The Changing Role of Retail Workforce

AI Business Models Internet of Things Retail & CPG Technology

I was visiting Lush – a fresh handmade cosmetics store along with Lush_app.jpgmy daughter and felt that the shopping experience compared with the past is changing in a noticeable way, in particular when it comes to interactions with the store workforce. I came to know that Lush employees typically go through extensive training to ensure they have the tools and knowledge to deliver this kind of service. At Lush the digital technology offers a replacement to the information usually found on packaging – the Lush Lens app uses machine learning to recognize products, meaning customers can simply scan ‘naked’ products to discover key information about them. Hence the retail workforce is upskilling to add value beyond the digital offerings.

This blog post is a result of the experience above. Global Retail and e-commerce leaders reimagining their business models in digital evolution and which is further changing workplace practices. I can say from my vantage point that digital, social and environmental developments are shifting the needs of the retail workforce. It is evident that device and sensor proliferation is aiding retailers to experiment intelligent and connected methods to innovate new business models to try new markets, offer new services and create rich & compelling customer experiences. The new-age developments listed below reflects the continuous transformation of the retail workforce

  1. Knowledgeable workforce offering personalized shopping experience: In a world where just about any product or service is instantly available online, shoppers visit a physical location is driven by specific needs. It means recognizing that shoppers would make the trip because they need something more than what they find in the digital world: face-to-face contact, empathy, and deep expertise. Whether they want to figure out how to hook up a smart home, what dress to wear to a formal dinner, or what to pack for that dream wilderness vacation, they want to talk to someone who can offer them more knowledge and personal understanding that they can find with a quick online search.
  2. Fitment of the retail workforce in experience economy: Stores just can’t be product-fulfillment centers. In both the physical and virtual worlds, product fulfillment is fast becoming the domain of AI and robotics, with retailers, consumer products companies and e-commerce platforms racing to develop the best systems to anticipate consumer needs and deliver products to meet them. What technology cannot fulfill, however, are human needs that remain unmet today and will continue to evolve in the future. One thing I’ve learned through my work is that as technological connections grow, so does the human need for meaningful connections. This need is what’s driving the experience economy. Whether in restaurants, travel groups, shared workspaces, yoga studios or spin classes, people are actively seeking intimate connection with other people and finding it in spaces and communities like these.
  3. Uplifting workforce skills is the need of the day: Process improvement, speed, and efficiency are at the core of successful online businesses. With online infiltrating over to brick-and-mortar sales it’s a mismatch in areas such as supply chain, inventory management, trend identification, competitive pricing analysis, etc.; for example, the ability to automate 99% of pricing decisions, not only offers a real-time advantage, but it also eliminates hours and hours of manual work per week. Hence the use and mastery of algorithms is a key tool of the buyer in successful online companies, a skill that is not as prevalent in brick and mortar;

With the advent of modern technologies bringing e-commerce intelligent systems that make running a retail store more efficient, my experiences with retailers progressed on leveraging in-store data. Having the right retail workforce management solution can take care of tedious administrative tasks across the board, while simultaneously collecting data to instantly improve in-store operations. With this schedule, store managers can be confident knowing that the most knowledgeable and high performing sales assistants are on the shop floor during times of high customer traffic, enhancing the shopping experience and resulting in more sales.

As retailers continue to evolve in experience economy continuum, it’s the value that a capable retail associate can add – the expertise, social sensitivity, and problem-solving skills – that will differentiate the good stores from the bad, the stores that will endure from those destined to fade from the scene.

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