The workforce are possibly the most undervalued and yet most valuable asset a retailer possesses. Here Andrew Busby argues the case for reinventing the workforce for competitive advantage.
Interactive, immersive retail personalised to a level currently unheard of is the future of retail.
Consumers more than ever demand an experience and need to feel that they can both engage on their terms and that the brand engages with them in more and more inventive ways. Coupled with this, we will see more and more artisan type experiences from coffee shops to fashion outlets. As people travel more and more we get more and more demanding and our expectations increase based on the best of breed we experience around the world. In addition to this, the expectations and behaviour of millennials is dramatically different from the baby boomer generation. The former want, no expect, to be able to influence the world around them eg. through social media and for their consequential experience to be positively impacted accordingly.
All this has huge implications for retailers and the High Street. Whilst all the attention these days focuses on online shopping, especially via smartphones, in the US although growing rapidly, online still only accounts for 6% of all retail transactions* and although this ratio is changing, the criticality of the store experience cannot be underestimated. The instant “get in the car and get it” desire is something the likes of Amazon cannot (yet) compete with. A well integrated multi dimensional retailer should always win over a pure play simply by reason of the fact that we are social beings and shopping for many of us is a social activity. Imagine if the situation were reversed? Doing all but 6% of our shopping online via a smartphone or tablet would get incredibly dull and one dimensional.
According to Forrester “We’ve entered an era in which the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers”. And I would suggest that in the main this needs to be a physical, sensory engagement.
We need experiences, we need to be stimulated and in particular we need the experience of going shopping to be a positive sensory one which involves all of our senses. Sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing all play an important role and in order to achieve this, retailers must drive more and more innovation in order to differentiate their brand and in turn drive loyalty; if such a concept still exists on the High Street.
But here’s the interesting thing. One key advantage which clicks and mortar retailers have over pure play is staring them in the face. It is an asset which is widely undervalued and sometimes almost disregarded when considering customer experience. It is something which is ever present in stores and can drive loyalty or it can turn customers off in the blink of an eye. What is this asset? The workforce. Traditionally looked upon simply as sales assistants, the sad reality in the industry is that retail is not seen as a valid career path by the majority of teenagers. All they witness are over worked, underpaid store staff stacking shelves in order to earn a little extra money. This is a tragedy. What is needed? The reinvention of the role of the store employee from sales assistant to brand ambassador should be at the top of every retailers list of priorities.
And unless this happens and happens rapidly, the implications are clear. As mentioned previously, the likes of Amazon cannot compete with the emotional engagement and stimulation a great store experience can deliver but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. It will only be a matter of time before this changes and for those clicks and mortar retailers who fail to grasp this, they will only have themselves to blame.
*source: US Department of Commerce