Retailers have begun to recognize that quality employees can be their most valuable resource but they still need to invest more aggressively in training and technology to help store associates do their best, according to Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and managing partner at RSR Research.
Rosenblum made these comments during the webinar, “How to Empower Store Associates with Mobile Apps & Reinvent the In-Store Experience” which involved Rosenblum; Derek Dykens, consumer industries advisor, digital transformation at Cisco Systems; and Bill Zujewski, executive vice president of marketing at Tulip Retail.
In the course of putting together the recent report, "The Retail Store in 2017: The Change Imperative," RSR found that more than half of the retailers studied believed that using technology to educate and empower store associates was becoming more integral to success than finding the right product mix to put on the shelves.
"Retailers have realized that having a better quality associate is far, far more important than investing in technologies like customer self-service or robotics," and other things that take the focus off of the traditional human store associate, she said.
But, she added, as customers have become comfortable using their own mobile devices as part of the in-store shopping process, retailers actually may need to “over-invest" for a time in mobile technology tools for associates to catch up to their customers. Rosenblum had a strong message to retailers: "The technology you use needs to be consumer grade and easy to learn. And you need to invest now."
Cisco’s Dykens agreed. "Having a consumer walk into a store with a question and hearing the associate say, 'I can’t answer that for you,' is not going to cut it anymore," he said.
Yet that has become a common problem. A Tulip Retail survey from earlier this year noted that 83% of customers surveyed by the company feel they are more knowledgeable than the store associates they deal with in stores. At the same time, 72% of the same group who have dealt with a store associate armed with mobile technology agreed that it resulted in a better shopping experience.
Tulip Retail has started working with a number of retailers, including Bonobos, Frank & Oak and Toys 'R' Us to create in-store mobile apps that can be used by store associates as a single tool to help them stay connected with inventory and tap into data from multiple sources including the retailer's CRM system, e-commerce site, point-of-sale systems and notes created by fellow employees.
Tulip's Zujewski noted that after Bonobos started using the platform on iPads in its Guide Shops, associates using the technology produced a 12% increase in average order value. The average associate also used the platform for 92% of their working day and a considerable percentage of store associates used it even when they weren’t interacting with customers, just to train themselves and learn more about the retailer's products.
"The mobile device is at the center of the customer experience," Zujewski said, "but it is starting to become the center of the associate experience, too."