Many retail stores face a growing challenge.
As more and more technology falls into the hands of consumers, some shoppers are leaving traditional retail associates behind. This is seen in Zebra Technologies' 2017 Global Shopper Study.
According to their survey, fully one half of millennial shoppers feel they are better connected than the actual retail associates. This means they can search for and find information quicker on their own mobile devices than an associate could find the same information using their in-store systems. Part of this is due to millennials’ comfort with mobile technology and part of it is due to their perception of stores’ internal systems as obsolete.
This perception – and reality, in many cases – extends far beyond millennials. 32% of Gen X shoppers and even 15% of Baby Boomers felt the same way.
So how do you connect your team so that retail associates are providing direct value to your shoppers again?
With technology, of course.
Strengthen Your Back-End Supply Chain Systems
The first step towards building value for your customers is to get the data they want to see. What data is that? Here are some of the most common things that in-store customers want to know:
- What additional information can you tell them about a product?
- Is the product in stock right now?
- Where is the product located?
- What purchasing and fulfillment options are available?
- What other items might replace or complement the product?
The best solution puts the answer to all these questions at your fingertips.
First, you’ll want an integrated warehouse management and inventory system. DecisionPoint designs cloud-based retail systems that work together seamlessly, producing real-time data at every phase of your supply chain.
This is important because traditional supply chain systems relied on periodic batch processes and reporting. They gave accurate snapshots of what was happening earlier – hours, days, or even weeks earlier. But the questions consumers are asking – and retailers need to answer – is where are those products now?
13 Signs You Need to Rethink Your Supply Chain offers a more in-depth look at the reasons for moving your supply chain to the cloud. At the heart of many of those reasons is the availability of real-time data.
Real-time inventory data allows you to access real-time reports. This, in turn, leads to better decision-making. It leads to more accuracy (and efficiency) in your customer-facing systems – such as your retail website – which we'll discuss in the next section. And real-time inventory data feeds into whatever sophisticated machine learning and AI tools you select, making their outputs more valuable.
Combining cloud-based supply chains with mobile merchandising, sales, and delivery solutions sets the foundation you’ll need to answer all those real-time customer questions. And now that you have the answers, you'll need some boosts to your customer-facing solutions as well.
Strengthen Your Customer-Facing Systems
Once you have the data available in your inventory system, you’ll need a front-end system that delivers it to customers. Retail websites and mobile apps are the most obvious choices, but it's the technologies packed into those outlets that really matter.
Getting your sites to reflect real-time inventories is the "easy part." Since both exist together in the cloud, built on cloud-based database tools, your retail site(s) can automatically reflect any changes in your inventory. This can be done over multiple stores and locations, so that customers can view results from whichever store they choose.
With real-time fleet management tracking, you can offer accurate assessments of when a product will be available. And, finally, real-time inventory and warehousing opens the gate to omnichannel distribution systems. This sets every location up as a shipping and fulfillment center, allowing you to offer a variety of fulfillment options.
Of course, your retail sites need to be able to communicate all those choices and data to your customers. Having your data already in the cloud makes it that much easier, but there are still plugins and modules to choose, install, and build. You can also integrate other sources of product information into your sites, such as feedback, reviews, demonstration videos, instructions, and more.
Another, more recent customer-facing tool is locationing. This uses technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-fi to pinpoint a person’s location within a store. Integrated with interactive map features (similar to Google Maps) and loaded with real-time merchandising data, the true potential of locationing is yet unknown – but its value is already clear.
Connect Your Staff with the Same (or Better) Access as Your Customers
As we explained in the introduction, many shoppers discount the value of retail associates. That's usually due to unfavorable past experiences, unfortunately. Many of the mobile devices seen on sales floor these days are personal, rather than business, devices – and companies are forced to encourage that for a variety of legal and liability reasons. Which means even when associates are willing to pull out their personal smartphones and look something up for a customer – and many do, to their credit – the information they're supplying is the same information the customer could look up on their own.
To make your retail associates more relevant in the eyes of your shoppers, we recommend the following strategies:
- Provide business-specific mobile devices
- Provide training on all your customer-facing systems
- Provide tools that offer additional value to customers
Business-specific mobile devices are important because they keep your employees from the difficult decision of using their own personal devices to help customers – a policy violation in most stores that have not adopted a BYOD philosophy.
DecisionPoint recommends that at least some of these devices be tablets, if not all of them. Why? Because customer perception of associates with tablets is much higher. According to Zebra, 57% of shoppers cited associates using tablets as a factor that improved their customer experience.
Armed with a tablet, your associates appear not only more visibly connected but also better trained. On top of it all, a tablet's screen is easy to share with a customer. Product information, in-stock levels, and store maps all look much better on a larger display.
Another advantage of business mobile devices is that they can be equipped with better scanners and access to cloud-based merchandising tools. More recent trends include mobile "anywhere" checkouts, although some of these make no use of sales floor associates at all.
Build Tools to Fill the Gaps
How can retail associates – even ones armed with tablets – provide more value to customers?
Even with the most up-to-date solution of cloud-based software, there will still be questions your associates can’t answer. Problems they can’t solve.
By thinking outside the box, you could fill some of those gaps. Create your own tools based on the needs of your specific customers in your specific industry. Not only will these tools perfectly match your operational flow, but there might also be a market for them amongst other retailers.
DecisionPoint Will Help You Find the Answers
Unfortunately, DecisionPoint can’t answer your customers’ questions outright. But we can design a customized solution for you that puts all the pieces in place. We can help you integrate it into your supply chain and operational flows. And we can even build the custom applications you need to multiply your solution’s value, setting it apart from any other. Contact us at DecisionPoint today and we’ll discover the best way to answer those real-time customer questions.