As shopping moves online, brands are finding new ways to put store associates to work.

After launching in 2015, made-to-measure ballerina flats company Margaux found, as many direct-to-consumer brands eventually do, that pushing into physical retail and pop-up spaces was a necessary step forward for growth. While the brand boasted a 1,000-person wait list after quickly selling out of a cult favorite shoe, “The Heel,” it was still struggling to master the world of retail after opening its first store in New York City in July 2018. Prior, it had hosted a series of pop-ups beginning in 2016. It now has two New York stores and one pop-up featuring its bridal atelier line in South Carolina.

One of the biggest challenges the brand faced after opening stores was attributing the impact of sales associates on online sales. Margaux declined to share revenue numbers at this time but said the company is in early stages of collecting venture funding.

“If you can attribute customers and specific purchases to stores beyond those placed within its four walls, it provides a much more sophisticated lens into the impact a pop-up has had on a new city or the true efficiency of a store. This then dictates how much you can or should invest in an offline experience, and what the true value is to the business,” said Alexa Buckley, co-founder at Margaux.

To help with attribution, Margaux partnered with B2B app Endear for all three of its current locations. Sales associates can connect with customers when they aren’t physically in the store by accessing the app on their personal smartphones, on in-store computers tablets, or through Shopify’s POS system.

Other brands and vendors are finding ways to use in-store sales associates to drive online sales. Harvey Nichols partnered with technology company Hero to help store employees act as customer service representatives and drive beauty sales, while Neiman Marcus linked up with mobile platform Salesfloor to help employees create shoppable Instagram posts.

“Most stores right now sit idle for more than 40% of their operating hours and have no way to make sales during that time. Store associates can get a full picture of a customer’s engagement with the brand across all locations and the web, which is particularly critical for digitally native brands,” said Leigh Sevin, co-founder of Endear. Essentially, when traffic is slow in some of these newer stores, employees are encouraged to use the app to communicate with local customers, build relationships and drive shoppers to the store.

The app gives sales associates access to customer profiles — those created online and in-store — with access to information including spending habits, personal taste, total spend, products purchased and more. The associate then uses that information to create customer segments, generated by the app, around those categories — for example, everyone who purchased the brand’s sandal in black in the last two months. Then they can use the app’s centralized messaging service to email or text a personalized note from the associate to those clients, one-on-one or in a mass format, sharing new styles or encouraging customers to come into the store and make a purchase. 

Those messages have, on average, a 54% response rate, as opposed to the average 20% open rate retail partners saw prior to partnering with Endear, according to the company. It’s also led the average customer to make a purchase within seven days of being contacted for Margaux specifically.

“This allows us to capitalize on the customers who would otherwise go untracked — those who are interested in the brand and the product, but not quite ready to make a purchase on the spot,” said Buckley. The brand uses Endear’s CRM system to store all notes, conversations and insights about its customers. If a customer came in and decided not to buy an item, the associate could make a note and follow up at a later date. Store associates can also reach out to those customers via email or text, show them lookbooks with similar products or recommend other styles and colors they might like.

Since working with Endear, beginning this January, Margaux sales driven by store employees have increased 40% month over month, on average, according to Buckley. The brand also reported seeing lower return rates from customers acquired in the store and a higher average order value. Across the board, Endear said it has helped clients including Margaux (as well as other digitally native brands including MM.LaFleur, Jarbo and Nova Octo) increase in-store sales by an average of 18% and increase the frequency of purchase of existing customers by 77%.