Empowering the New Smart Store Associate

Bridget Johns
Bridget Johns
Chief Marketing Officer, Head of Growth Strategies

Foundational to great retail performance is outstanding shopper service, and if smart store initiatives don’t start with associates and keep shoppers top of mind, they’re destined to underperform.

For those paying attention in the industry, there are two pervasive discussions in retail today: 1) How do retailers drive a differentiated in-store experience with technology, and 2) How do retailers keep up with the rising labor costs in today’s market when store traffic and sales have been decreasing year-over-year? Attempting to answer these questions have led to the introduction of a lot of different smart technologies – many with the promise of increasing sales through better associate engagement, more cross-channel understanding of customers, full inventory visibility, etc.

And, while some combination of technologies is undoubtedly the answer, understanding which solutions to deploy can be somewhat overwhelming. For example, should you focus on a multi-channel understanding of customers as they enter the store, and if so, how do you do that without crossing the line on privacy? Likewise, should you focus on inventory and operational efficiencies at the cost of driving a customer crazy when she is trying to make a purchase? Or, should you take a broader view and use technology to drive as many non-selling tasks out of your processes as possible.

Answers, as you might suspect, are complicated. It really depends on where your greatest points of friction are. Perhaps you have issues moving customers through the fitting room, possibly because of inventory mismanagement or poor staff-to-customer alignment, or are your opportunities more specifically focused on employee training and customer engagement?

My first piece of advice is to isolate the key issue in your customer service model. We know that year-over-year store traffic has been decreasing for over 48 consecutive months and that increased conversion and average transaction value (ATV) are not fully compensating. By isolating the stores that have problems with one or the other (and, hopefully, not both!), you can start to get a picture of what is happening. Once you have a general hypothesis, talk to a few customers and associates to understand what is keeping conversion from growing or ATV from increasing.

After you’ve identified your biggest issues, it’s time to get to work with the technology. There are endless micro-solutions that solve very specific problems in your store. The trick is to identify the highest value adds and to implement those with a plan to measure and improve iteratively over time.

There are three specific flavors of associate enablement technologies that I want to call out today – with a particular focus on how some of your other technologies can make these work smarter for you. The first is task management and allocation. By better aligning associate tasks with store performance metrics, you can get more out of the day. For example, if you know the peak traffic and conversion times of the day, you can automatically assign tasks in the less busy hours, ideally to those associates you know are the most efficient at those tasks. RetailNext Smart Store partners like Think Time allow retailers to identify and parse out in-store tasks smartly, making the most of every labor hour.

The second Smart Store technology that I really like is in-store training applications. As a shopper, there is nothing worse than asking an associate a question about a product then going to look it up yourself because a) they don’t know, or b) you don’t have the confidence that their answer is correct. Technologies such as Myagi can dynamically ensure that associates are training on the top priority products or initiatives. The software also allows for peer-to-peer information sharing so associates can start to train each other based on different techniques that may work for particular customers or in specific locations.

The third Smart Store technology that has me excited is wearable communication. There are endless digital communication platforms – Myagi and Think Time are two that also fit into this category – but one that is really getting the attention of a lot of our customers is Theatro’s wearable computer. This device can be programmed to deliver all kinds of tasks and messaging based on inputs from a variety of technologies. For example, while RetailNext’s smart store analytics can systematically inform the location of a particular associate, Think Time can then assign tasks based on workload priorities, etc. and Theatro can communicate the task directly to the ear of the associate.

Once you’ve aligned your smart store strategies and decided which technologies can help achieve your objectives, the real key is lies in measurement and continuous, iterative improvement. Integrating smart store technologies into an operational platform like RetailNext allows smarter data to feed into the applications; better, more precise actions to be taken and, ultimately, better store results through increased sales and decreased costs.

There is no question that all aspects of our daily lives are becoming smarter – smart schools, smart cities, smart airports and yes, even smart retail. But one could argue if you don’t start with the associates, all of the smart store technology out there won’t lead to improved performance.

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