April 5, 2018

3 ways tech can empower retail employees, not replace them



Not long ago, my first-grader wanted to make slime. Not just any slime, but ice slime, which requires clear glue – so off we went to a local store. We couldn’t find the glue we needed, and unfortunately, I had been to this store many times and knew I probably wouldn’t find anyone to help us. Instead of trudging around looking for someone, I opened the store’s app on my phone, used the wayfinder, and found the aisle I needed immediately.


Is this a customer experience success or failure? Depends on how you look at it. 

On one hand, I found exactly what I needed quickly and easily, thanks to the retailer’s app. On the other, I never interacted with an associate – one who might have helped me find the glue, created a positive impression and perhaps sold me additional items.

A recent survey by HRC Retail Advisory said that 95 percent of respondents would rather be left alone when they’re shopping – unless they need an associate’s help. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they’d rather scan an item themselves to check the price than ask an associate. Is it that we’ve all lost interest in personal interactions, or have we just become accustomed to understaffed stores where we have to whip out our phones to find the information we need?

It’s certainly true that sometimes it’s easier and faster for shoppers to find simple information for themselves. But many other times, only a knowledgeable, helpful employee will do. What can retailers do to bring back shoppers’ confidence in employees’ ability to help?

Put more people where they can help and sell
There’s no way around it – certain tasks just have to be done, especially by store leaders. From stocking to merchandising to managing cash to completing reports, it takes a lot to keep a retail store operating well. But no task should come before providing a great customer experience.


According to a survey by Square Root, 82 percent of store managers agree that having more time on the floor to focus on the customer experience would positively impact their store’s performance. Keep your store leaders on the floor by streamlining non-productive tasks.

Help your employees be experts
Striving to “out-people” the competition, Target recently announced it would increase starting wages to $12 with an eye toward increasing wages to $15 by 2020.


But beyond increasing pay, Target has also focused on placing associates in areas of the store that match their interests and background and providing specialized training that helps them become experts who can create a better guest experience. Build on your own employees’ knowledge and let them use their enthusiasm to build a rapport with your customers.

Use technology to augment employees
As retailers seek out ways to provide a frictionless shopping experience, they’re turning more and more to technology. Walmart recently expanded its trial of stock-checking robots, for which employees are the biggest advocates. Recognizing that the robots perform a boring, time-intensive task for them, employees have embraced the robots and happily explain to customers how they help.


Look for ways you can add value to your employees’ service. Would mobile POS move customers through your lines faster? Could you give employees tablets so they can instantly locate or order an out-of-stock item for a customer? Could beacons help your employees offer customers more personalized recommendations? Could you streamline back-office tasks to create more time for assisting shoppers? Give your employees the tools they need to build relationships with customers.

To boost your bottom line and stay competitive, you need knowledgeable, well-trained, friendly employees who are willing to go the extra mile to create a great experience for your customers. With the industry’s high turnover, creating a team like this can feel next to impossible. But retail’s recent shakeups have shown that you can’t out-Amazon Amazon. To win, you’ve got to put your front-line employees in position to wow your customers and keep them coming back, and the right technologies do just that. 




Image: iStock