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Retail guru Michael Yacobian on converting a selling environment into a buying environment

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The retail consumer is evolving every day. High disposable income, high spending capacity, more exposure to foreign products and the ‘shop-anytime-you-want’ attitude has ensured that the customer stays the king – always. With time, the consumer preferences space has exploded. Constant connectivity, instant gratification and limitless resources have led to a massive change in shopping behavior.

Retail guru Michael Yacobian on converting a selling environment into a buying environment
For over 25 years, Yacobian has provided innovative and integrated performance solutions that drive productivity and customer satisfaction

Today’s Omni-shoppers are quick to shun the face-to-face interaction that had once been the very foundation of traditional shopping. They prefer Omnichannel purchase options with round-the-clock accessibility. They dislike the feeling of being ‘sold to’. On the other hand, they enjoy the feeling of ‘buying’ and more than that, they enjoy being ‘helped to buy’.

Retail guru, – CEO of – who has over 30 years of experience working with the finest retailers of the world, has grasped this concept extremely well and has over the year, developed solutions to convert ‘a selling environment into a buying environment’.

Buying Environment Behaviors is one such solution which is exclusive to Top-Line Solutions. It helps in shaping all physical and digital brand interactions with the customer to ‘buy’. Using Buying Environment Behaviors by stores usually results in more and larger transactions.

“I don’t believe that the customer has evolved. I think the customer is pretty much the same. They just have different capabilities. I think it’s the ways in which the customers can access the market and the product has changed dramatically. The difference today is that consumer is more empowered, more control of the shopping experience. Retailers need to adopt a transformational approach and content that is easy to understand, internalise and apply in all retail channels – brick-and-mortar, online and mobile. This is where we come in,” explains Yacobian, sharing details on how his company works in helping transform the way brands behave with the consumers completely in an exclusive interview. Edited excerpts:

Tell us about Yacobian Top-Line Solutions.

Yacobian Top-Line Solutions is a business that works within the retail industry, providing sales management training for associates all the way up through single levels of the organisation. Our focus is to allow a company to be able to create the brand that they believe they are. We design in-store and online experiences for customers. We also create methodologies which company employees can learn and apply to ensure that this experience is delivered to the consumer in full.

What was the idea behind launching Yacobian Top-Line Solutions?

The concept and idea of launching Yacobian Top-Line Solutions came from the history of years working in the retail industry. A lot of retailers don’t have great training facilities for employees. Higher ups in the organization – who have no real connect with front end executives – create policies which may not be very practical. As a result, a lot of employees fail to connect with the audience, leading to poor sales figures. This is where my company and I come in. We create content that effectively helps in-store employees connect with buyers.

Yacobian Top-Line Solutions started working mainly in the luxury apparel business. We have worked with retailers like Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Chanel and Gucci to name a few. We’ve also worked with large format stores like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom and I’m proud to say that we’ve had some great success with both large and small specialty organisations.

What do you mean by ‘converting traditional selling environment into buying environment’?

A selling environment is typically what retailers, trained associates have – they train executives to sell. But customers don’t like to be sold to. What they like to do is buy and when brands sell, there is a conflict between the customer’s intent and the seller’s intent. However, when the brands create a ‘buying environment’ then they are more in sync with the consumer and the consumer also feels it.

Tremendous amount of training, learning and application, meetings everyday, preparations everyday, knowing your consumers – these are the kind of things that buying environments promote and selling environments don’t.

Brands like Nordstrom and Apple have done extraordinarily well in this area because the consumer believes that when they enter these stores, they are going to receive better and quality interaction from associates.

Elaborate on the integrated performance solutions introduced by Yacobian Top-Line Solutions.

Along with the content and the training, which is more qualitative in terms of its measurement, we have created a unique technology that can measure consumer behaviour. This technology has helped in transforming brands because it helps them in ascertaining skills of retail associates and determining how much time they spend working productively.

Employee skills, product knowledge, and performance are particularly relevant to sales generated, and hence to cash flow. Periodic assessments are typically performed to monitor the progress and growth of the business and to identify areas of strength and flag potential weaknesses.

Such assessments typically take the form of sales data outlining generated revenue, for example, gross receipts or the net profit of a particular employee or store. A system for measuring and analyzing performance data including collecting data indicative of performance and analyzing the data to compute an aggregate synopsis of performance of an employee provides quantitative data for providing employee specific feedback and direction to the employee for improving performance.

The technology also guides the brand on allotting work – it can figure out effectively which team needs to work on which skills to deliver more effective customer engagement at certain times.

Can you share some case-studies highlighting how the solutions shared by Yacobian Top-Line Solutions transformed a brand completely?

In terms of brand evolution all the specialty businesses that we have worked for over the years have transformed on the basis of their product – product presentation, product availability were all important. The sales associates were basically in-store to fetch the product for consumers. Then along came the idea of sophisticated learning, application and weaving this learning into business models. If you walk into the same specialty brands today, you will find they are more dedicated to learning, development and application of their brand experience through their retail executives.

I was very excited about working for Staples, Inc. Staples is an American multinational office supply retailing corporation, which currently comprises over 1,500 stores in North America. Headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts, Staples does business extensively with enterprises in the United States and Canada. It sells office supplies, office machines, promotional products, technology, and business services both in stores and online.

The brand has 30,000 employees and we transformed them at an astronomical pace. We implemented a system called VIBE – Valuable Inspired Buying Environment – a technology-driven solution, which had all the same skills that are customised for the environment. In its 25-year history roundup, Staples stressed on the fact that VIBE was what drove its performance improvement.

In the end, it is all about the power of the experience through people delivery. This is an untapped resource for every retailer and I am confident that we are going to find more and more retailers investing in their people to deliver an extraordinary experience to the customer.