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Progressive retailers are stepping up their game to upskill and empower their store associates

As we look ahead to the future of brick-and-mortar retail and the battle for customer loyalty, the role of a store associate is becoming more challenging, essential, and immersive than it was a few years ago. After decades of considering store workers as substitutable resources and just an expense for the business, retailers no longer have an option but to treat them as brand ambassadors and a critical part of the workforce. Modern retailers now increasingly focus on identifying technological tools store workers need to do their job more effectively, providing continuous learning opportunities and engaging them with on-the-job training.

A recent article published by Harvard Business Review titled “Retailers Are Squandering Their Most Potent Weapons” highlights the need for continuous training and empowerment of frontline store workers. The author states, “Undertraining workers was never a good idea, but it’s especially bad now, because it takes away the biggest advantage traditional stores have over e-tailers: a live person a customer can talk with face-to-face.”

What we see today in terms of store associate care and empowerment is only the beginning as an intimate and hyper-personalized shopping experience is the new gold standard for engaging customers. Store associates are the prime movers behind this elevated personalized service shoppers receive not only inside a physical store but even during their online shopping journey. The value addition that a well-trained, motivated store associate can add to a retailer’s business is immense and can only be achieved by empowering them with the right technology, product knowledge, and process training.

Another recent article in Total Retail reinforces the need to change how associates are hired and trained. “Retailers are creating more immersive experiences, digitizing their in-store journeys, elevating the level of service, and asking their employees to add more value and be more tech-savvy.” said Bill Zujewski, EVP Marketing for Tulip in his article titled “The Next-Generation Store Associate: A New Ideal Profile Emerges.” “Store associates are being asked to do more than just work on the register and fold clothes; they’re being asked to be product experts, style guides, brand ambassadors, and personal shoppers. They’re asked to use new mobile apps rolling out in stores to look up products, check inventory, capture customer information, and clientele.”

Companies like Walmart are making real investments to increase training opportunities for their frontline staff. They are directly going to their store workers and asking questions to learn how they can contribute most meaningfully to their professional development and upskilling. This kind of employer reputation can help retailers attract and retain more satisfied store associates, decreasing turnover and skill development costs.

Apple Store Associate

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More retailers are adopting this enablement approach. Apple was one of the early companies that gave their frontline store workers a mobile device. It helps them do their job better while making them feel empowered and autonomous. Luxury brands are also investing in mobile technologies that lead to on-the-job empowerment. “A great example is the new flagship Mulberry luxury store in London that has empowered associates with iPads to elevate the in-store experience. Using the Tulip Clienteling mobile app, workers have access to a complete extended digital product catalog with a single view of stock across the business. Furthermore, they’re given mobile tools for assisted selling, clienteling, and mobile checkout. Mulberry’s tech-savvy, passionate store associates deliver an amazing in-store experience.” said Bill Zujewski. The right mobile tools give their store associates the ability to solve a problem on the fly, better engage with shoppers, and process sales faster from anywhere in the store.

For the dollar amount a retail store saves on training and mobile technology, it can lose severalfold in revenue if customers leave a store without purchasing a product because they can’t find the right store associate to help them. Deloitte reckons that well-trained, empowered, and knowledgeable store associates, especially in specialty retail, are by far the most critical driver of in-store purchase. They become trusted advisors and messengers who carry the spirit of the brand.

The only way to ensure that your frontline workers provide an intimate, personalized and world-class customer experience is to empower them with the right mobile tools and training that will help them deliver valuable services and forge long-lasting relationships with their customers. The hiring landscape is competitive and evolving. Between low unemployment rates in the US and cutting-edge technology redefining jobs, modern retailers are stepping up their game to upskill and empower their most important asset: store associates.

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