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How to combat shrinking staffs and rising customer expectations

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The current volatility of the labor market is the worst that many retailers have ever experienced. Retaining current staff, or even just having the right number of associates on deck feels like an impossible feat. Additionally, the baseline standards for omnichannel have been raised. Just two or three years ago, retailers could leisurely launch perks like BOPIS or in-store returns, but now they’re table stakes.

Retailers need to be able to manage swift digital transformation amidst the retail labor shortage. The key lies in creating an environment where associates want to work and where they feel successful and supported in their work. A big part of that includes investing in the tech that will be able to support the modern store and the operations within.

Associates are a valuable tool for improving store operations 

Store associates are one of the most valuable parts of the retail experience. They are the driving force behind creating the highly personal experience that customers expect in store. Getting high-quality talent to stick around starts with retailers. Investing in associates and supporting the work they do expresses and backs up the importance of their role. Solutions like a unified platform for associates, instead of 10 different logins and passwords they have to remember, creates the sense that their time and work is valuable. 

Associates are extremely knowledgeable on store activities and should play an integral role in determining retail strategies. Associates are on the floor, working with customers which makes it easy to identify areas where there is an opportunity to elevate or simplify the experience. When working with factors like large post-pandemic crowds, adopting an appointment setting feature, can be especially helpful— associates can ensure that they have the right products on hand, ready for when the customer arrives. It’s up to the retailer to make sure these kinds of requests aren’t managed as one-offs.

The role of the brick-and-mortar store is changing

Customers aren’t visiting stores just to fetch inventory, so the goal of a store is to deliver an experience, not just act as a warehouse. It’s important to empower associates to deliver those experiences. Akin to the Apple store: Associates have a mobile device in their hands that allows them to complete the entire shopping journey without having to walk customers into a line. When associates are able to move fluidly around the store, they place their focus on the customer experience, rather than being caught up in just closing the sale.

Each customer experience will look vastly different, and not every interaction will or needs to result in a purchase. Retailers need to ensure their associates know that they don’t even have to close the sale. Instead, they should equip them to help guide the customer instead. Helping the customer find the right products, build their basket, and sending them a follow-up text or email removes the entire pressure of the sales process. Every customer can then shop and interact how they want, and leave satisfied with the experience they were given.

Stores need to transform the way they operate 

Many of the largest retailers are being held back by their existing technology platforms. The core of the technology they’re using to run stores is software that was written 30+ years ago. The thought of change from decades-old systems can be paralyzing. But, letting go of legacy features is the best way to make room for innovation.

Modern systems like mobile devices, appointment scheduling, and omnichannel communication help transform the store experience for shoppers and associates alike. Shoppers receive the elevated, fluid shopping experience that they have come to expect. Associates receive the support they need to function in their role, which in turn helps them be more successful and satisfied with their work.

To learn more about  the challenges retailers are facing, and how to adapt to face them, check out The 2022 Store Operations Benchmark Survey

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