Introducing the digitally liberated store employee. How technology can leverage human interactions in store and online

  • Introducing the digitally liberated store employee. How technology can leverage human interactions in store and online

    January 2020

    Despite the increasing sophistication of technology used in-store and online, customers’ appetite for human interaction is now as big as ever.

    But retailers are finding it tougher to satisfy this customer demand for information-rich facetime due to ever-tightening budgets. Those retailers who manage to achieve the seemingly impossible are differentiating themselves from their competitors. They are also discovering that face-to-face interaction drives a host of retail metrics including increased conversion rates, customer loyalty and advocacy.

    For anyone who doubts the importance customers place on human interaction the organisers of RetailEXPO recently asked 2,000 UK Shoppers where they want staff to add value in-store.

    More than a third said highly skilled staff that could deliver a better service would make stores more exciting. Meanwhile, more than half (51%) of those questioned said they simply wanted staff to show them where products were in-store. More than a third (39%) want more staff to be available to take payment, while a similar percentage (31%) want employees to help with out-of-stocks and order them online.

    While bottom-line gains are clearly still the goal, it’s important to remember that when it comes to the functional and social aspects of retail, people often prefer to buy from people, making social interaction necessary for many shoppers. 45% of shoppers said staff need to be friendly and willing to engage in conversation, rather than simply pushing a sale, while 35% of customers said it was important that staff need to show passion for the products and services they offer.

    The retailer’s conundrum

    The conundrum for retailers, both on and online, is how can they routinely inject high-value human interactions into their customers’ journey to purchase while still protecting profit margins.

    The solution may seem counter-intuitive at first, but in 2020 only increased technology can ensure human interaction is profitable at scale. Technology is increasingly being used to complete routine, repeatable tasks such as stocktaking and similar data entry tasks, so that store employees can concentrate on face-to-face interactions that add real value, informing and converting customers so that they make a purchase that is right for them and they come back time and time again.

    Technology is also empowering staff so that they have the time, resources and motivation they need to achieve this goal.

    So, what are the technologies that have the potential to liberate the store employee? In the store, automated self-checkout technologies, such as scan-and-go app functionality, which reduce both customer queuing and the need for employees to facilitate checkout, are set to have a huge impact on retail. Meanwhile smart digital signages such as smart shelves, magic mirrors and augmented reality that make customer wayfinding easier while also providing enhanced product information, also have great potential for enabling store staff to spend more time on high-value face-to-face interactions.

    Enriching interactions between customers and employees

    When customers need advice from a salesperson, technologies that include a cloud-based single view of customer, stock and order ensure that delivery of high-value information. Such technologies can help to deliver personalised customer experiences based on previous purchasing and online browsing behaviour including specific product recommendations and opportunities to cross and up-sell. Meanwhile, a single real-time view of stock across the retailer’s estate ensures significantly increased product availability down to individual SKUs.

    As for back office operations technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation are increasingly taking the strain when it comes to data-heavy repeatable tasks in areas such as setting competitive pricing levels, guaranteeing promotions will be profitable, individual store assortment and ensuring the efficiency of logistics and other value chains.

    Technology is also increasingly being used by retailers such as Dixons Carphone, Co-op and Waitrose & Partners to plan, execute and optimise workforce strategies to ensure they get the most value from their employees. Workforce management solutions now use big data analytics to not only identify peak trading hours at individual stores but also identify and deploy the highest performing sales people to ensure these golden opportunities are capitalised upon. Retailers are also using smartphones, tablets and wearables to ensure employees remain aware of their individual contribution towards store and company targets and they can be positively incentivised to achieve them.

    Injecting human experiences online

    Meanwhile ecommerce retailers are also using technology to inject human interaction into their customers’ online experiences. Online customers of mobile phone giant Three, for example, can now request a livestreamed product demo and Q&A with an in-store employee. If they would still like to book a demo in-store the member of staff can do this during their livestream session. Retailers and brands such as L’Oreal, Decathlon and FeelUnique are also using artificial intelligence to identify high-value, high-intent online customers offering them the chance to chat with an independent, third-party product specialist to ensure they find, buy and love the product that’s best for them.

    The recent RetailEXPO report makes it clear that shoppers still value facetime with shop-floor staff, but the only way to do this profitably is to create a tech/human partnership. This adoption of tech should be mirrored back-of-house to digitise, automate and increase accuracy for time-intensive repeatable tasks such as merchandising, promotions and pricing. Retailers need to achieve this if they are to unlock latent value in their workforces at a time when budgets are increasing squeezed.