Corine Vives and Shelley Bransten
3 future of work trends retailers can capitalise on today
Out of the pandemic, retail sales are anticipated to grow between 10.5% to 13.5% year on year in the US, reaching an estimated $4.44 trillion. In fact, retail is outperforming most other sectors around the world.
With nearly 70% of the workforce being in-store or frontline workers, retailers will need to address escalating employee expectations to seize this opportunity. Particularly if they want to hire and keep the top talent that will make this growth possible into the future.
So, what are the trends that will define the future of the retail workplace – and what can retailers do to stay ahead of the curve?
To provide some answers, here are three key insights from two retail industry leaders: Shelley Bransten, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Global Retail and Consumer Goods Industries, and Corine Vives, Avanade’s Executive Global Retail and Consumer Goods Industry Lead.
1. Address employee desire for increased flexibility – and deliver a superior customer experience
Retail has always been about people – and that doesn’t just mean customers. Retailers are increasing their spend on employees experience as they move out of the pandemic.
And this is timely. Employees are no longer simply content to turn up and serve customers. They want to be part of an organisation with purpose. They want their wellbeing to be protected. And they want the freedom to innovate within their role. In fact, 73% want the flexibility they’ve recently enjoyed to remain – as reported by a recent Microsoft survey. These trends will likely endure – and even accelerate as the workforce becomes more and more concerned about the planet and their place in it.
To attract, train and retain this more conscious workforce of the future, retailers will need to build a defined and differentiated Employee Value Proposition (EVP) – a compelling articulation of the value offered to employees – with flexibility at its core. By articulating and adopting a fully developed EVP, retailers will be able to retain the type of top talent that enables a superior customer experience.
That’s exactly what we’re seeing today from outdoor adventure retailer REI. This US brand went from 1,500 Microsoft Teams users to 15,000 during the pandemic, and by doing so allowed its call center staff to work from home. That flexibility enabled employees to support consumers virtually – which not only empowered its associates and gave them a safer working environment, but also led to improved customer satisfaction scores.
2. Embrace modern workplace technology to unlock new operating models
Technology has helped retailers to build greater resilience into their supply chains, rapidly evolve core business processes and rethink omnichannel customer experience during the pandemic era.
Modern workplace platforms in particular have enabled retailers to adapt at speed – and this has turbocharged innovation and accelerated entirely new ways of serving customers. We can see three ways workplace technology will continue to empower retailers as the industry charges into a future defined by continual change.
First – by blurring the lines between physical and digital channels. We’ve seen organisations like L’Oréal enabling its team of 80,000 beauty consultants to deliver services and appointments virtually. And jewelry brand Zales, which has used an innovative model to offer a personalised jewelry consultant service available online or in-store – truly combining the digital and physical.
Second – by harnessing AI and automation to augment employees. This could be as simple as providing associates with the tools to gather real-time customer information or eliminating repetitive manual tasks like inventory – as we’ve seen from Swedish retailer ICA Roslagstull recently. Or, more boldly, it might extend to augmented reality stocktaking and virtual reality product wayfinding in a department store. Ultimately, it’s not about robots replacing humans, but about changing the way a retail employee interacts with their job – to both their and the customer’s benefit.
And third – by providing greater flexibility and choice when it comes to devices and endpoints. Progressive retailers are embracing leading-edge security and governance models to allow their associates to use personal devices to interact with corporate collaboration and workforce platforms like Microsoft Teams & Power Platform. Future-ready governance models – supported by a zero-trust mindset – are already helping leading-edge retailers to build the foundations for secure new ways of working. Appetite for this “bring your own anything” flexibility looks set to grow in the future.
3. Back to the physical future – rethink what it means to be an omnichannel retailer
We’ve already seen and read much about the brick-and-mortar stores being augmented by digital experiences. And while digital has prevailed over the course of the last 18 months, as we emerge out of the pandemic retailers are considering how to adapt their business models to embrace new physical store opportunities.
Across the globe, brands remain committed to the expansion of their physical store footprint. Tupperware is one of many examples where brands are betting big on brick and mortar. Meanwhile, the pop-up store market is much more than a gimmick and is growing fast: estimated to be worth $10 billion, as headline brands such as Best Buy and J.Crew pounce on the opportunity.
The physical store is re-emerging. More nimble, more intelligent, and as more of an experience pillar. In this climate, we need to hold omnichannel to its word – as a true blend of digital and physical, rather than as shorthand for virtual customer experience.
This brave new world of flexibility and agility sounds great, but ultimately customers are looking for consistency no matter what channel they use. So, from an employee perspective, two key imperatives stand out.
First, many digitally native associates will need to become trained in the lost art of in-person retail. That creates an immediate reskilling and professional development dimension: training programs will need to address this hybrid dimension to enable “omnichannel associates”, adept at both in-store and digital selling and service. By empowering employees to become multi-channel cross-disciplinary brand ambassadors, the organisation can become more agile and better able to respond to rapid change.
Then there’s the prospect of a shared workforce model becoming more prevalent – where employees move fluidly between stores and digital roles according to human resource capacity and customer demand. This raises a scheduling consideration. Retailers will need a more centralised and intelligent workforce management hub – that’s not only adopted and embraced by employees but integrated into broader business platforms to enable full transparency across the organisation.
We’ve already seen one example of this new online/in-store converged reality close to home when Microsoft’s stores were forced to rapidly adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic.
Microsoft was able to retain all its in-store employees and avoid any job losses by moving them into virtual roles. As a result, Microsoft now benefits from retail teams with a more diverse and resilient blend of skills – with knowledge of both in-store and digital environments.
Start making changes today to futureproof your retail business for tomorrow
Where customer experience has reigned supreme in the past, the future of retail depends on an equivalent focus on the employee experience. Employers need to address elevated employee expectations post-pandemic to attract the best talent, unlock their full potential and keep them safe and happy. Not to mention making them the brand ambassadors retailers need them to be – if customer satisfaction and the business as a whole is to grow.
It’s no secret that retailers who have laid their digital foundations early are the ones who are flourishing right now. As technologists, we’re excited to be working with leading brands across the globe, helping them to grab the opportunity and thrive in the future of the wonderful (and wonderfully diverse) retail sector.
About Corine Vives and Shelley Bransten
Corine Vives joined Avanade in 2000, coinciding with the start of the company’s activities in Spain. In recognition of her leadership and commitment, she was appointed General Manager of Avanade Spain in 2011. More recently she has taken on the role of Global Retail Lead for Avanade, promoting the relevance of the retail industry for the company. She is also the Executive Sponsor of Diversity and Inclusion, focusing on creating opportunities and ensuring equality for all Avanade employees.
Shelley Bransten grew up in retail. At Microsoft, she is a passionate advocate for customers and works tirelessly to ensure they are set up for success across their digital transformation efforts. During her time leading the WW retail and consumer goods business at Microsoft, she has overseen groundbreaking partnerships with leading companies across the globe including Walgreens Boots Alliance, Kroger, M&S and many more.