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How the right technology can help workers stay in the holiday spirit all season long

With rising wages, a healthy economy and record unemployment, the competition among retailers to attract seasonal talent is as intense as it has been in decades, with prospective employees having their choice of employment options this holiday season. An overlooked aspect many job hunters are now prioritizing is their workplace experience, which is no longer just tied to the brand but the technology they interact with.

When weighing multiple job offers, a prospective employee often considers a retailer’s culture of innovation. Specifically, innovation priorities include faster onboarding and training, improved efficiency from new technology access and working more closely to how they live with improved user experiences and mobile capabilities. This is true not only for long-term positions but for seasonal hires as well. In addition, the holidays create an environment of heightened expectations.

Consumers are eager to get what they want, when they want it (not to mention at a great price) and retailers don’t have the luxury of time to invest in long training processes. New hires need the right tools to hit the ground running: mobile, intuitive applications that deliver accurate information in real-time. This will ensure job satisfaction and success which trickles down to the consumer. Because if associates don’t feel set up for success, they will accept employment elsewhere or they will inevitably deliver poor customer service – and this holiday season, neither outcome is acceptable.

Using technology to improve employee onboarding
In today’s technology-driven shopping experience, the role of the store associate can make or break the customer experience and overall perception of that store. This is especially true in a retail environment that enables shopping convenience outside a store atmosphere, such as a pop-up shop or offsite order pickup/return center. Because of these new and shifting formats, store associate roles are evolving to include a mix of being a salesman, brand ambassador and e-commerce fulfillment. In fact, according to our latest research, The New Topography of Retail, 74% of consumers rate knowledgeable in-store staff as important to their overall brand experience. What many people miss is that workers who can thrive in complex roles, such as handling shipping and fulfillment, aren’t just arms and legs; these workers have specialized skills that are harder to find.

Investing in technology that can reinforce important procedures will ensure associates are ready for any task. But equally important is the need for associates to have a solid sense of inventory availability and promotions, in real-time. The need for instant contributions from new employees is especially crucial during the tight holiday sales window, occurring over a matter of weeks. To keep associates up to date as the season progresses, retailers must have a seamless flow of data across core systems from customer to inventory – and they must make that information actionable for employees.

Modernizing the employee experience
Looking beyond the peak season, not only does technology serve to differentiate retailers in the war for talent, it also offers a strong selling point for associates who want to work the way they live – with accessible technology right at their fingertips. This benefit may be hard to come by, as less than half of retailer respondents say they empower employees with mobile capabilities, according to a recent Oracle study, making this a unique selling point when attracting talent that will differentiate your brand both on the sales floor and at HQ.

Along with the need for more seasonal employers during the holidays, retailers would be smart to increase their mobile POS devices. The integration of a mobile POS will allow for diffusing long lines during the holiday rush, and with real-time inventory and customer data on hand, associates can offer a better customer experience for shoppers. It’s important to keep in mind that a multi-format POS environment that offers associates consistency across devices will ensure seamless experiences for both employees and consumers regardless of their location in the store.

Finally, standout employees should be recognized for their contribution to the team. The right technology can ensure employees receive credit for their specific contributions to any sales gain by tracking the performance of each individual store in real-time.

Looking forward to 2019: the power of voice technology
As mobile has become ubiquitous with our daily lives, so soon will voice technology. Voice-enabled artificial intelligence technologies like Alexa and Siri guide them through their daily routines away from the office and soon they will expect that same experience at work. Retailers can capitalize employees’ increased reliance on AI by implementing this technology where relevant within their stores, serving as a positive selling point when comparing multiple retailers’ offers.

For instance, offering associates AI technology from mobile devices that provide access to customer history and preferences, accurate inventory data and the entire range of shipping and fulfillment options, will greatly improve associates’ overall efficiency, and in turn, will aide in their success serving customers. Similarly, this technology can also assist with regular updates on inventory and store sets, helping employers better manage potential out-of-stock issues, and providing the right balance of inventory for customer demand — two important, yet often overlooked, aspects of an associate’s job.

For potential employees, technology platforms that minimize inconveniences within a busy holiday shift and make their work experience feel more familiar can be the ultimate determinant when selecting a place of work for the holiday season and beyond. Simply put, empowering employees to work the way they live won’t only be a present for them but will be the gift that keeps on giving for retailers by helping them succeed all season long.

Jeff Warren is VP of retail strategy and solutions, Oracle Retail.
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