As online sales rapidly increase, Amazon takes a bigger piece of the ecommerce pie, voice commerce and virtual reality appear imminent and subscription models are revitalized, why do sales associates need to be part of the shopping journey at all?

It’s a fair question to ask.

A cursory analysis leads one to believe that the human touch is increasingly unessential to selling consumer products. For a number of categories, this might be true. Sure, after you find a good soap, diaper or toothbrush you can just reorder it over and over again, and maybe even sign up for a subscription that Amazon facilitates. These commodity items are dog food for Amazon and the company will gorge itself as much as it can, removing as many humans from the selling process as possible. Just ask Alexa.

But for most other categories and price points beyond the commodity level, as the number of brands and products increase, a human-driven sales process is becoming more essential than ever. This is more than just “personalization”—an overused buzzword depleted of meaning. Rather, we’re witnessing the first major resurgence of human-first shopping in the digital age that is remaking—and revitalizing—the role of the sales associate.

There a number of prominent examples of this shift:

  • Stitch Fix’s entire business is predicated on people playing an integral role in making data useful for brands and shoppers alike. The data only takes the company so far—its stylists must translate it into actionable recommendations for customers. During the company’s IPO, Wall Street struggled to understand this message, which is not as cutting-edge as it seems at first glance—in other words, it has not invented a technology that makes humans entirely obsolete from retail. Regardless, Stitch Fix is taking a practical approach, and it seems to be working very well, bringing in over $1 billion in revenue with a team of over 3,000 stylists.

  • Glossier relies heavily on its influencers and brand ambassadors to market its products around the world. This is crucial to its image, product education and customer service—not to mention its sales. The company often seeds products to influencers as a testing ground before it goes into new markets at full speed, using an updated version of what some call multi-level marketing (MLM), which companies like Avon and the Girl Scouts use to sell their products. The difference with Glossier is that it controls the sales and fulfillment process itself—its ambassadors have  their own profiles on Glossier’s website. This allows the brand to maintain control over the influencer program, while still gaining many—if not more—benefits from person-to-person selling.

  • Dia & Co, which serves the plus-size market by sending its customers boxes of clothes to try on at home, leans heavily on its stylists to help customers find the right products. The plus-size market has been traditionally poorly served from both a product and retail perspective, which makes Dia’s people-centric approach crucial to its success. The company’s customers seek real dialogue and a platform where they can share feedback after being ignored for far too long. New growth markets such as plus-size often find a more personal approach essential, especially in their early days.

The companies above have realized that the quest to remove all friction from the buying process—which Amazon has done better than anyone else—creates an overabundance of choice. This is a problem that is arguably harder to overcome as it creates more noise in the market, making it more challenging to find the best products and brands. Ironically, the quest to remove humans from the shopping experience has made humans a more essential part of the shopping experience than ever before.