Opinion by Patrick Viney

Fast-evolving digital technologies, including mobile devices, social networks, apps and other forms of e-commerce, have forever changed how consumers shop. It is not uncommon today to find a consumer in a store examining a product while using a smartphone or tablet to scan barcodes to compare prices, check product reviews online, or get advice from their social networks. Much of this new in-store digital activity has been driven by young adults, a generation known for its tech-savvy and inherently social behaviour.

Many leading retailers are rethinking how they can change the format of their stores to better attract the digital native shopper. In fact, 74 per cent of retailers agree that a more engaging in-store experience will be critical to their business in the next five years. They are adapting their stores into social and entertainment destinations, adding cafés, video and live entertainment, fashion shows, product demonstrations, and other events to heighten the experiential nature of a store visit. To accommodate these additions, retailers are implementing endless aisle kiosks and employing save- the-sale techniques as a way to offer wider assortments while reducing the associated inventory costs.

Staffing this new store format will require sales staff to broaden their skill sets. Because a sale may not begin or end in the store, sales staff will need to hone their customer service skills to better assist consumers on their path to purchase. Today’s consumers often enter a store armed with smartphones or tablets, giving them immediate access to more product and pricing information than the store staff typically have. In fact, 61 per cent of retail managers believe shoppers are better connected to product information than store employees.

To get ahead of this trend, retailers must staff their stores with people who are empowered to manage the entire shopping ecosystem, engage with the consumer and close the sale. For some retail segments, this may mean granting managers and floor staff new authority to negotiate prices, offer free shipping, provide alternate fulfilment options or make other loyalty-enhancing decisions. However, this will not be possible without ensuring that the right staff is equipped with the right tools to convert in-store shoppers into buyers and loyal customers. Retail staff will need:

  • Visibility into product features, comparative pricing, where inventory is located across the network, customer feedback and promotions.
  • Tools for price negotiations.
  • Access to customer data such as past purchases, brand preferences and delivery choices to create a superior shopping experience.
  • Customer outreach tools to gauge satisfaction after the sale, promote additional items, services or warranty information, or invite high-value customers to special events.

It is estimated that store managers currently spend 29 per cent of their time on administrative and merchandising compliance tasks, and only 34 per cent of their time interacting with customers. Advanced automated scheduling systems that consider traffic, tasks, associate preferences, labour laws and work rules will be necessary to help store managers effectively match labour resources to the work at hand.

Modern workforce management systems that are integrated with the latest mobility tools can enable managers to automate tasks, so that they can swap the back office for the sales floor, coaching sales staff and assisting customers. Store managers can leverage these workforce management systems to:

  • Plan and schedule sales staff to meet the demand across all stores, tasks and services.
  • Balance workloads between selling and non-selling roles to support the greatest profit potential.
  • Manage on-the-moment staffing tasks and changes — without leaving the sales floor — by using advanced mobility apps.
  • Establish performance measurement and compensation systems that motivate employees involved in both selling and non-selling tasks.

While the future of the store is yet to be determined, there is no doubt that the store environment provides retailers with a unique opportunity to influence the consumer’s path to purchase if leveraged properly.

By enhancing the store environment and empowering store staff and managers to better serve customers, retailers have a tremendous opportunity to drive in-store conversion and build customer loyalty.

Of course, this will require retailers to adopt new methods for hiring, training, managing, compensating and motivating their employees and managers. If this sounds like a tall order, it is. However, with the right systems and knowledgeable partner, retailers can attract and win an even larger share of the consumer’s wallet.

Patrick Viney is the senior director – retail at JDA Software APAC