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Tech Guest Viewpoint: Empowering the Store Employee


In recent years, the omnichannel world has turned retail on its ear. But after all the innovation, retailers have spoken: the store is back - and employees are going to be a key driver to its success. Retailers are trying to provide services in stores that consumers just can't get online, and for that, store employees become a clear differentiator.

But do retailers have the workforce they need? And what tools does that workforce need to be successful?

RSR Research’s recent benchmark study on the state of the store employee in retail, Empowering the Store Employee, reveals that retailers find themselves challenged to balance investments in store technology that primarily helps employees, and store technology that primarily helps customers – is self service the answer to what consumers want from a store experience, or are employees a critical part of the equation?

Either way, retailers need store employees – to facilitate consumers' self service, or to be that differentiating experience in the first place. While retailers claim that store employees are critical, their actions speak louder than words.

In fact, 59% of respondents report that they invest 10 hours or less per year in training their existing employees. It gets worse: 56% of retailers over $5B in revenue spend 0-10 hours per year training new associates – the ultimate in a "sink or swim" attitude that surely cannot translate into a positive customer experience.

An even greater percentage of mid-sized retailers ($250-$999 million in revenue), 59%, report the same. Those same retailers report investing 10 hours or less of training per year for store managers, compared to 38% of those with less than $250 million in revenue who report 30 hours or more of training per year for their store managers.

What difference will it make to invest in technology to enable stores, when no training – especially on-going training to keep skills fresh – is provided to help employees take advantage of these investments? Even the highest performing retailers (“Retail Winners”), for whom stores presumably are doing well or they wouldn't be experiencing higher-than-average sales, are vulnerable here. Retail Winners may be adding more labor hours into stores, as we found at the beginning of this report, but apparently little of that is going to training.

There is virtually no difference in the percent of Retail Winner respondents (vs. overall results) who invest ten hours or less per year across each employee type. Retail Winners thus face a two-pronged challenge: convincing stores to abandon what seems to be working now, and persuading them to do it with virtually no training to go with that change.

While it may be true that stores will never be eclipsed by digital channels, it is also true that retailers complacent about their store experience may soon find themselves struggling to stay in business. A subpar store experience will only drive consumers online, or into competitors' arms (as we observed, retailers are very focused on grabbing competitors’ customers).

[pb]Omnichannel retailing forces retailers to face up to a very basic question about stores: If a consumer can get whatever she needs online, why does she need to go to a store? Retailers must develop a strong answer to that question – saying "Because stores have always been around and they always will be" is not enough.

To learn more about what challenges and opportunities retailers perceive when it comes to the future of the store in the age of the digitally empowered consumer, and how they plan to address those challenges and opportunities with technology, read RSR’s recent benchmark study, Empowering the Store Employee: Benchmark 2015, available here.

Nikki Baird is managing partner at RSR Research

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