Q&A with Sucharita Kodali Of Forrester: Leveraging Technology to Keep Associates Safe and Customers Happy
Sucharita Kodali, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, was the guest speaker at a Reflexis Systems webinar on May 28, 2020, titled The New Retail Landscape: Top Five Things Retailers Need to Know for Recovery. After the session, she answered four key questions about how technology can help customers and employees safely interact as retailers start to reopen.
Q: With safety guidelines changing rapidly, safety initiatives and best practices are constantly evolving. How can retailers ensure that the latest safety details are quickly and seamlessly distributed across to field and store teams?
A: There are a number of different ways that information that is essential and updated frequently should be communicated: a mix of email, text messages, and even video messages are effective and can be utilized simultaneously. It’s hard work, but redundancy is important when communicating essential information. Another alternative that many retailers leverage today is a streamlined HQ-store task communication system that allows for prioritization of important messages, corporate visibility, and feedback. Document management systems can also be used to enable store managers or associates to easily retrieve anything they are looking for. What you don’t want is an Instagram- or Slack-like stream of content that is difficult to navigate or impossible to search when communicating essential information. Clarity, redundancy, and findability are essential. You need to make sure that people can easily retrieve information that is pushed but can also easily pull when needed.
Q: How can retailers that are scaling up new initiatives such as curbside pickup ensure flawless implementation across all stores?
A: First, they need to have a strong process in place that takes into account different product needs, weather conditions, alerts, and substitutions. Then, these concerns need to be incorporated into a checklist for store associates. Real-time task management solutions can then capture information, ensure that associates are doing what they are told, and provide metrics around critical curbside issues like “time-to-fill,” “out of stocks,” and “upsell or cross-sell levels.”
Q: What kind of technology can retailers use to ensure contactless curbside pickup orders are carried out quickly and efficiently?
A: Contactless curbside pickup has many elements that need to all be executed well to ensure success. First, the eCommerce website needs to communicate the right products are in stock. If that doesn’t happen, you will disappoint customers. That means having a good inventory management system that is extremely accurate. Often, the batch processing that updates inventory management systems a few times a day isn’t sufficient for the needs of high-velocity retailers like grocers. You really need to look at your fastest-moving items and then update your system so that that information is up to date as much as possible, which could mean real-time inventory visibility or much more frequent batch processing. And, you need to allow customers to book times for their curbside pickup.
Second, you need to have a labor process to pick the orders, which includes having adequate labor hours dedicated to online order fulfilment without sacrificing in-store customer service levels. In some cases, you want to pick the item immediately after the order is placed because that is what you promise customers. I haven’t seen too many stores scheduling curbside pickup (i.e., telling a store when a customer plans to be there to pick up an order), but I actually think that would be more effective for customers and store associates. In some cases, you may want to wait to start a transaction, like in the quick-service restaurant space when a customer may want to order ahead but doesn’t want their food to be cold when they arrive. In any case, an efficient labor process that doesn’t pull inventory sooner than needed but doesn’t keep customers waiting is essential, but it’s also more complex if many orders come in at once.
Third, you need a way to alert customers their order is ready and for customers to alert a merchant they are on the way. Texting and emails are often easy solutions for that. Retailers have asked customers to click buttons on an app or in an email to let stores know they are on the way, and then they also ask for a car’s make and model. I’ve heard of some solutions that use an app’s mobile device information to alert stores a shopper is on the way, but I’ve also heard of lower-tech solutions like a drive-through lane when customers just press a buzzer. Finally, the store associate needs to close out the transaction. We know that 10% of curbside orders can have upsells attached, but in the world of social distancing, we haven’t seen much of that. I’d like to see retailers give customers the ability to add something like a “deal of the day” to a transaction, perhaps when they alert the store they are on the way.
Q: How can retailers guarantee that information from their new investments in thermal scanning, contract tracing, and other employee screenings is efficiently communicated to the relevant field and corporate stakeholders? What solutions would be useful for accomplishing this?
A: As these investments are made, there is lots of training required to make sure that stores are complying with best practices, recording the right information, and protecting privacy. If some of these devices have internet-of-things (IoT) capabilities, there may be an ability to view information remotely. But for the most part, you are dependent on how well store associates comply with standard operating procedures. Workflow management systems that force associates to record what they do and an audit of those workflows are essential. District managers and field operations supervisors need to physically inspect every store and make sure that every store is doing what it is supposed to do. Critically, companies should also have systems to help district and field operations supervisors look at benchmarks and manage by exception. If there are stores that deviate from those benchmarks (just as in a statistical QA process), those stores need to be called out and investigated. Stores should not be tasked with efforts like contact tracing — these are sensitive approaches that need to be managed by a public health organization — but they should have a process for reporting the appropriate cases to the right organizations. They should also have the right sanitization and store closure procedures if a positive case that could have infected others in a store is identified.
To learn more about how Reflexis can help ensure associate and customer safety, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up time to chat.