How can Retail Technology solve the Labor Problem?
It was reported in late 2021 that over 683,000 US retail workers quit their jobs in October. That was roughly 4.4% of the labor force at the time. And that result followed the month of September where a further 685,000 staff members walked out of stores. Some retailers are throwing money at the issue; opting to pay interview bonuses, hiring bonuses, and even $15.00 per hour to attract and retain front line talent.
And this isn’t just a problem for the retailers themselves. Most third-party labor providers who support those retailers on behalf of major brands are equally challenged to find a sufficient number of team members to staff their store responsibilities. One such company recently shared that they experience a 30% absentee rate every single day. Approximately one out of every three stores they attempt to staff with a person with specific product or service expertise just isn’t there.
Very few of us are surprised at these record number of retail resignations. There are numerous articles being published about the “Great Resignation”. And while brands are diligently working to address the issue, the focus of just finding more people is a pre-pandemic way of viewing the issue. The reality is that there just aren’t enough people to staff all of the various front line needs that traditional retail has established in their current formats. Customers will still have questions about products, even if staff aren’t available to help. So how do you help when further incentivising retail jobs isn’t working? Retail technology is one possible way.
What is the impact of missed shifts?
While the absence of retail front line team members is real and not a surprise, the impact on our customer experience is the issue. The obvious issue of having no one in a store to help you is a problem. No one likes to visit a store and wander aimlessly looking for someone to help. And because there are fewer people in the store to provide the customer experience you expect, the likelihood of the person that you do interact with having expertise or even solid knowledge of a category of interest makes for a frustrating outcome. And the frustration is not just with customers. Retail staff members report that their inability to know which questions to ask, what products to recommend, and how to have an effective sales conversation with a customer due to poor onboarding or being pulled into areas of the store where they lack experience is equally frustrating. Let’s all agree on one thing; no one gets up in the morning and says to themselves, “I sure hope I am made to feel inadequate at my job today.” Yet, many retail sales people are winging it every day doing their very best to satisfy customers, who many times, have more knowledge of a product or category than they do because they have conducted preliminary research online. So the staffing and tenure/onboarding issue is causing both camps duress.
How are retailers responding? Retailtainment and Retail Technology!
Now that consumers have gotten comfortable ordering online for numerous categories that they would have never before thought to patronize, they don’t want to come to your store if it isn’t an experience. There needs to be something more than what was available in years past to get them to give up the convenience of ordering online and physically coming in person. People are expecting more. And some brands are working hard to deliver it.
Retailtainment is all about making shopping a unique and enjoyable experience for customers. It can take the form of something simple such as a cooking station and free samples, or be more compelling such as Toys ‘R Us installing a two-story slide in their new store in the American Dream Mall. They are promoting an experience, something more than just going in and pulling toys off the shelf and taking them home. LEGO has equally made investments to transform the experience that their retail footprint delivers. They recently reimagined their New York City flagship store to include retailtainment elements such as immersive digital and physical experiences. In fact, we talked about how retailers can use retailtainment on a recent webinar about retail innovation and investment in late 2021.
The other direction that retailers are moving is to incorporate more retail technology in their physical stores. Currently a lot of the retail technology currently being used is for fairly basic order fulfilment, such as scan as shop technology, self-service checkouts or BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-Up In-Store) technology. And although these help relieve some of the staffing pressures when it comes to lower-value customer interactions and help shoppers that know what they are looking for and are ready to make a purchase, what about the other shoppers? The highest value interaction for a shopper is when they are able to speak to a knowledgeable advisor, that helps them find the right product for them and gives them the confidence to make a purchase. Yet there isn’t much retail technology geared up to mimic this interaction when the staff can’t provide it.
Retailtainment + Retail Technology = Conversity Concierge
So whether that improved environment is more and better staffed stores or an entertaining experience, it creates an urgency for retail brands to figure out how they will invest in this upgraded experience. Most retailers face the question, do I incorporate more retail technology or do I take a more retailtainment focused approach? What if they could do both with one solution?
One such approach to both supporting customers who want to ask questions and get product recommendations while creating a unique experience is the idea of providing a digital assistant on the sales floor. Customers want to be able to walk up to a category such as laptops, refrigerators, cosmetics, or many others and immediately engage someone (or something) to answer their questions and find just the right product for them. Imagine if a retailer could simply install a touch screen in front of one of these categories or kiosks that asked a customer about their motivation, mindset, and interest behind a particular purchase and be taken on a digital journey on the screen to just the right product for them. The use of a touch screen and retail technology that shoppers directly engage with gives the shop an innovative feel, while also providing a shopping experience that gives confidence and knowledge to the shopper. Retailtainment and retail technology, in one solution.
Conversity Concierge is just that innovation. Concierge is a Software-as-a-Service solution that deploys on devices in-store to provide a customer with a series of dynamic questions to help guide them to the best possible product or service recommendation. It can be configured on small, tablet-sized screens or large touch screen devices to create an engaging one to one experience with the customer. The customer journey is dynamic, which means that the questions change depending on how a customer responds to them. Sophisticated algorithms and business rules produce the best possible product recommendation considering product attributes, social media ratings, and inventory levels. The journey concludes with a product recommendation page that gives the customer a chance to review details about the product and purchase it on line or simply scan a QR code for the item and order it online via their mobile phone. A truly omnichannel solution that removes the concerns about staffing or product availability in-store as barriers to generating sales. And if that self-guided customer journey isn’t enough, Concierge offers two other functionalities. The first is a Virtual Sales Agent option that allows the customer to call a retail salesperson either somewhere else in the store, in another store, or even in a contact center far, far away. This enables the customer to have a direct conversation with someone who has the right expertise to answer that question and finalize the sale. The second is a “Call Store Staff” option that alerts others in the store to come to that department to offer additional customer support.
Conversity Concierge puts the power of product knowledge, decision-making, and purchase in the hands of the consumer. It creates an immersive and engaging customer experience that gives control of the experience to the customer.