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What will the future store associate look like?

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There was a sharp intake of breath earlier this year when the British Retail Consortium (BRC) predicted that 900,000 retail jobs could disappear by 2025. However, if you look more closely, you’ll see this it is not just a story of decline, but one of empowerment.

The BRC believe that there will be ‘fewer but better’ jobs in the future, as people and technology come together to offer a more sophisticated service. Those on the front line, the Store Associates, will feel the greatest impact, and their personality and product knowledge will be more important to than ever.

How will the Store Associate’s role change?

Before we get carried away thinking about what the Store Associate will look like in 10 years’ time, we must focus on changes that will be made in the immediate future.

We’ve talked about empowering staff with technology for years, but it’s only recently that customers are met at the till by a tablet or smartphone.

Soon, technology in-store will be the norm. Over the next 12 months we will see more and more retailers equipping store employees with access to online and operational data, to improve in-store experience. At the same time, retailers that are already using technology in-store will invest in more sophisticated solutions.

The three key areas of Store Associate development:

  1. Speed of response

One of the greatest challenges for bricks-and-mortar is keeping up with the efficiency and agility of eCommerce. Promotions are a great example of this. Online, a promotion can be rolled out at the click of a button, but it could take days to roll out in-store. And even then, there can be discrepancies in the presentation of that promotion from store to store.

Retailers need to empower Store Associates with mobile technology that can set briefs for new campaigns, allow them to communicate with Head Office, take pictures of window displays and confirm task completion. This will drastically reduce delays between launching campaigns online and in-store.

Imagery is absolutely critical here. Being able to capture displays and feed those back to regional managers and head office will mean that any mistakes or inconsistencies can be spotted and rectified immediately, rather than waiting for an Area Manager visit, to verify that everything has been done correctly.

  1. Productivity

Technology has the power to increase workforce productivity. Besides the obvious benefit of not having to ‘go out back’ to access store communication, providing store associates with mobile technology will mean that they can manage their entire shift from the shop floor.

Operationally, this creates a much stronger connection between what happens at the front and back ends of the business. Head office or Regional Managers can assign tasks to Store Associates and they can action them during the same shift.

Store associates can then confirm when tasks have been completed in real-time, creating a more efficient process. And if there is a visual element built-in, employees can provide photographic evidence for feedback or approval.

  1. Communication

The store associate of the future will be better connected to the wider business. They will have mobile access to a retail operations platform to enable direct, real-time communication between themselves, the field team and head office.

For large organisations in particular, store staff can often feel removed from what is happening at the top level of a retail organisation. Nurturing closer communication links between head office and stores will enable front-line staff to feel part of the brand community, which will aid them in fulfilling the brand promise.

The store associate: empowered, connected, productive

In the coming years, retailers will have the opportunity to reassess the role of the store associate, and the resources they need to do their job as effectively as possible.

The good news is that there is a platform that exists to help Store Associates become empowered, connected and productive. This could mean cost savings for retailers, if they are able to reduce the number of staff needed without compromising the level of service offered.

However, achieving this will rest on senior decision makers finding the right technology to more closely integrate front-line personnel with what is happening at the top level of their business. That, and ensuring that the entire workforce – not just those on the shop floor – are committed to working more collaboratively as a united organisation.

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