Supporting The Changing Role Of Store Colleagues

5 June 2023

One of the greatest things and what we love most about working within the retail industry is the passion of its employees. Colleagues are passionate about the way that their stores look, the way stock is presented, and the availability of the items customers want. They want to drive sales and to be the best and most profitable store in the region. Naturally, store colleagues are then frustrated if the tools provided slow them down and get in the way of delivering outstanding customer service.

Recruiting in retail is a challenge and the role of the store colleague has seen many shifts in recent years with greater expectations from customers and management, and more tasks to be completed on a more regular basis too. Focus has shifted to attracting team members and employee satisfaction is high on the agenda with training, motivation and staff retention all top priorities for retail management teams.

How has the role of the store colleague changed?

As the retail industry navigates changes in the way people shop and continues to innovate to meet the growing expectations of consumers, the role of the store colleague swells to encompass a growing list of tasks and responsibilities. From what used to be a role focused on helping customers find the right products, serving customers at fixed till points, putting out the latest delivery, rolling out pricing promotions and generally ensuring a presentable and welcoming store, let’s consider just how much more the role of the store colleagues now covers…

Frequency of tasks

One of the big changes in retail is often overlooked, and that’s doing more of the same. Much more. If you take in-store pricing, at least one area of the store is constantly in sale and therefore the need to reprice quicker and more regularly exists. Promotions also come and go much more frequently, and they are often reactive and need to be actioned fast.

The same is true of stock counting. Historically retailers may have counted store stock twice a year, and this was done when the stores were closed and required staff to work anti-social hours. There was possibly even an outside agency that was brought in to complete the stock counting. The availability of better tools and technology has meant that stock can be counted much more regularly and retailers have seen that maintaining stock integrity results in improved sales figures and customer satisfaction.

Omnichannel working

It is not that many years ago that click-and-collect didn’t exist. With the rise of eCommerce and the integration of online with in-store, click and collect is a new task that has been added to an existing set of tasks for store colleagues. The same is true of web returns being processed in-store. While store colleagues will have been familiar with processing store returns, your web returns process is likely to be different and the frequency of returns will have grown too.

For retailers who offer a more advanced omnichannel experience to their customers, there may also be additional tasks such as placing orders for customers where the stock isn’t currently available in-store, kerbside collections and buy online pick in-store (BOPIS) to contend with. In the past, tasks were focused on the store and store alone, now there are many different elements to juggle.

Data visibility creates great expectations

With an expanse of software tools at their disposal, retailers are now inundated with data that can be used by head office, area managers, and store managers. Interpreting all that data and drawing usable insight from so many sources is difficult, add to that the challenge of passing on useful, relevant insight to store colleagues and there is quite the data minefield to contend with.

Greater visibility of moment-by-moment progress has also added greater pressure to stores as expectations rise with it. Now, Area Managers know exactly how many sales you’ve made in the last hour, they know that you have or haven’t priced your store, and how many click-and-collect orders you’ve accepted and this puts pressure on store colleagues. Unless stores are also giving the right tools and enough of them to keep pace with expectations, resentment builds.

The danger of data is that it doesn’t show a full picture of all that goes on in a store. It doesn’t, for example, consider the specific customers store colleagues have spent time with or how those customer needs could differ extensively from one day to another. Store data may reflect measurable tasks but doesn’t make allowance for human interactions and delivering exceptional customer service which are arguably the most important parts of physical retail as the main point of difference.

Customer expectations have grown too

Your service is compared to all others. It’s no longer your immediate competition you need to be concerned with but every other retail interaction your customers have. If in another store they’ve enjoyed the experience that tools and technology can deliver, this is their new benchmark and reflects on you.

If the customer’s just been to the shop next door and has been able to order their products online, walk into the store, and pick it up without even interacting with a store colleague but then they’ve come to you to discover a manual process that sees store colleagues left searching for an order in the stock room for 20 minutes, they might think twice about coming back.

How can you better support store colleagues with technology

How exactly can retailers use technology in their stores as part of their strategy to attract, retain and delight employees?

