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Blending Technology and Tradition


The 2008 presidential election is upon us, and campaigns are heating up. The issues continue to be debated, but both major candidates believe technology will help shape the workplace and success of corporate America.

This is an important factor as Generation Y becomes a stronger force in the workplace.

“Gen Y,” often defined as the generation born between 1977 and 1997, is comprised of approximately 70 million Americans. Unlike generations before them that have learned to use and rely on technology for business and pleasure, Gen Yers are true “digital natives.”

Most members of this segment own a computer and cell phone, and connect with friends electronically via instant messaging (IM) and texting. Web sites are their primary source of news, and they use blogs to share their opinions.

Retailers are adopting blogs and other nontraditional, electronic-messaging services to stay connected with Gen Y shoppers. But chains should explore how such tools can help attract and retain this segment of the work force.

“Gen Y lives with these tools, and they expect them to be in the workplace,” Robert Fort, VP IT, Virgin Entertainment North America, said at the recent Technology and Operations Store Summit (TOPSS), sponsored by Chain Store Age and Retail Technology Quarterly.

Fort is so bullish on the idea of using these social technologies in the work-place that he has created an environment where his IT team communicates via text messages, as well as telephone calls and e-mails. He said the transition “keeps communications flowing.”

Similarly, Urban Outfitters added IM functionality a year ago. The move has decreased the company’s reliance on e-mail, and as a result, storage needs and record archives have decreased, Calvin Hollinger, the chain’s CIO, said at the TOPSS conference.

And has internally deployed Twitter, a “social community”-based messaging system. Text-based posts are displayed on the user’s Twitter profile page and delivered to “friends” who have signed up to receive them.

“We use Twitter to run new ideas by our ‘fanbase,’ as well as for alerts to internal issues like outages,” Brent Cromley, director of development, , said at NRFtech 2008 IT Leadership Summit, sponsored by the National Retail Federation, Washington, D.C.

Twenty-eight percent of Zappos employees are Twitter users. For associates who aren’t, Zappos offers classes so they can get familiar with the application.

If these “newer” concepts are already giving you cold sweats, don’t worry. The key to blending tradition with technology is to take baby steps.

Remember, almost all members of this generation tote a cell phone or an iPod. Why not deliver training through MP3 downloads, or send tasks or selling hints via a text message? By leveraging employees’ personal devices and social media, retailers will find new ways to “connect” with Gen Y. With a little imagination, retailers may discover other ways to electronically deliver training, impart product knowledge, and most importantly, teach Gen Y the skills needed to become responsible members of their team.

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