A new study shows retailers are not doing enough in the current economic downturn to maximise the number of in-store purchases made by customers.

This is according to the latest benchmarking data compiled by The Realise Group from almost 40,000 mystery shops conducted in the 2008 to 2009 financial year.

Results from similar benchmarking exercises conducted in 2006 and 2007 revealed that there were significant improvements overall from 06 and 07, but that many standards have slipped since 07.

Sales assistants’ selling skills are in trouble, with only 48% of sales assistants attempting to add-on or upsell a purchase, a 4% decline from 2007. Only 56% of sales assistants attempted to close the sale, an 8% decline from 2007.

The basic customer service standard of approaching customers to offer assistance rose by 15 percentage points from 2006 to 2007, but then experienced a large decline in the 2008 to 2009 financial year, falling 11 percentage points from 85% to 74%.

“The results were a surprise, as our expectation was that the recession would have created an imperative to deliver on these critical standards to encourage sales,” said The Realise Group’s managing director Katie Miles.

“In these competitive times, sales staff need to be more than just a smiling face. They need to be equipped with the skills to turn browsers into buying customers and encourage shoppers to purchase more than they intended to.”

Less than 50% of staff assessed in all three sectors (Apparel, General and Food) of the study attempted to upsell or add-on.

Staff in Food sectors led in making customer service top priority with an average result of 90%, compared with 84% in General retailers and only 68% in Apparel retailers.

In Apparel 85% of sales assistants asked questions to determine mystery shoppers’ needs, followed closely by General retailers with 84%. In both Apparel and General 94% of retailers made appropriate product recommendations.

In the Food sector, 91% of mystery shoppers said that the food met their expectations and that their orders were prepared in a timely manner with 96% of payments were handled in an efficient manner.

Across all three categories, 46% of mystery shoppers rated their overall experience as ‘good’ and 34% rated them ‘excellent’. Overall, 87% of mystery shoppers said that they would return to the store based on their experience, unchanged from 2007.