78% of employees feel more valued when they’re given technology and tools to make their job easier. Anything that you can give a store colleague that will achieve this and make work more enjoyable is something to seriously consider, not only will it lead to empowered, happy, and motivated staff, but ultimately you will get more from store colleagues as you enable them to more and do different things in your business. Here are just some of the ways retailers can offer store colleagues better support through technology:

Arm store colleagues with better data

When a customer goes online, they can research the product they need, view detailed product information, check out reviews and compare pricing. They can also readily see stock availability and even find other recommended products to meet their needs. Store workers have understandably become frustrated as the information gap between e-Commerce and brick-and-mortar operations grows. This was evident in Zebra Technologies’ 2023 Global Shopper Study where 67% of store workers expressed concern over shoppers are better connected to information than they are.

Your store team are your experts, they understand the products that you sell. They want to be able to replicate that online experience and give even more in the store, but they are held back by poor visibility and a lack of accurate information.

Armed with customer insight and in-depth knowledge about your products, promotions, and stock availability gives store colleagues the ability to truly assist the sales process. They can guide customers towards products with strong stock availability, where there’s a cross-sell opportunity or advise customers of complimentary offers. To achieve this, you need to be able to share the right data with them. How do you make sure your store workers know what products you have, what’s new and just come in? How do you train and educate them on new lines being introduced so that they’re able to make solid recommendations and have confidence in what they say?

The store colleague wants as many tools as possible to offer the best possible service to the customer. Providing the means to see stock and product data on a mobile device and by making your e-Commerce store accessible to them too, you’re giving store colleagues confidence in the information they’re telling the customer, and that is powerful.

Embrace authenticity and social proof

Happy customers really are your greatest advocates and verified reviews bring significant integrity to your brand and products leading to more sales. Online there is so much information available to the customer and this can be overwhelming. Finding trusted sources can be challenging and that’s why social proof is now a key part of the purchasing journey with independent views holding a lot of weight in decision-making.

Today, many retail brands have embraced authentic user-generated content within their e-Commerce sites, showing real people with unfiltered opinions who share their own photos and experiences. Share those reviews in-store too, arm your store workers with the same information users can find online and find ways to incorporate reviews within your product displays and on the shelf edge.

Introduce remote assisted selling

Some retailers are already introduced remote assisted selling, particularly for advising on the selection of electronics, but the scope to extend this to other retailers is huge and it could feasibly be supported by existing store colleagues with the right technology. Assisted remote selling deployed in this way would enable customers to speak directly to a store either by voice or video for support. Maybe they want to better understand the size or weight of an item, perhaps I want to see the colour or even how it looks on.

This would simplify the infrastructure needed to support additional services and provide a more holistic experience for the customer. Imagine how powerful being connected to an expert at your local store would be for you as the customer to then complete your purchase journey in-store with that same sales colleague.

Remove the silos in your retail channels

Most retailers have multiple sales channels, but all too often these channels are viewed individually. To consumers, however, you are simply one business – they don’t differentiate between your brand on social media vs. your online store and their local high street store. Their journey with you is not linear and, equally, it won’t be the same every time.

Someone might ultimately buy a new TV on your website, but they might also have gone to your local electronics store several times, assessed the options available and compared the quality in person. They could have spoken to your in-store expert but it’s a big decision and one they didn’t want to rush. That same customer wanted to go home first or perhaps they simply couldn’t fit the TV in their car. How could technology be used in-store to allow customers to continue their purchase journey later or perhaps place an order in-store to be delivered to their home?

Your sales data shows that a customer went on your website and bought a new TV in a single visit, but the reality was very different – they were supported by a store expert and went with their recommendation, but ended their purchase journey online where they were able to book to receive the delivery on a day that suited them. How does your retail business recognise the role of the store and your store colleagues in sales like this? Are you sure revenue is attributed fairly, or do stores miss out because the business’s sales and success are not measured as one?

Lean on us to support your store colleagues with better technology

Working with leading retailers to innovate their in-store operations with the right technology, we engage with store teams to understand the ways in which they work and how we can make it easier for them to do their jobs. Key to this is identifying what causes them frustration – whether that’s inefficient processes or a lack of tools to work effectively. To assess how the technology that your retail business use could better support your staff, speak to our team of retail technology experts.

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