Retailers’ shifting focus to shopping experience has emerged as a top priority in the ongoing battle against e-commerce competitors, and a store’s front-of-house employees, which have the most direct interaction with customers, are the first line of offense in helping create that experience. But high retail turnover rates (65%, according to a report by Hay Group) make it difficult to cultivate that talent long-term in a way that ultimately improves customer experience.
Changing Tools of the Trade
The job of retail associate has changed dramatically in recent years. What used to be a job centered around operating a cash register and restocking shelves has morphed into one that includes a big public relations component. Making use of a cell phone or tablet can give employees a leg-up in product knowledge, and make them better able to answer customer questions. Customers have access to a plethora of information by using the same devices, so they have a higher expectation of how much associates should know.

One way retailers are working to empower their employees is through technology, giving associates the tools to access the information they need to better do their jobs and create a more seamless, tech-driven experience today’s customers expect and demand. It facilitates greater engagement with customers, gives customers more avenues to find what they’re looking for, and makes the shopping experience more convenient, creating a positive association with the brand and in-store experience.

Retail employees should be empowered through technology to be able to instantly summon information about inventory, including at other locations if an item a customer wants is out of stock. “Checking the back room” for more inventory is a waste of time when a mobile device should have an up-to-date count of the items in stock. If the item is sold out at other locations within a reasonable proximity, the associate can then order the item directly from the company website and have it shipped to the store or directly to the customer’s home. A smart app could even direct an associate to a recommendation on a similar product. This high-touch customer service model is more in line with what customers expect from online shopping, where “you might also be interested in…” recommendations are common.

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Making a Difficult Job Better
One of the main reasons for retail’s high turnover rate is cited as lack of training and challenge. Implementing technology, which changes often and must frequently be updated, creates the feeling of being regularly trained in the newest version of an app or the latest operating system update. It challenges employees to be better at their jobs and learn new skills. Enhanced skilling of a workforce can also lead to more opportunities for upward mobility, a lack of which was also cited as a top reason for turnover in retail.
Apple pioneered giving employees mobile devices and tablets for increased customer service. Associates use those devices to solve technical issues and make Genius Bar appointments for repairs. It even decentralized the store’s POS system, enabling associates to ring up transactions from anywhere in the store. It was a natural fit, considering the products they sell, but many other retailers have followed suit, giving their workers the latest technology to ensure they’re providing the best customer service possible.
Technology also makes better use of a retailer’s data, and helps gather new data. If an associate can quickly access a customer’s shopping history, they can be better prepared to make targeted recommendations. Ringing up a customer’s purchase from a mobile POS terminal can give access to customer data like email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses, which can be used to send coupons and other marketing materials, and in a more targeted way than mass mailing campaigns of yesteryear.
Technology has changed the way customers shop, and with that change comes a shift in how stores should cater to today’s tech-savvy shopper. Giving associates access to technology levels the playing field, because at the very least, employees should be able to access all of the information that shoppers can. Being able to quickly and accurately answer customer questions brings the convenience of in-store shopping more in line with the experience of shopping online.

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