As my colleague pointed out in a recent piece with IRT, technology plays a significant role in the life of a retail associate – beginning at the onboarding phase and extending into the various activities of an everyday shift. And, as a result of changing consumer expectations, the use cases for multiple associate-used technologies are only increasing. For example, mobile POS options and tablets allow associates to better meet shopper needs (e.g., check out rapidly, determine inventory availability) and increase conversion rates. The ability to optimize the queue and sell items not in the physical store is now a necessity to succeed in brick-and-mortar retail. And, while purposefully applying technology offers various benefits, technologies should be deployed with careful consideration of the retail environment and approached in a balanced manner.
The threat of automation
Various news outlets continue to underscore the increase in technologies that will, essentially, automate the tasks of hourly workers and replace their roles altogether. Fast food appears to be the industry most associated with this threat; however, retail is included. And, while such a change is very possible, it’s also ill-advised for retailers. Why? Because retail employees are a brand’s greatest differentiator. Store associates are advocates – sought-after experts – and technology should be used to complement their role and deliver on a retailer’s omnichannel strategy.
In other industries, automation replaces a skill that does not have an impact outside of the immediate mechanism (e.g., assembling a box, stamping a label, etc.). In the retail environment, associates possess intangible skills that significantly affect a retailer’s bottom line – specifically, their ability to interact with shoppers, connect with them emotionally, and up-sell products.
Technology isn’t a crutch
It’s imperative for retailers to remember that technology will help create the store of the future. But technology, itself, is not the store of the future. As such, it’s important for each retailer to conduct an audit of its brand, determine key differentiators, and then investigate how new technologies can enhance those points.
For example, a women’s apparel retailer offers a personal concierge who aids in measurements during try-ons, which results in a high number of visits to the fitting rooms. In this scenario, a retailer can leverage technology to create a profile for individual shoppers – recording their specific measurements in order to determine ideal product recommendations and streamline return visits.
Ultimately, by approaching technology in this way, retailers will engage with technology in the most beneficial manner – creating an exemplary in-store experience via solutions with clear ROIs.
A version of this article was originally published in Innovative Retail Technologies.