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Retail is changing in a big way. Here’s how to keep pace.

Retail stores have survived on archaic systems for years, now customers are demanding a change.

Physical retail is coming back in a big way, but stores are in need of serious modernization if they want to meet the expectations of today’s customers. Times have changed drastically and store teams can’t be expected to make do with pens, paper, and green screens anymore. In order to make it in the digital age, retailers need to answer three fundamental questions: How do today’s customers move in the market? How has the role of the store associate changed? How has the function of the physical store evolved?

How do today’s customers move in the market?

Physical retail is coming back with an asterisk. While customers are eager to return to stores, they are now used to the convenience and personalization that ecommerce provided them with over the past 3 years. The majority of shoppers expect a personalized experience. Practices that used to be exclusive to the luxury market (i.e. following up after a big purchase, knowing shoe size from last visit, etc) are starting to become de facto expectations across the board. So retailers are making personalization their top priority

Additionally, there are now more options than ever before in the market and shoppers aren’t afraid to explore them. With increasing competition and scrutiny from shoppers, retailers are facing growing pressure to offer a seamless experience that flows between brick-and-mortar and digital channels. In-store technology can provide the efficiency and convenience of ecommerce shopping so the store associates can focus on keeping it personal. 

Store associates need to be equipped to tailor the shopper’s in-store experiences based on a holistic, omnichannel view of them, including prior purchases, preferences, and local trends. This is where in-store tech comes in. Digitized client books can recall every detail at the tap of a finger, so associates can stay in the moment with customers. The associate’s focus is then on delivering a personalized shopping experience to each customer, rather than scrambling to keep up.

How has the role of the store associate changed?

Store teams are the heart of the brand, they keep everything flowing smoothly so customers can get a frictionless experience from the moment they walk in the door, to the time they checkout. So, retailers cannot afford to have associates that feel overwhelmed and under supported. This is especially important now as the role of the associate changes and grows. They are no longer just responsible for the in-store experience and instead need to serve as digitally equipped guides through a multi-channel journey. 

Associates need to be properly equipped to best serve today’s digitally savvy consumer. This means having the ability to influence omnichannel sales and visibility to online-only products, customer wish lists, and ecommerce purchases. Associates shouldn’t be limited to selling in-store only products, especially when nearly half of customers expect them to be knowledgeable on the full catalog. Endless aisle technologies equip associates to be able to cite the full product catalog, including online-exclusives and other locations’ stock. Associates can then sell (and get credit) for omnichannel sales right from the sales floor. 

Having an omnichannel view of merchandise gives associates the ability to increase their scope while matching digitally-savvy customer expertise. This adds value to the overall customer experience while also being beneficial in supporting associates. When retailers empower and support their associates, they help create an environment that they know they can succeed in. 

How has the function of the physical store evolved?

Today’s stores are heavily focused on the customer experience and are gradually functioning more and more as omnichannel hubs. Practices like BOPIS, curbside pick-up, same-day delivery, and ship-to/from-store are becoming more common. But, these operations are often a huge pain point for retailers as they’re very taxing for the store teams supporting them. 

Stores are not built to be warehouses or distribution centers. Store teams need to be able to systematically and efficiently manage their responsibilities on the sales floor as well as the functions of distributing merchandise. Again, in-store technology can help lessen the burden (do you see a common theme?).

Managing distribution means being able to track orders, complete packing workflows, and manage inventory. Being able to do this all in one place is critical to maintaining efficient operations. Not having to jump between devices and systems from floor selling to store fulfillment eases the complexity of store operations. Maintaining the proper balance between customer convenience and ease of associate usability keeps the store running smoothly.

Bringing it all together

Today’s customers move in the market with intent and discretion. They have resources and options and are ready to explore them. Retailers need to look at ways to differentiate their experience to appeal to modern shoppers. This relies heavily on personalizing the experience in-store.

Within the store, the purpose of the associate has changed from being an expert on their section of the store to serving as a digitally equipped guide that leads shoppers through a multi-channel shopping journey. Retailers need to ensure that associates across the brand are delivering a consistent and high-quality experience, regardless of tenure, which means training everyone to be the best. 

Lastly, the function of the physical stores themselves has evolved. The expectations from the consumers has pressured retailers to rethink how they operate their stores in order to deliver a seamless, omnichannel experience. The solution to all of these new challenges lies in outfitting store teams with the technology and systems necessary to deliver on expectations for a convenient, channelless, and personalized experience. Utilizing the two to their full capacity facilitates the transformation needed to bring stores into the modern era. 

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