For many companies, the Covid crisis and its associated restrictions have created a need for better, more effective online stores. In addition, personnel in offline stores have had to deal with a delicate, stressful work environment in which to welcome customers. To better deal with this situation, we explore new research that highlights the impact of staff friendliness and competence.
Jani Merikivi is an associate professor in the department of Management and Technology at Grenoble Ecole de Management. In collaboration with colleagues Tibert Verhagen and Willemijn van Dolen from Amsterdam, his recent research explores the influence of in-store personnel on online store experience.
The influence of friendliness and competence
"Our research examined two attributes of in-store personnel: friendliness and competence. We then analyzed how customer perceptions of these attributes influenced their online store experience. Our findings further confirm that there is a synergy between in-store and online experiences," explains Jani.
The three researchers surveyed customers of a bookstore and a bike store. Survey results indicated that friendliness, in particular, had an impact for both stores. When offline store personnel were perceived as friendly, this positively influenced the customer's enjoyment and value of the online store. In the case of competence, the researchers found a significant result for the book store but not the bike store.
"One explanation for this could be that books are experience products and competent personnel can help customers better understand their likes and dislikes before browsing the online store. Bikes come with objective information and customers can easily read technical details via the online store, potentially reducing the impact of competent personnel," explains Jani.
A synergy between online and offline experiences
One takeaway from these research results is that they confirm the synergy between physical stores and online stores. "Some people believe that online stores are substitutes for physical ones. But in fact, they are complementary. By focusing on training attributes such as friendliness and competence, managers can reinforce not only the in-store experience but also online store value," highlights Jani.
Given the current crisis, offering training and support for personnel is all the more important. By improving friendliness and competence, companies can ensure their physical stores offer a reassuring experience during these uncertain times. "At the same time, investing in supporting your personnel's development will also pay off in terms of online performance. It's a win-win investment given the growing importance of online stores in the current context," concludes Jani.