Brick and Mortar Stores Invest in the Connected Retail Associate

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By Rob Auld, Vice President, Sales – The Americas, SOTI Inc.

Every year, with heightened focus during the holiday season, there’s tremendous buzz around the growth of online shopping and ecommerce.   There’s no doubt ecommerce is growing and permeating shoppers’ lives, but it’s important to understand that in 2017 retail ecommerce sales will only account for about 10 percent of total U.S. retail sales, according to eMarketer.  

There’s still a lot of shopping in traditional brick and mortar stores, and these stores are arming retail associates with the latest mobile technologies to not only improve customer satisfaction, but enable their workforce to become an integral part of their omnichannel strategies. 

Brick and mortar stores are embracing young, tech savvy employees and empowering them with the latest tech tools and software. This article will highlight how retailers are investing in mobile technologies to better connect their employees to build stronger customer loyalty.

The Value of the Connected Retailer

There’s a general consensus that the role of the retail sales associate is dwindling based on a misconception that customers prefer online shopping or self-service to the attention of a store employee with limited product knowledge.  But when nine out of every 10 dollars is still spent inside a physical store, it’s in the store’s interest to stimulate the sales associate role.   With millennial shoppers who understand various shopping channels as a primary buying force, store associates must shift their customer service strategy from a traditional sales-driven model to one that’s geared to guaranteeing a superior customer experience.  The goal is to build long-term customer loyalty by providing real-time, useful knowledge of the customer’s preference matched with the store’s inventory.

Mobile and Informed Retail Associates Bring in More Sales

According to a Mindtree consumer survey, shoppers who interact with a sales associate are 43 percent more likely to purchase a product, and their transactions have 81 percent more value.   With more consumers webrooming and showrooming before making their purchases, it’s more important than ever that retail sales associates have instant access to information to enhance the experience and encourage the sale. 

Tablets are a popular tool in the connected associate’s toolbox. An optimized tablet computer gives the associate access to all the information and data they need to do their jobs and improve the overall customer experience.  The tablet can access a persistent shopping cart and/or read the customer’s purchase history to create a more personalized shopping experience. 

However, to add value and build customer loyalty, the connected associate needs to provide the shopper with information they cannot get on their own mobile device, such as:

  • Real-time inventory visibility in the store, at other stores or in the warehouse and accurate re-stocking data.
  • Competitive price comparison and up-to-the minute customer reviews, as well as access to detailed product information, related products and warranty data.
  • Accurate price and promotion information with automatic price-matching.

An optimized tablet computer is just one mobile tool to help retail associates better serve customers.   Wearables, Bluetooth beacons, mPOS capable mobile devices, wireless printers for receipts and coupons, wearable Bluetooth barcode scanners and A/R glasses with integrated HD cameras, earpieces and microphones are all being deployed in today’s stores to help sales associates deliver information to customers, speed up sales and deepen customer loyalty. 

Retail Really Gets Augmented Reality

Nintendo shared a glimpse of what augmented reality (AR) could do when it launched its Pokémon Go game last year.   Despite wild interest, Nintendo actually lost money on its popular creation.   The real AR winning application may be in retail.   Some stores like Burberry are using augmented reality mirrors to help customers visualize their purchases on their bodies without the time-consuming hassle of trying on clothes.

But retail augmented realty is not only for customer-facing applications.   More and more retailers are relying on AR to help with back-end job responsibilities.  For example, augmented reality glasses or smart glasses make it easy for retail associates to follow a Planogram and restock store shelves, a vital time saver.   The less time associates spend stocking shelves or keeping inventory, the more time they have to help customers. 

New Technology Means New Challenges

With new connected technologies in play, it’s more important than ever to remain vigilant about customer data and compliance.   As retailers equip their associates with mobile devices and deploy more in-store technology, they are escalating many of their current mobility management challenges, and introducing many new ones.   The Internet of Things, and its billions of new endpoints and platforms makes it even harder.  There are challenges around compliance, security and management.  And companies are realizing the security dangers that these connected devices may bring. 

It’s all about keeping data private.  In addition to securing payment information, customers demand that retailers keep their personal data private.   When they sign up for a customer loyalty program or complete an in-store survey, they want to be assured that their personal information is not at risk.   At the same time retailers are concerned about the risk associated with  new in-store technology such as kiosks, mPOS and tablets embedded in shopping carts.  Any of which may offer an opportunity for a malicious cyber-attack.   All new technology needs to be properly configured, encrypted and locked down to mitigate the risk.

Smart Savvy Connected Associates

Sales associates have been a fixture in North American retail since the 1700s and have morphed from order takers and active sales clerks to loyalty-building associates.  Sales associates have always been the heart and soul of retail operations and their roles are quickly evolving.   As Apple can attest, customers are still shopping in their physical stores and relying on tech-savvy, connected associates to improve their overall retail experiences. 

The new connected associate must be well-versed in technology to thrive in this new environment.  Retailers have always been early technology adopters and this trend will not change as beacons and augmented reality technologies become staples in stores, not nice-to-haves.  Now, they are investing in their connected employees to utilize the latest technologies to create the ultimate customer experience. 

rob auldAbout the Author
Rob Auld joined SOTI Inc. in March 2016 as Vice President of Sales for Americas. Rob has since taken over responsibility for all sales, channel and operations in Canada, USA and South America. Prior to joining SOTI, Rob held different roles within Telus, Purolator and Avia, and brings 15 years of telecommunications and IT experience in mobile technology. As an expert in enterprise mobility, Rob brings a unique skillset that merges customer needs together with leading innovation, to enhance existing operations with best-in-class mobile solutions. Rob holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Ryerson University and is based in Mississauga, Ontario.

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