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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Using Retail Technology To Make Human Connections Boom

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CEO & Co-Founder @SimpliField, the ultimate all-in-one mobile platform for retail operations, communications and employee performance.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on human interactions. Simultaneously, retail is experiencing a digital boom: According to McKinsey, in a matter of around eight weeks, Covid-19 made us jump a record five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption, and 75% of people using digital channels for the first time in 2020 indicate they will continue to use them when things return to “normal.”

While the focus has been on virtual and AI technology — think customer-facing technology like virtual try-ons and 3D-configuration — I believe retail technology is now moving toward a heavier focus on in-person human interactions.

As retailers continue to adapt, technology should not be used as a crutch. Rather, technology should empower those who provide real, human customer experiences: your retail teams.

Drawing on my experiences as the co-founder of a mobile platform for retailers and working with over 130 brands, there is a clear and increasing focus on employee empowerment, not only to reach operational excellence, but also to deliver excellent customer service in every store. In a sector for which the physical world is at the center of operations, here’s how you can leverage the digital world to help human connections boom and what this means for retailers. 

Physical retail is still important to customers.

Since Covid-19, retail customers have experienced a digital surge and its effects on behaviors, meaning many are actually craving real human connections in addition to (and not to replace) digital means. According to PwC’s March 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, in-store shopping remains consumers’ channel of choice for daily or weekly shopping.

Knowing this, retailers should consider upgrading their approach to experiential retail, moving away from virtual/AI technologies meant to replace people and more toward empowering in-store talent to deliver renewed customer experiences. Rather than give your field teams yet another tool to manage, help them reach sales goals with tools that empower their customer interactions.

Focus on implementing omnichannel strategies to connect retail’s online and offline worlds, as well as hyper personalization and localization to create unique experiences and connections between customers, store associates and brands. Think through the value-add of your technology and how much resources it will require for implementation before investing.

Look for technologies that offer “end-to-end” capabilities, with the ability to connect headquarters to regional store managers and field teams. Use messaging and newsfeed options to improve your team’s understanding of company goals, merchandise and services. Not only is it essential for those in the field to quickly answer questions about your offerings when interacting with shoppers, but this can also avoid creating misinformation or confusion between online and in-store experiences. Lastly, think through your online and offline communications strategies: Make the most of photos to avoid long chat responses, and create concise reports and tasks to avoid field teams spending too much time on their devices rather than with customers.

Push for digital transformation by investing in your retail employees.

Retail teams have been under tremendous pressure — from implementing constantly evolving compliance measures to interacting with both customers and colleagues from a distance. Zoom-fatigue and endless streams of information are making human connections get lost in the noise. I suggest to use technology for retail performance to empower your workforce, providing them with the communication, operation and analytics tools they need to bridge the digital and physical worlds, increase efficiency and provide visibility. (Disclosure: My company provides a retail platform.)

With this objective in mind, I’ve found mobile tools can be effective: In a 2020 WBR survey that my company sponsored, the majority of retail directors and industry leaders said mobile phones will have the most ROI post-Covid-19 when working with customers on the shop floor. Not only does mobile retail technology enable teams at all levels to be closer and more physically mobile than ever, it is also what the new and younger retail workforce expects to have at work. 

From the start, retail managers must nurture the technology for it to work efficiently and resonate with their retail teams. Digital transformation in retail can only work effectively if leadership and company culture are in line. Similarly, be sure to inform employees about the benefits of your digital tools and provide proper support and training to help them meet customers’ expectations and augment human interactions.

A key best practice for retail technology to be truly efficient is integration. Keeping everything in one place — from reports to one-on-one communications — will save precious time and resources to increase focus on reaching strategic objectives. Consolidating data can also enable retailers and brands to bridge the data gap that exists between their physical and online retail channels and allow for more personalized customer experiences in stores.

Here, real-time data analytics will be critical as you think through your omnichannel strategy. Utilize technologies with multiple API connections and connect with other tools such as CRM, training, stock and inventory, in-store ops, omnichannel and workforce management tools for a holistic viewpoint of your online and offline worlds.

The Takeaway

Although retail technology isn’t new, it is now about your employees. A retail renaissance is already underway, meaning those retailers who invest in adapted retail performance technology will be the last ones standing: both in recruiting and motivating their workforce, but also in bringing the most customers possible back in stores for innovative, exciting and human experiences.

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