Westlake Village, Calif. - Associates at big-box chains are less aggressive on the majap sales floor than their counterparts within the independent channel or in other categories like automobiles, a new mystery shopper study by J.D. Power and Associates suggests.
The inaugural 2009 Appliance Retail Insights report, based on 600 unannounced visits to Best Buy, hhgregg, Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears stores from July through September, indicates that most sales associates fail to collect customer contact information, initiate a written proposal or even attempt to close a sale.
Of the five chains, associates at Sears were best at collecting contact info, with attempts made about a third of the time. But according to J.D. Power VP Chris Denove, only about 5 percent of associates at the remaining retailers made any attempt to collect customer information.
Initiating a written proposal - a strength at smaller dealers, Denove noted - was attempted during only one-third of the store visits, while nearly one-half of associates overall failed to ask for a sale or attempt a trial close. The one exception: hhgregg, where associates asked for the sale at least once, and then tried to overcome the objections of customers who said they wanted to continue shopping. In this regard, hhgregg's metric was closer to that of car dealers, which are "much more focused on making the sale," Denove observed.
In addition, majap sales associates cited their stores' price protection policies only about half the time. That figure dropped to 25 percent for Sears, although two-thirds of Sears' staffers played up current sales or promotions. By comparison, more than two-thirds of Home Depot's associates mentioned sales specials, but less than half did so at Lowe's.
Home Depot associates also made use of in-store computers about one-third of the time, as did Best Buy sales staff, although that metric dropped to 5 percent at Sears.
One area where all majap sales associates excelled was in articulating brand differences, such as the quietness of Bosch products (cited by more than two-thirds of associates). LG and Samsung enjoyed high recommendation rates from sales associates, and the perception, along with Kenmore Elite and GE Profile, of producing quality products. In contrast, GE and Whirlpool were recommended less often, but enjoyed greater top-of-mind awareness and the perception, along with Maytag and Frigidaire, that they deliver "more bang for the buck," Denove said.
The study also showed that laundry features were the easiest to differentiate by brand while features for ranges were the hardest.
Denove said the study underscored the importance of retail training by vendors, and the need to provide associates with an "elevator speech" that conveys a clear, simple brand message and three key features of the products.
The Appliance Retail Insights Reports will be available quarterly through J.D. Power, and will also be made available to members of the North American Retail Dealers Association (NARDA).