Why employees will always be the engine that keeps retail running
- Posted on November 30, 2021
- Estimated reading time 2 minutes
As an attendee at the Gartner Symposium in Barcelona recently, I was gratified to hear that Gartner’s perspective on what’s happening in the industry supports our perspective on the sustained importance of the store as a core part of the retail value chain. The store is the physical hub, but as progressive retailers know, it’s also needs to be an integral part of their digital strategy as well.
The lines between physical and digital have blurred so much that they’re no longer visible – we now talk in terms of the “phygital”. I’m not sure the term will survive but certainly the idea of combining the physical and the digital as a way to truly make end-to-end retail transformations is not only viable but almost mandatory in today’s retail industry climate.
But what does that mean for the retail employees? The ratio of front-line to information workers in retail is 6:1. The role and responsibilities of the front-line retail worker (and how they work) has changed radically over the last few years. In the great reshuffle era, retailers are battling to attract and retain the type of employee who can be their store ambassadors – who elevate the shopping experiences to a level customers want and have come to expect.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Shelley Bransten, Corporate Vice President, WW Retail & Consumer Goods at Microsoft, to talk about this very subject. It was a lively conversation, most of which made it into an article published by both companies, 3 future of work trends retailers can capitalize on today.
One of the key areas we discussed was how workplace technology can be embraced to support the evolution of the employee. We talked about how retailers are embracing AI and automation to augment what employees do and how they do it. This could be as simple as providing associates with the necessary tools to gather real-time customer information or eliminating repetitive tasks like inventory – as the work we’ve done with Swedish retailer ICA Roslagstull demonstrates.
We also talked about the idea of “omnichannel associates”, who need to be adept at both in-store and digital selling and service. In essence, they become cross-discipline brand ambassadors. This will require some reskilling for those digitally native associates who may have lost the art of in-person selling! But the end result is a workforce that is more agile and better able to respond to change.
There’s no doubt that retail stores are here to stay. Those who have invested the resources to rethink and reignite the role of the store within the evolving shopping experience – and acknowledge the central role that employees play in enabling that evolution – are re-emerging stronger than ever.