Are retailers really getting the most out of their Store Associates?

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As the store evolves to support a complex, omnichannel retailer experience, the role of the Store Associate is changing. But, do retailers know what their Store Associates are doing right now? How can they maximise the value of each Store Associate? And, is there any activity greater in importance than consumer engagement in store?

Gareth Thomas, Retail Business Consultant at Zetes explains the importance of optimising Store Associate activity to not only prioritise excellent customer engagement but also improve efficiency and transform profitability.

Understanding in-store activity

The role of the high street store has changed fundamentally over the past decade – and with it the day to day activities of the Store Associate. While it is now a given that retailers will offer click and collect and buy online and return in store; increasingly self-informed and empowered customers heading in store also expect a Store Associate to offer a far more engaging and personal shopping experience.

But where does that leave the Store Associate now tasked with multiple roles from fulfilling click and collect orders to managing inventory, replenishing shelves and selling? How can a retailer manage these diverse in-store activities to maximise productivity and efficiency and achieve a great customer experience? Does the retailer have the tools to react to real-time demands such as in-store order fulfilment and are they able to manage and prioritise their store resources? How much time is being spent on these activities? Are retailers setting new Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that reflect the new in-store complexity – for example, do staff prioritise greeting a customer over replenishing stock, or simply wait for a customer to make the first approach?

Right now, the vast majority (69%)* of retailers have no insight into the way Store Associates spend their time and, therefore, no way of determining how to optimise any aspect of activity. Of those retailers that can monitor activity, Store Associates typically spend 30% of their time managing inventory, including inventory management and replenishment in the back of the store.

Of course, a Store Associate's primary role is still improving sales through direct customer engagement. However, increasing customer expectations and their changing behaviour, along with the fact that for almost a third of the time Store Associates are not customer facing are all having a significant implication for in-store revenue and long-term loyalty and this cannot be ignored. Customers are simply more empowered and impatient; they are checking products online before entering the store and if a product is not on the shelf, the vast majority will just walk back out. And if they do ask a Store Associate, they want information fast – with 30% prepared to wait less than two minutes for information; 70% leaving within five.

How can a retailer empower their Store Associates to effectively juggle all of these requirements to both achieve profitability through improved productivity and meet customer expectations in order to maximise sales?

Empowering Associates

Clearly the number one priority has to be to provide Store Associates with a real-time view of inventory – something achieved by just 36% of retailers to date - preferably via a mobile device to ensure a customer query can be answered on the shop floor. However, while this will improve the quality of the customer interaction, it does not address the 'multi-job' challenge and the fact that a great customer experience can only be delivered by an available associate, not by one stuck in the stock room.

In addition to the real-time view, streamlining logistics processes such as inventory receipting and automated flagging of inventory gaps on the shelf can reduce the time spent handling stock. Critically, it is about leveraging real-time information to improve task management and using this information to dynamically prioritise and allocate the task activities of the store associates.

As the store increasingly becomes a multi-purpose location, retailers need to become far more prescriptive about each employee's objectives, setting clear KPIs for each task. In addition to a real-time view of inventory and slick inbound logistics, improving these tasks will also require improved analytics and insight into the overall store performance. By analysing all Store Associate activity and assessing its impact on the store's overall revenue, a retailer will be able to undertake a continual reassessment and optimisation of task management and therefore get the most out of each staff member in-store; increasing their value for both the business and its customers.

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