It’s a fascinating time for retail. On one hand, some of retail’s biggest global players - from New York to London - have been forced to close stores and fire store associates while, on the other hand, certain companies are thriving. Players (like Amazon) who have historically simply been e-commerce retailers are now opening bricks and mortar stores.
If the media is to be believed, retail is in crisis. Yet the reality is a different, more complicated picture. Retail store numbers continue to grow. According to Census Bureau data, 2018 saw a net increase in retail stores in the United States. There were almost 3,100 more stores during the fourth quarter of 2018 than the same quarter a year earlier. And there’s a direct link between physical stores and e-commerce. When a store closes, retailers see their e-commerce sales fall by nearly 40% in the store’s immediate area.
What’s clear is retail - and the expectations consumers have of retailers - is changing. It’s no longer good enough for retailers to simply do the same things they’ve always done. They have to change, adapt and evolve with the times in order to stay relevant, successful and profitable.
With Black Friday 2019 fast approaching, we thought this would be a good moment to reflect on the trends we’re currently seeing in the industry and we expect to see in the year ahead:
1. Customer experience
Forget price and convenience, in 2020 customer experience will be the most important differentiator between brands. Retailers are embracing new ways of doing business, re-engineering how they connect with customers, blending physical and digital experiences, deploying new technologies and creating experiences consumers love.
Whether it’s advanced personalisation, being able to fulfill orders anywhere, self-checkout solutions, changing the roles of store associates so they are more customer focussed, or even frictionless shopping - retailers who prioritise customer experience (and empower their employees) are the ones getting the edge on their competitors.
According to a study carried out by McKinsey, 83% of customers say they want their shopping experience to be personalized in some way and, in doing so, retailers can increase store revenues by up to 30%. Customers are more informed than they ever have been before, they expect more, and, if they don’t get it, they will happily shop elsewhere at a place where their needs are met.
So how can retailers transform their customer experience? Two of the key ingredients are empowered employees and how they use technology…
2. Empowered employees
The role of the store associate is changing. They are no longer there simply to operate a cash register or meet and greet customers. They are an essential part of creating a transformative customer experience. They are storytellers, brand champions, they should love what they do and the role of the retailer should be to do everything in their power to help their employees do their job to the best of their abilities.
Whether it’s store associates or managers, tools like a WFM system can help revolutionise their work-lives. Managers can save hours of time each week through automated scheduling and time reporting, powered by AI and machine learning. They can manage their stores through the phones in their pockets rather than being stuck in front of a computer in the back office. This means they can spend more time with their staff, with customers or fine-tuning how the store is presented - ultimately improving the store’s performance and the level of customer service.
The same is true for employees. Tech can help free up their time by automating or vastly streamlining tasks that were previously time consuming. Through a mobile app, they can choose when they want to work, easily switch shifts, take on more hours and log when they have worked. It empowers them, keeps them engaged and lets them do the work they enjoy doing their most. And as we know, happy employees lead to a happy business.
3. Tech & digital revolution
Of course, the tech and digital revolution extends beyond WFM software. From tools which link ecommerce to bricks and mortar allowing real time unified commerce to take place through to facial recognition being used to help deliver personalised in-store offerings to customers, retailers who are embracing advances in technology stand a much higher chance of being successful.
Mckinsey’s research also found stores who invest in technology are likely to achieve EBIT margins twice those they currently have with a better customer experience, higher employee engagement and easier to run stores. They say: “The technology necessary to achieve this transformed P&L is available now, and we calculate that it is ROI-positive.”
Download our Strategic Workforce Management guide for more insight into they ways cloud-based and mobile-first workforce management software can transform your retail store.