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Study shows retailers overlook employees when changing store formats

  • Posted on March 23, 2017

Late last year Avanade and EKN conducted a survey of retail executives about the changing nature of their stores, what changes they expected to see in the next three years, and what challenges they were experiencing in managing those changes. Our first look at the charts sent us back to the raw data to see if there'd been a mistake. Retailers almost unanimously envisioned radical change in the role of their physical store formats: moving from traditional sales centers to experiential environments that can better engage consumers. That wasn't a surprise as we've been hearing and seeing this from retailers for some time. But when asked how the work of their store employees would change, executives indicated that the mix of employee responsibilities would be exactly the same as today.

The results demonstrated an unambiguous vision for how retail is changing but they also demonstrated a massive blind spot that we didn't expect from retailers. Respondents indicated that their stores would move from a focus on sales and transactions to experiential, theme-based stores or fulfillment centers (two very different visions themselves) but that the mix of work for employees would be the same: that administrative tasks, customer facing activities, and training tasks would all consume the same amount of time. We believe that a key to the success of new store formats is a critical rethinking of the tasks of associates.

Store formats focused on creating customer experiences will see an increased need for training and an increase in customer interaction for floor associates. For stores emphasizing online order fulfillment, retailers will need to hire a set of employees who are enthusiastic about working behind the scenes on pick and pack activities. Employees have always been the lynchpin of customer experience; designing store operations from the ground up in any new retail experience will ensure that the right people are hired and that they're equipped to be successful.

Our latest research is now available and provides terrific insight into the thoughts of retail executives and managers as they prepare for what should be a dynamic 2017. If you're a retailer, product manager, or store operations director, I invite you to download the research to compare your thoughts with those of your colleagues and to think critically about how you'll enable your associates for success.

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