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CSA Exclusive: Q&A with Bob Phibbs, ‘The Retail Doctor’

Bob Phibbs
Bob Phibbs

A prominent industry thought leader sees trained employees and engaged customers as critical to retail success.

Chain Store Age recently had the opportunity to speak with Bob Phibbs, CEO of retail consulting firm The Retail Doctor, about how retailers can most effectively deploy technology to meet today’s most pressing challenges. Phibbs, who also serves as an American Express merchant advisor and IBM retail futurist, discussed topics including interactive video, BOPIS, and in-store cameras.

How can retailers effectively use leading-edge technology in the store?
“There are a couple of key things retailers can do with technology. They can augment simple tasks using a tablet or mobile device, such as checking stock, scheduling, and internal communications; or employees can use their own smartphones like walkie-talkies. But more importantly, retailers should use technology as a training platform.

“I’ve just partnered with Axonify to bring my training to their learning platform. Remember that gamification is a way to have an employee log into the system, play a quick game to focus their mind, and then better absorb training. Machine learning and artificial intelligence solutions can allow employees to pose additional questions as time goes on to deepen their knowledge. Our SalesRX online training platform enables employees to go through interactive videos. The key is to have great content, understand the role it plays so you can deepen it, and hold employees accountable. Know the percentage of employees who pass training and also how engaged they are. 

“Retailers should use technology-enabled training not just for basic tasks like inventory and price checks, but also to teach employees how to be brand ambassadors and provide a branded customer experience.”

What is the biggest misconception retailers have about deploying technology in their enterprise?
“Retailers think deploying technology is easier than it is. People in the organization must be engaged and understand what has to happen. Too many retailers have the mentality, ‘If we just get some technology, it will solve our ills.’ You must think through all the stakeholders; everyone needs to understand how a particular technology works and be held accountable for it. For example, FootLocker said one key to the success of the deployment of an enterprise training app was that the company CEO and chair of the board logged in every day and employees could see it.”

What type of technology-enabled capabilities do customers want?
“Virtual reality is interesting, but customers don’t want bells and whistles. They want applications that provide a more engaging experience – like BOPIS, which lets them go to the store and know the item is there without having to guess. Or seamless tracking, where customers can return an online purchase in the store and also don’t have to figure out where the items they ordered online are – they can track when an item is shipped, on the way, and delivered with transparency. Any way you can make shipping easier is what customers want, not shiny objects.

“Retailers need to understand what matters to their customers. The ability to digitally set up a kitchen and see how it would look in your home is important for a kitchen design or home improvement retailer, but not so much for someone else. Apparel retailers are very interested in ‘magic mirror’ technology in dressing rooms. Magic mirrors are interesting, but you don’t make the sale until the item is tried on. Magic Mirrors are a tool, but not the tool.”

What will be the biggest retail technology trend of 2020?
“Cameras. There will be cameras in shopping carts so you don’t have to check out, cameras in the sky to see how customers take advantage of your store offerings and how things play out. Cameras in the parking lot will let retailers see what cars their customers drive and determine who their target customer is. Cameras in the back room will ensure associates do their job, and cameras on trucks and other vehicles will track deliveries.

“Also, 2020 is the year we realize low-fi is more important than we give it credit for being. It’s not about empowering the customer. It’s about empowering the associate with training to deliver an optimal customer experience.”

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