My first retail job was as a commissioned salesperson in a suburban Denver consumer electronics specialty store. During this time, my colleagues and I were taught about “solution selling” and the technical capabilities of the latest projection TVs, HiFi VCRs, audio rack systems and other “new” technologies like CD players. (Yes, this was a long time ago.)
Solution selling was intended to provide our customers with the needed add-on accessories and services that assured them of the full enjoyment of their new home entertainment products while at the same time providing us as a retailer with additional sales and profit opportunities from profitable add-on items that bolstered our bottom line.
To those in retailing today, the scenario I just described might sound like something from a bygone era that went the way of tube socks, big hair and Duran Duran. To be sure, commissioned retail salespeople trained to discover a shopper’s interests and pair them up with products that meet their needs are rare in retailing today, save for the occasional high-end department store. However, many in our industry don’t realize that the technology needed to replicate solution selling resides within today’s e-commerce shopping experiences — if they knew where to look.
Dynamic personalization technology, which most online shoppers recognize as the driver of “People who bought this item also bought these items” messaging on an e-commerce website or mobile app, has been around for some time. Personalization was developed to provide online shoppers with an alternative or add-on purchase. It offers consumers more relevant product recommendations based on the shoppers browsing and purchasing behavior. It also offers greater sales, average order size and profitability for the online retailer.
Problem solved, right?
Personalization uses technology to provide shoppers a “solution” to their needs and interests, just like commissioned salespeople did at retail stores during the Reagan Administration.
Well, not exactly.
You see, dynamic personalization is a remarkable technology that still needs to be fully optimized. My friends in software development use the term “use case” to describe a specific situation that could potentially be resolved with software. However, even the best websites still don’t fully connect a shopper’s unmet need (their personal “use case”) to a collection of products that solve that need.
- “My doctor says I need to only eat low-carb foods to lose weight.”
- “My friends are coming over to watch the big game, and I need an easy-to-prepare meal for them.”
- “I need a new business outfit for a big upcoming presentation.”
- “I need to set up a home office in my den, as my new job lets me work from home.”
Try entering these sentences into the search bar on most websites, and it’s unlikely you will get back a grouping of items that provides a solution to your unmet needs.
In short, solution selling is possible with modern retail technology. Still, it is rarely used to recommend more than a single item and is usually not a true “solution” to a shopper’s urgent needs. Online recipes that contain links to drop every ingredient into your digital shopping cart are still far too rare. Some online apparel retailers offer complete outfits rather than individual items — great.
A complete home office solution for remote workers — still not as popular as this former commissioned salesperson would like. So, solution selling in modern retail does exist, just not as readily as some of us who used to wear tube socks might like.
Scott Benedict lives in Northwest Arkansas and is an affiliate partner at McMillanDoolittle, a Chicago-based retail consulting firm. The opinions expressed are those of the author.