When all is said and done, retailers have two key resources to drive revenue and operate a successful business: the products they procure or have had manufactured for them, and the people comprising their workforce.

Product reinvention is an ongoing process as organisations look to keep up with trends, changing consumer habits, and to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, but it is only in recent times that the people in the industry are having to evolve the way they work.

In a retail world where e-commerce now plays an increasingly prominent role, and as the lines between entertainment, leisure and shopping continue to blur, store staff are required to deliver more than just shelf replenishment and conduct transactions. Increasingly, they are there to serve – and that can manifest itself in ways ranging from personal shopping and product recommendation, to technological knowhow – and in some cases they must entertain and be a brand ambassador.

Expectation levels are high among consumers. They visit stores typically for inspiration, information, and, if they’re on a mission to buy something, heaven help those retailers who can’t fulfil that demand.

In short, when you consider this environment, the retail associate’s role is critical to ensuring a positive brand reputation and in helping customers achieve what they set out to do when they first decided to visit a store. As RSR Research’s Brian Kilcourse put it recently, the retail winners in today’s market don’t see the store as something akin to a walk-in vending machine, as Amazon Go advocates may promote, “but as a place that is one-part shopping, one part fun, and one part social”. 

Empowering retail staff to perform as required

Customers expect staff to have knowledge and to be flexible and understanding of their needs, therefore staff need to be both engaged and given tools to better do their job.

Key performance indicators (KPI) are important in most business environments, but on their own they are just a number on a dashboard, or a report. The secret – and this is particularly true in retail where there is currently an issue with happiness and motivation levels according to research from ex-Waitrose managing director Mark Price’s newly established Engaging Works organisation – is to make sure KPIs are meaningful, reasonable and achievable.

KPIs for staff are typically sales targets, or sometimes conversion ratios. The circle is complete when the targets are aligned to compensation, meaning more money in the store associate’s pocket if they achieve their goals.

For a member of staff to understand what their individual target is, they need to be better informed about wider company strategies and how their work impacts the overall store or department they reside in. When all this is at stake, it’s crucial that an employee’s progress towards the objective is clear – and there are many new ways of ensuring this happens in retail.

Data science and wearable technology

Using modern, dynamic forecasting methods, aligned with clear suggestions for cross selling – which could be based on the time of the day, the weather or on calendar events – will enable a more productive sales environment. This openness to using data science can help retailers better engage staff and, as a result, achieve better results.

And as the demand from wearable devices in the consumer market grows, with Samsung Gear and Galaxy, AppleWatch, Fitbit and other manufacturers like Garmin proving popular, why not use this type of technology in the retail environment to help make the most of the data science available?

By using such wearable technology, retail staff can dynamically and easily monitor progress against their targets, and access company information they feel can help them achieve their goals. This link to business intelligence is key to making KPIs tangible.

With the wider population in the UK using fitness devices as a community tool, to compare cycling, running and walking performance with peers, and to strive to do better, it suggests the backdrop is right for forecasts, KPIs and wearables to have a similar impact on the shop floor.

Who is winning? How I can I overtake? How much further do I have to get my bonus? If such gamification makes the job of being a sales assistant more fun, than there’s a good chance productivity and retail success levels will rise as well.

By Robin Coles, Director, Inovretail 

Robin Coles, Director at Inovretail

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