LAS VEGAS — Macy’s has responded to the changing role of stores and store employees by revamping its approach to training and workforce development and putting more tech tools in associates’ hands.
Marc Mastronardi, the company’s chief stores officer, said those shifts, like many others in retail, happened during and after the pandemic. Mastronardi said Macy’s has changed how it thinks about developing its labor force. The company now focuses on two tracks: customer-facing front-of-house roles and its backroom operational side of the workforce.
“And so that is very different than how we would have been set up before,” Mastronardi said Monday in an on-stage interview at ShopTalk.
Before that shift, Mastronardi said, the company spread its workforce specializations across many different responsibilities. But that approach kept “us from being able to meet the customer where the customer needs.”
Most people who have a front-of-house, in-store role now receive job training that allows them to generalize versus specialize. The change also means that the company’s workforce has a different career growth trajectory. As of Jan. 28, Macy’s had 94,570 full- and part-time employees, according to a recent regulatory filing.
“It’s allowing us to unlock levels of creativity [where people say] ‘I didn't know that I can do this or do this well,’” Mastronardi said. “‘And now that I've got the opportunity, I really like it.’”
The change, Mastronardi said, offers flexibility and empowerment for both the company’s workforce and the customers they serve. “We’ve actually changed a lot of hands-on training and changed the training from being a point in time to being all the time.”
However, Macy’s hasn’t totally backed away from encouraging or requiring specializations, specifically in its beauty, jewelry and furniture businesses. Those segments still require specialization “and we still protect that as a really important part of our business.”
Mastronardi was previously the company’s senior vice president of store operations and customer experience. He said he thinks Macy’s stores fill four key roles for customers: discovery, convenience, service and engagement.
In short, Mastronardi said, Macy’s recognized “that if you're going to make a trip to the store, it's got to be because you want a really enjoyable experience.” That perspective is what helped the company frame those elements as focus areas for creating good in-store experiences.
Mastronardi also offered an update on how the company is using technology to improve the in-store and customer experience. One initiative uses IBM’s Watson technology to power product knowledge on Macy’s website.
“So if you’re asking a question on our website, it is IBM Watson that is helping you answer that. But that’s also the technology that our call centers use. And if you call in to a customer service center, what they’re calling on is IBM Watson technology that’s helping provide product information,” Mastronardi said.
Another tech-based initiative is a pilot program where a widget on the website will pop up and ask e-commerce customers if they’d like to engage with a digital stylist. The digital stylist is an in-store associate who can engage with the customer in real time to build them a personalized digital storefront with product recommendations.
Although it's still an early-stage program, Mastronardi said it is delivering “super high levels of conversion, like multiples of what you would get on regular digital conversion.” It also enables the company to extend an in-store service offering to e-commerce customers.
“We’ve put a lot of tools in the hands of our colleagues over the last two years that allow them to do tasking work better,” Mastronardi said. That work includes taking markdowns, finding products, doing shipping and having the ability and flexibility to do global checkout.
Macy’s is also introducing customer-facing augmented reality in its beauty department that allows people to virtually try on different products. The company first introduced AR and virtual reality in its furniture business several years ago.
Asked to offer an outlook on retail, Mastronardi said “what we’re seeing in the environment today is you’ve got to be an active seller in the store.”
“And so we’re putting a lot of our work against making sure that our colleagues have the tools to be confident in selling; to wear the product that we sell so they get excited about that and use that as an [entrance] for the conversation with the customer,” he added. “And so you’re going to see us continue to put a lot of our energy and effort on giving our colleagues tools to do that work.”