Coming Soon to a Store Near You: Technology! For Managers and Associates!
Store operations has traditionally had to stand at the end of the line when it comes to being tech-enabled. Retailers appear to have finally realized this trend needs to change, and soon.
Workforce management solutions have traditionally been seen as a tactical store operations solution with a generally short-term focus on labor law compliance, payroll control, and consistent store-level execution. And though WFM solutions such as task management, labor scheduling, and time and attendance deliver ROI that can add millions of dollars to a retailer’s bottom line (the articles here and here provide a few examples), workforce management solutions, with the exception of Time and Attendance, are generally not considered “must haves” by large retail chains.
Let’s take a step into the way back time machine and review the 2007 annual store systems study by RIS News. In the 17th Annual Retail Technology Study:
- 15% of retailers said they had up-to-date task management technology
- 25%, automated labor scheduling and optimization
Fast forward five years later, and the needle hadn’t budged much:
- 22% had up-to-date task management
- 32%, automated labor scheduling and optimization
As for mobility use in the stores, the predominating investment to date has been rugged handheld scanners for inventory control and price changes, not for customer engagement.
Over the past two decades, retailers have invested considerably in their web sites, marketing/advertising, loyalty programs, merchandising planning, and supply chain systems. Retailers spend billions of dollars attracting customers to stores, getting product onto shelves efficiently, and getting customers checked out rapidly. But as for managing the workforce and their activities inside stores, except for POS and T&A, store operations tends to get short shrift in terms of WFM tech.
A major reason for this: many retail chains figure store ops can muddle through their labor, time tracking, and task management processes using obsolete tools such as email, spreadsheet, paper reports, and SNACs (Sticky Notes and Clipboards). Although requiring stores to use these manual tools exposes the retail organization to inconsistent task execution, higher payroll, and labor law compliance risk, store operations is nevertheless expected to make do and get things done using the ancient technology they’ve had for 10 or 20 years or more.
This trend appears to be changing, however. According to several recent reports, store ops is poised to get a major upgrade in terms of executive focus and tech. In a recent article in Time Magazine, Brad Tuttle writes that despite competition from the likes of Amazon, retailers increasingly see their own online presence as a way to drive customers to the stores. “It’s assumed that consumers who make the effort to visit real-life stores are more serious about their intent to spend … consumers are more likely to make unplanned purchases in actual stores.”
Along with the above realization, retailers are waking up to the fact that their store associates are currently ill-equipped to serve today’s cross-channel enabled, smart phone toting, showrooming shoppers. And more than just realizing, they are starting — or at least starting to plan — to do something about it. According to the RIS News 10th Annual Store Systems Study, the top store system priority is providing mobile devices for store associates. And in the RIS News 23rd Annual Retail Tech Study, the top priority over the next 18 months — not just for store operations but the entire organization — is developing a mobile enterprise and/or store strategy. My takeaway: the retail exec suite knows they need to put better tools into, literally, the hands of their human assets in the stores. But many appear not sure what those tools will be.
So here’s my humble suggestion for what retailers ought to be thinking about in terms of in-store employee mobility:
- How about a roles-based application for store managers and associates that combines assisted selling, product/price information access, and WFM?
- This application would enable managers and associates to perform WFM tasks such as shift swap request/approvals and task execution from the sales floor, not the back office
- Managers would also receive prioritized, real-time alerts with built-in action buttons to help automate and institute best-practice response to the many surprises that come up every day but which managers struggle to handle:
- Employee sick call-outs
- Approaching employee time maximums (think Affordable Care Act healthcare reform)
- High-value customer arrival
- Impending and current stock-outs
- Key sales and performance indicators
All from a single application, tailored for whatever device is in the store, whether smart phones, PCs, or store kiosks. If this sounds too good to be true, please drop me a line to get more information on Reflexis StorePulse.
I’d be interested in your thoughts. How do you think mobile devices in the hands of the store workforce can best be utilized? And if you’d like a white paper with tips for store operators who want to get exec approval for a workforce management initiative, you can drop me a line about that too.