3 Strategies in the Retailer’s Bull’s-Eye through 2017

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Retailers are always looking ahead, and with the insights offered through RIS and Gartner’s 26th Annual Retail Technology Study it’s easier to make changes that will have an impact well into next year.  In the following, I’ll help connect these research insights with important considerations for retailers trying to thrive in the evolving and competitive consumer marketplace.

While the research placed technological approaches, such as network and IT systems security, high on the list of retailers’ major strategies, I want to focus on three specific strategies that were also in the top ten that impact people and work:

  1. Increasing customer engagement
  2. Adding predictive analytic capabilities
  3. Advancing mobile store/enterprise capabilities

These three strategies demand that retailers ask themselves very important questions:

1. What do our customers expect from us now and in the future?

2. What is our brand promise and how are we delivering on it?

3. What is the difference between customer expectations and what we are actually delivering?

Without understanding the answers to these questions, the service quality gaps will go unrecognized and it will be nearly impossible to execute on any of these strategies.

Increasing customer engagement

To increase customer engagement, retailers need to know what customers want when they step foot inside the physical store, visit the website or download the app.  Don’t assume that matching the price with a rival retailer will drive customers to your store if they are really longing for an expert associate that can answer their questions in a warm, friendly way.

Your internal customer (store associate or manager) is your brand and your key to improving the external customer experience – both for in-store, online, and “save the sale” in the store. As reflected in this graphic, 90 percent of retail transactions still occur in the store, so retailers need to ask “who is taking care of the customer and what are we doing to take care of them?”

Failing to recognize the strong link between employee engagement and customer engagement negatively impacts your business. Gallup research consistently indicates about 70 percent of workers are not engaged.  Therefore, it’s imperative to put more focus on your internal customers.   Engaging your workforce often comes from applying the same thought process used to engage the end consumer.  Consumers value the speed, flexibility and convenience of mobile applications, and so do your associates.   In fact, the number one “surprise” for retailers implementing the latest Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions has been the positive adoption and resulting improved experience of the associates.

As CIOs look into the stores to drive growth, they often overlook the fact that providing systems that support employee engagement, such as self-service, lifts YoY productivity by 20%, according to PwC.  It’s a fairly simple formula — engaged associates provide better customer service resulting in increased revenue and customer loyalty.  Retailers whose associates operate in the top quartile in terms of employee engagement experience a median profitability advantage of 22 percent according to Gallup estimates.

Adding predictive analytic capabilities

Predictive analytics can help retailers build out a positive customer experience.  Beyond demand curves, analytics can unearth not only what products consumers want, but when and how they’d like them delivered.  Not surprisingly, analytics enable the major focus on personalization.  Retailers that simply skim the data surface or only look at obvious metrics miss out on the opportunity to target consumers with unique promotions and communications that convert.  Current-day HCM technology solutions can apply predictive insight to get the right employees on the floor at the right time.

Retailers who properly plan and budget leveraging the bread-and-butter transactional data from workforce management, improve their speed and accuracy which reduces waste and drives conversion, UPT, and sales.  The benefits of using state-of-the-art interactive meta-heuristic scheduling solutions are numerous — managers engage, gain predictive visibility, and optimize labor spend. In addition, collaborative work is enabled and accounted for, coverage is ensured, and the people skills are applied in a predictable and fair manner.

data collectionToday, operations are embracing the real omni-channel.  Not the app version, but the “how do I ensure we don’t lose a sale due to the physical limitations of a store and our inventory management systems?” version.  Retailers are understanding that no matter where the customer comes from they must use all resources to serve and satisfy that customer.  The associate enables that magic conversion moment.  With improved predictive capabilities, retailers provide the store and associates with more options and capabilities to quickly get the right item to the customer. This includes “save the sale” through pack and ship from store, warehouse to home, and store pick-up.  Retailers require the ability to project the Omni channel sales separate from the in-store sale for each specific store and department or merchandise area, and better predictive capabilities offer this visibility while also continuing to streamline in-store operations regardless of revenue source.

Predictive analytics can also help retailers address the shift in the work and workers in the stores and consider incentive plans to support the revenue anywhere models. This data feeds the incentive plans and structures required to reward all participating channel members regardless of the P&L tracking.  Incentives in Omni channel require double counting a sales dollar, while keeping overall P&L principal based.

While many retailers are intimidated by big data and predictive analysis, they need to remember that big data has been around for decades.  Refocusing on practical data approaches, such as leveraging the predictive analytics of their people and using modern workforce and human capital management solutions, is often a key factor in beating the competition and providing a customer experience that resonates.

Advancing mobile store/enterprise capabilities

Any retailer who hasn’t strategically thought through their mobile capabilities will soon be left in the dust.  According to the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, so retailers need to put the ability to easily find, research and purchase products and services right in the hands of their consumers.  The result has been a retailer focus on consumer mobile apps in an effort to improve the customer experience. In fact, 58 percent of retailers said mobile was a top priority in a Forrester report conducted in partnership with Shop.org[1]. While I agree that it’s important to have a solid consumer mobile strategy, I’m suggesting that retailers take a more holistic approach to advancing mobile capabilities across the enterprise — including capabilities for the workforce.

Offering mobile tools means that your workforce is “much more likely to interact with peers and employers if communications are digitally delivered to their mobile devices,” according to an IDC Retail Insights study. However, more than two-thirds of retailers haven’t implemented mobile applications for their staff. For example, associates who have the ability to manage their schedules, communicate with co-workers and access their pay and benefits via their smartphones are going to be more engaged with their employer. As noted with the first strategy, improving employee engagement directly correlates to an improved customer experience.  Advancing mobile capabilities is less about the actual channel and more about recognizing the need to meet your customers and associates where they are.


The best way to earn customers’ trust and engagement is to provide a consistent experience across all of the channels where they find your brand.  And, when developing strategies to increase customer engagement, remember that it often starts with employee engagement.  New levels of predictive capabilities in current HCM systems enable retailers to properly plan and cover in-store and Omni channel work activities.  As a result, your in-store associates remain the foundation for creating and delivering an optimal, consistent customer experience.  Ensure your workforce has the tools, training and support to be engaged, and you’re well on the road to increasing customer engagement and loyalty.


[1] http://digiday.com/brands/state-retail-mobile-apps-5-charts/

John Orr headshotAbout John Orr:

John Orr is Senior Vice President of Retail at Ceridian, a global human capital management company serving over 25 million users in more than 50 countries. Our offerings include Dayforce HCM, a single application cloud solution for Workforce Management, Payroll, Benefits, Human Resources, Talent Management, Document Management, and Analytics – providing retailers with real-time visibility across all areas of the business.


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