15 Dec What will the store associate of 2017 look like?
There was a sharp intake of breath earlier this year when the British Retail Consortium (BRC) announced predictions that 900,000 retail jobs could disappear by 2025. However, if you look behind the headline, this it is not (just) a story of decline, but one of empowerment.
The BRC’s mantra is that there will be ‘fewer but better’ jobs in the future of retail, as people and technology come together to offer more sophisticated and better connected services. Those on the front line – the store associate – will be among the most dramatically impacted, and the role that they play in bringing human warmth and product knowledge to retail interactions will become even more important.
How will the store associate’s role change in 2017?
Before we get carried away thinking about what the store associate will look like in nearly 10 years’ time, I think it’s important to focus on change and development in the more immediate term.
While we’ve been talking about empowering customer-facing staff with technology for many years, it’s only relatively recently that one might walk into a store and be served by a staff member using a tablet or smartphone.
It feels as if we’re nearing the tipping point towards technology enablement becoming the norm, and certainly over the next 12 months we will see further evidence of retailers equipping store employees with access to online and operational data, in order to serve shoppers better.
At the same time, those that are already blending digital and physical in the store will become more sophisticated in their use of tech, and their lessons will be heeded by later adopters, to speed up the pace of successful change.
With the right information at their fingertips, there are three key areas in which the store associate’s role will develop:
- Speed of response
One of the greatest challenges that bricks-and-mortar faces as a channel is keeping up with the pace and agility of eCommerce. Promotions are a great example of this; what takes a few seconds to push a button online can take days to roll out in-store, and, even then, there can be discrepancies in the presentation of that promotion from store to store.
If retailers can empower their store associates with mobile technology to not only receive briefing instructions regarding new promotions, but give them the ability to ask questions, take photographs of point of sale material, and confirm when the roll out is complete, that will result in a dramatic reduction in the delay between launching campaigns online and offline.
Imagery is absolutely critical here; being able to capture views of the store 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 a site visit form an area manager to verify that everything has been done correctly.
Another benefit of moving away from manual processes towards technology is the positive impact on workforce productivity. Besides the obvious benefit of not having to ‘go out back’ to access store communication, putting mobile tech into store associates’ hands in 2017 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. Task management can take place online, with head office or regional managers able to assign tasks to stores in a manner that customer-facing staff can receive and act on during their shift.
Store associates, in turn, can then confirm when tasks have been actioned in real-time, removing the need to be hassled for confirmation that a task has been completed. And if there is a visual element built-in, employees can provide photographic evidence for feedback or approval.
The store associate of 2017 will be better connected to what is happening in the wider business if they have mobile access to a retail operations platform to enable direct, real-time communication between themselves, the field team and head office.
This is important on more than a productivity level. For large organisations in particular, store staff can often feel removed from what is happening strategically 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 in turn will make them more effective at carrying the brand tone and proposition through into the service that bricks-and-mortar shoppers receive.
The 2017 store associate: empowered, connected, productive
The clean slate of 2017 will give many retailers the opportunity to reassess the role that the store associate plays, and the resources they need to do their job as effectively is possible.
The good news is that the platform is there to make 2017 the year in which customer-facing staff become even more empowered, connected and productive than they are right now. And 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.