How to Improve Product Knowledge in Retail [2020 Guide]
Use These Tips to Keep Staff Informed on the Job
Having a knowledgeable staff with enhanced product knowledge in retail is essential to providing customers with the information they need to make an educated decision.
Ensuring an excellent customer experience translates into higher sales. When a customer enters your store, the ultimate goal is to have them make a satisfying and well-informed purchase.
But suppose similar products are available at similar prices in competitors’ locations. In that case, product knowledge could be the deciding factor that pushes consumers to buy something from your associates. And when staff provides enhanced product knowledge, it creates trust and brand loyalty, keeping customers coming back for future shopping needs.
In this handy guide, we’ll explain what product knowledge is, why it’s important to customer service, and how you can improve product knowledge at your retail business to boost sales at every location.
What is Product Knowledge in Retail?
Still wondering, “what does product knowledge mean?”
Product knowledge may sound self-explanatory, but there are plenty of factors that go into “knowing about a product.”
Employees need to understand a product, and effectively communicate its features and benefits to the customer. Of course, properly explaining a product includes physical descriptions like the color, model, and version, but also the functions, features, pricing, operational instructions, warranties, and support options available for any given item.
Think of product knowledge as a skill to be learned and constantly improved upon rather than an abstract concept. Train your associates to really understand the products that they are selling, so that when a customer asks a question about a particular item, employees can answer them accurately and confidently. Customers never want the answer to be: “I don’t know.”
Why Is Product Knowledge Important to Customer Service?
An associate’s goal is to provide a positive shopping experience and make a sale, so they have to understand a customer’s needs.
As such, product knowledge in customer service is important because employees shouldn’t just describe products, especially when basic information is easily accessible by looking at an item or reading its packaging. Instead, they should be explaining the benefits of a product.
If a customer needs something and your associate cannot confidently explain how a product will fit their needs, they’ll likely walk away from the purchase. Having a thorough understanding of the product and listening to the customer needs allows the associate to extrapolate the relevant information about the product and apply it to each customer’s unique situation.
Here’s an Example…
A customer comes into a footwear store and explains that they are training for a high-intensity, multi-terrain race. Understanding the customer’s needs and the store’s products, the associate immediately knows to rule out any dress shoes, sandals, or even basic running shoes. They should also know that factors such as durability, support, and waterproofing are likely more important to the shopper than the color of the shoe or any other aesthetic choices.
When providing options to the customer, the associate focuses on how certain products and features will improve their race performance. Not only does this show the customer that they’ve been listened to, but it allows them to see how the products offered will benefit them, all while demonstrating that the employee is knowledgeable about what they’re selling.
Knowledge Is Power
71% of shoppers (83% of shoppers aged 18-44) use their mobile devices in-store to research products, prices, and reviews. Yet more than 50% of shoppers still seek expert advice from salespeople in physical stores, so in-store associates need to be able to provide additional information and context about the product to close the sale.
It can be difficult, since many studies have shown that consumers often believe they are more knowledgeable than store employees.
Luckily, you can make a number of simple changes to improve product knowledge amongst your employees in-store.
How to Improve Product Knowledge in Retail
Equip Staff with Mobile Devices
We know customers are using their phones in-store to look up information—level the playing field by equipping your associates with mobile devices of their own.
Whether you implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy or provide work-only tablets, mobile devices allow employees to bring a wealth of information with them wherever they are on the store floor.
With the right software, mobile devices can provide associates with a wealth of information (via the company website or internal documents), including additional specifications that aren’t available on the packaging or signage. Mobile devices also let employees remain up-to-date on any company memos about new products and special promotions involving particular products.
By using software like Foko Retail, managers can keep track of which staff members have or have not yet viewed messages, and all employees can easily share documents and images with their team. The survey functionality can even be used to quiz employees about particular products or promotions.
Have Associates Try Out Products
Retail employees can’t share their first-hand experience with products if they haven’t tried them out. So let staff take products out for a test run when new items arrive in-store to boost their product knowledge.
Due to COVID-19, customer sampling may be gone for the foreseeable future. But for items that would previously have been on the floor for testing (e.g., headphones at a tech store, snack foods at a grocery store, hand lotion at a beauty store, etc.), give staff a chance to try them out behind closed doors.
Tangible senses like sound, taste, and feel are difficult to convey and may not be the same for everyone. But at least if an associate can give an honest depiction of their own experience with a product, shoppers can consider their advice.
An associate who is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a product will have the best chance of persuading a customer to buy it.
Invite Vendors to Demonstrate New Products
Vendors whose products are available at your store have a vested interest in driving sales. That means many of them are willing to provide demonstrations to your staff and customers.
Brands might send a rep to tell your staff about their products during a training session, passing along their knowledge to employees.
Maybe a designer who has paired up with a fashion retailer sends out a video message to managers and associates, explaining their latest collection and the materials used, proper ways to care for the garments, and styling tips.
In grocery stores, brands might send a rep to speak directly with customers, like a new meat alternative brand setting up and running a “burger” sampling stand.
Your staff can learn from them as well, so they can share the same information with customers once the brand rep moves on to a different store. Some brands might also opt to send physical promotional materials to stores and let associates relay additional information to customers.
All of these methods effectively transfer product knowledge to employees, who can then pass that knowledge along to customers.
Use Product Knowledge to Stir Up Some Friendly Competition
To kick your associates’ product knowledge into high gear, make the learning process a bit more fun.
You can pick a “product of the week” for staff to know about and approach everyone individually to hear their sales pitch for it. At the end of the week, reward the employee who demonstrated the most thorough product knowledge and provided the best solution to your hypothetical customer’s needs.
Or, simply let the sales do the competing and reward the associate who sells the most of that “product of the week.” (Of course, praise and rewards can also be given for particularly great customer service and reaching overall sales targets.)
Just because you’re working as a team, it doesn’t mean there can’t be some friendly competition. Just remember that in the end, the real winner is always a happy customer.
With these tips and tricks in mind, you’ll be able to improve your team’s product knowledge and drive in-store sales as a result.