealing with retail employees can be hit or miss, even on a good day. Some retail employees are very friendly and helpful but many others are...not. So it isn't surprising that consumers are reaching for their smartphones instead of seeking help from the nearest retail sales clerk. Here's what an Accenture spokeswoman had to say:

“Smartphones will permanently change the relationship between the store and the shopper,” says Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s retail practice. “Today’s tech-savvy consumer wants a seamless shopping experience across store, mobile or online at a time that suits them. Ultimately, this trend will lead to a new definition of the store; purpose, place and size are all up for debate. Already we are seeing some shoppers treating stores more like a showroom to test products and then making their purchase online.

Wow. Retail employees are starting to turn into Vanna White-like props who smile but have less to do, thanks to modern technology. Vanna White is a great analogy for this whole trend. Back in the old days, she turned each letter by hand, a task that required physical effort. She was a necessary element for pulling off the show every day. But now? Vanna simply touches the letters as she walks by and they light up on their own. She doesn't really need to be there for that to happen. Time and technological advances have essentially rendered Vanna White useless from a functional perspective (Sorry, Vanna). These days, her job is simply to add some visual interest to the show ("her dress today is soooo pretty!") and to cheer on the contestants when they would like to buy a vowel. Vanna White does her job -- what remains of it, anyway -- very well.

Amid the smartphone trend, could retail employees be destined for life as Vanna White-like props standing silently on the sales floor as shoppers decide whether or not to buy a dowel? (Oh give me break, it rhymed!)

Also, how will retail stores adjust their sales commission policies to reflect a changing retail landscape where consumers prefer not to interact with retail employees? If store employees are expected to meet a sales quota but customers don't want to buy from them, how can they make enough sales? Will stores weed out the under-performers, or find innovative ways to allow in-store employees to earn commissions online ("Been to one of our stores lately? Please help us reward our terrific in-store employees by letting us know who was most helpful to you in researching this purchase")?

Who knows what the future holds, but one thing is certain: Increasingly, retail employees are standing around watching silently as customers consult their smartphones and decide what to buy online when they get home.

Here's the Accenture press release for your reading pleasure.

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