The emergence of the omnichannel customer has changed the role of physical stores and the frontline staff working in them. Fabrice Haiat, CEO and co-founder of YOOBIC says that training, equipping and motivating them is key to store profitability and brand equity, as is a strategy for helping them adapt to a changed store environment.
In 2021, stores reopened their doors to a customer that had been shopping seamlessly across channels for several years. Covid, however, had accelerated changes in their behaviour that had started during the pandemic but now look to become permanent, putting pressure on store staff to keep pace.
But now the challenge is now greater than ever, as store reopening has coincided with a shortage of labour, fierce competition to find candidates and greater pressure on employees’ workloads. Businesses need to embrace the new paradigm for omnichannel retail employees, enabling them to upskill to fulfil all the corresponding responsibilities, from customer advice to retail processes, regulatory compliance to video shopping and fulfilling Click-and-Collect orders, on top of the usual tasks.
Based on these business imperatives, getting retailers to invest in their frontline might seem straightforward, but in reality, many have taken a defensive or reactive position and fallen back on what were once tried tested methods, but made for a world that has now passed.
The way to address the changing landscape depends on a clear understanding of the problems to be solved, much greater support and consideration for frontline staff through smart training and equipping them with the data and the technology they need to automate essential but executive tasks, so they are free to provide the excellent customer service bricks and mortars store need to provide to drive loyalty and brand equity.
The good news here is that the scale of the challenge is well understood. Research among 165 retail decision makers, by Coresight for YOOBIC, in The Future of the Digital Workplace report shows that the top four challenges for management were employee productivity, communication, bridging the skills gap and providing the information required to help staff become brand and product experts.
In the same research, it is also clear that, since the pandemic, retailers better understand one of the key solutions, with 66% of UK retailers saying they plan to invest in digital workforce applications for their frontline employees over the next 12-18 months.
59% of retailers say they are prioritising investment into digital workplace solutions to enable staff to match their product knowledge with that of increasingly well informed and demanding customers. 56% are doing so to provide additional services in-store in recognition that it is the face of the brand and must deliver an omni channel experience. 44% of respondents indicated this investment would support their desire to turn the store into an aspirational showcase for brands rather than the primary channel through which customers buy.
The next challenge is determining the best way to support frontline employees working in this new store environment. Retailers recognise that staff currently feel disconnected from HQ, are required to do too many unproductive tasks and lack career growth.
Getting deeper engagement with staff as well as leveraging digital workplace applications depends on acting smarter in three key areas.
Communication. In many organisations, stores are overwhelmed with email communications from their Head Office. However, store staff expect real-time and simple communication through a user-friendly mobile interface, as they do in their personal life.
Task management. Operating procedures should be streamlined, checklists should be digital and therefore auditable; and health and safety routines should be unified.
Learning. Learning should be mobile so that staff are able to access and develop in the flow of work without disruption. Techniques include using incentives that are motivating and challenging; and, gamifying tasks to make learning fun, particularly for a workforce that is predominantly Millennial.
As the role of the store continues to broaden, it is imperative for retailers to act now. For instance, globally, pure play retailers are opening stores at an unprecedented rate to extend their reach. Despite saying they ‘don’t do stores’, Boohoo now plans to open a Debenhams Beauty store in Manchester following in the footsteps of brands such as ecommerce lingerie company AdoreMe, who have opened 12 stores in the US, and fashion brand, Untuckit, which now has 90 stores in the US, Canada and UK.
What is unique about these initiatives is that these brands think about stores as part of their digital first strategies, clicks and bricks as Untuckit describes its approach, so that customers can experience the products in the real world as their entry to a long-term relationship that will continue online.
It is therefore essential that store associates can serve customers that live their retail lives through many channels, both physical and digital. The tools that they will need must always connect them to stock, locations, orders, customers and the supply chain. And the training must equip them to manage a range of different tasks in ways that are motivating and rewarding. In this way, they have a 100% focus on delivering the best possible experience to customers.