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3 digital workplace productivity tools for retail store environments

  • Posted on September 28, 2016

digital workplace productivity

A question I often ask retailers I work with is “How many hours per day, on average, do your store assistants and managers spend with customers?” The answer to this question, and the discussions that follow, are insightful and throw light on the productivity challenge facing retailers.

Over the past decade, most retailers have invested in improving customer experience in the form of mobile apps, upgraded websites, digital marketing, new store formats and more. Supply chain investments have followed next to deliver on the customer promise. Yet enablement of store staff has been largely overlooked or, to be fair, de-prioritised.

Industry statistics tell a similar story.  A Retail Week study of Retailers in UK shows that leaders maintain staff cost as a percentage of sales in single digits while the industry average is much higher pushing the mid-teens. When we consider that people cost is one of the top-cost categories for retailers and the pressure on these costs is significantly increasing, a retailer’s ability to manage staff costs and performance is paramount.

Back to my initial question, the store manager I was speaking with did not have visibility into demand and availability to plan assortment or workforce in front of the upcoming holiday season, and they lacked integrated systems and processes between the store and headquarters operations.

The cause is simple: retailers have invested in productivity and collaboration tools for headquarters and distribution operations staff but cite a lack of business case for enabling store staff with similar tools.

From experience, the best way to introduce digital workplace productivity tools into store environments is to typically start small and expand as you prove the ROI. Here are three starting points:

  1. Analytics – Retailers can take advantage of next-generation cloud-based analytics platforms to help store staff make sense of data across disparate sources and provide actionable insights through data visualization tools. Actionable insights will allow, for example, a store assistant to recommend related products or offer a personalised discount to a high-value customer.
  1. Collaboration – There are simple ways of helping store staff stay more connected with the company information and share best practices among colleagues and across stores. For instance, Avanade’s Digital Pinboard solution encourages digital-savvy users to share and “pull” information for use in the job.
  1. Workload specific automation – In today’s tight cost climate, few retailers have the luxury of modernising all legacy IT systems. It is therefore important to take a “workload” specific view that is business (and not IT) led. For instance, Avanade digitised the order picking process for a supermarket chain improving the peak picking rate for online orders by ~60% and reducing error rates significantly.

In short, retailers need to walk the talk by being Digital on the Inside to deliver a true Digital on the Outside experience.

So how many hours do store staff actually spend with customers? The answer is: most retailers do not know. The absence of formal time and motion studies means it’s difficult to determine but, from our experience, most store managers spend on average less than 60 – 70 per cent of their time interacting with customers. A change needs to be made and this time, it’s from the inside out.

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