It’s been a tumultuous year for retail. With Forever 21 and Payless Shoes closing their doors earlier this year, recent announcements regarding administration from Mothercare and Mamas and Papas has compounded a challenging outlook for the global retail market. The conditions remain changeable and with no end in sight for this ongoing ambiguity (think Brexit), these times are likely to continue for a while yet. So how can retail solve these challenges?
Making more of the store
First things first. There continues to be ongoing debates as to whether retail can have sustained success and survive in the digital times of the Internet of Things when they still have bricks and mortar stores. We see establishments like those listed above closing their doors, and yet there are many which continue to grow amongst the changing tides of ecommerce. Indeed, some are thriving. For example, H&M has projected continued growth for its physical stores; they’re saying that online is still less than 15% of overall sales.
So, what are the likes of H&M doing differently?
They’re elevating the customer experience. Not only are they evolving the way their physical channels operate (from a commercial and business perspective), but they are also positioning the store as an essential tool within the complex web of the customer experience. Those that are growing are reframing stores to complement other channels and not purely be a sales space. The role of the store is changing, and with that, how retailers interact with customers needs to change too.
Biggest retail challenges 2019 – customer at the core
It’s clear that successful retailers are blurring the lines between the online and in-store experience, with a coherent, memorable customer experience acting as the lynchpin. Ultimately, prioritizing the customer is critical for growth, but endurance too.
This video from Deloitte clearly shows how the customer experience could overlap between physical and digital to provide a truly seamless experience. This vision is great, but how do organizations provide stellar in-store experiences? Amongst others, we believe one of the most critical barometers for success will be learning and development.
Retail challenge 1: Crafting and delivering next-generation customer experiences
The evolution of the traditional store model is great for many businesses, but what impact does that have on their employees? How are they keeping pace with the super-swift changes which are occurring? Do they know how to elevate their approach, adapt their messaging and communicate and engage with customers in new ways?
Clearly, the by-product of all this change is a clear need for scalable learning solutions. Retailers must be able to produce a variety of learning content to their employees at speed. This ensures their teams are keeping pace with the evolution of the customer experience, new product lines and supply chain management (to name just a few). And that isn’t just in terms of business changes, because the customers’ needs are going to change too – probably faster than you thought.
Retailers’ shop-floor staff are also going to need to keep up with seasonal trends and products and adjust to ever-changing customer buying behaviors. This means learning such as the below must become business-critical:
- New product knowledge
- Service expertise
- Customer challenge empathy
- Active listening, perception and application
- Constant communication
- Patience and positive language
Understanding what the customer needs, and indeed where they are at in their buying journey will continue to be a vital factor in delivering elevated customer experiences. All team members must be well versed in this, and the process of upskilling will play a critical role.
Retail Challenge 2: Engaging (and keeping) employees
Unfortunately, in amongst all of these changes retail also contends with having a very high employee turnover rate. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, the average turnover rate in the US retail industry is slightly above 60% (the average overall is 15%, just for context).
At a binary level, losing great employees has a devastating effect on a retailer’s bottom line – not only through productivity and the associated onboarding, training and hiring costs, but it’s also critically damaging to the customer experience. Retailers need to explore how to further engage with their employees, connect them to the business and its values and ultimately, endeavor to lower turnover.
How does learning help with employee engagement?
According to recent research, 94% of employees would stay at a company if it invested in their career development. Some of you may be thinking: “We do offer our employees learning opportunities”, but if those opportunities look more like essential knowledge such as compliance, product knowledge or how to stack shelves properly, you’re likely to have some bigger challenges on your hands.
The key here is to create a culture of learning and provide opportunities to learn when your people need it. Things which are fundamental to retailers from a learning perspective include:
- Accessible on employee mobiles and on the shop floor
- Easy-to-use and extract knowledge
- Short, succinct and to the point
Employees are time-poor and at the customers’ whim most of the time, so ensuring they can access information when they need it is critical for ongoing employee engagement.
Customer-centered = people-centered experiences
No doubt, many retailers are already exploring emerging trends and technologies which they can use to execute stellar customer experiences. Of course, these will help. But the reality is that many technological advancements will fall flat should businesses fail to conquer the two key challenges we have defined here: delivering exceptional customer service and engaging and retaining employees.
Aligning physical retail with online experiences is likely to be a vital revenue driver, and indeed critical to the ongoing delight of customers. The bricks and mortar store is not dead, but its role certainly has changed.
So I ask you, in this period of adaptation and evolution, are you doing enough to prepare your employees? Do they presently have the skills to meet the needs of your consumers? Are your existing tools fit for purpose? If not, maybe it’s time to add a few more to your toolkit!