Empowering Store Associate Performance

Retail stores are not dying as many naysayers claim. In actuality, they are evolving to support today's consumers' buying behaviors and preferences. Modern shoppers use many sales channels in their buying journeys and visiting stores is a vital part of that journey.

This omnichannel buying behavior applies even to the youngest generations of customers. Research surveys indicate that Generation Z shops in physical stores and online equally, with Gen Z survey respondents saying they shop at brick-and-mortar stores (97%) and also shop online (95%). Further, analyst firm Gartner predicts that ecommerce will cease being a differentiator in retail. Today's stores must provide brand differentiation throughout the omnichannel buying journey to stay ahead of the curve.

A study by consumer industry insights firm Incisiv, sponsored by Manhattan Associates titled Unified Excellence: Transforming the Store Associate Experience Playbook looked into how retail stores are evolving from glorified stockrooms into multifaceted service hubs. It investigates how stores are upgrading and expanding store functions to provide a more sophisticated set of capabilities to delight modern shoppers and, more importantly, how these changes impact the role of store associates. It focuses on a crucial concern for retailers: as the "volume, velocity, and variety" of store tasks increase, how do stores empower their associates to succeed in delivering differentiating store experiences?

The playbook lays out a framework of five capability areas for providing a Unified Associate Experience that empowers store associates to "deliver consistently exceptional customer service at scale, affecting profitability and brand loyalty." It advocates for a holistic approach to store functions, "merging customer, inventory, and operational data and tools into a unified platform." One of the five capability areas, Unified Operations, addressed the vital need for stores to simplify how store associates manage ever-expanding workloads to provide the capacity to enhance customer satisfaction, loyalty, and trust. 

Creating Effortless Operational Efficiency 

In today's omnichannel retail world, store associates are now "Swiss Army store associates" with multifaceted roles and unique tasks. The Swiss Army associate may handle customer appointments one moment, check inventory the next, and end their day managing curbside pickups. It is doubtful that most retailers, especially those in the specialty retail segment, will employ specialized staff to handle store tasks like inventory receiving or order picking. Thus, it becomes imperative for modern stores to enable store associates to balance these operational tasks with their customer-facing work.

The Unified Excellence: Transforming the Store Associate Experience Playbook details how modern retail stores can transform store associates into versatile assets and how to unleash their potential to cater to diverse customer needs effectively.

One of the answers is simplifying how they manage store tasks like inventory counts or order shipping. Simplifying can mean many things, but the context here is how stores can simplify how associates manage operational tasks to become more productive. By becoming more productive, store associates can consistently meet time-sensitive commitments, such as order pickup times, while freeing time to engage effectively with customers on the store floor. As a result, the customer experience improves through a highly reliable store experience— such as consistent order fulfillment — and a meaningful store experience delivered by associates who can engage personally and thoroughly with customers.

Incisiv's research revealed that retailers need to do more to simplify how store associates manage operational tasks. For example, this research found that only 34% of surveyed retailers are providing their store teams with capabilities for real-time tracking and updates of tasks through mobile devices. With task management capabilities that proactively prioritize, notify, and track task details as they progress through initiation to completion, store associates can improve how they manage time-sensitive tasks, boosting store performance and productivity.

The impact of proactive task management increases significantly when task notifications and updates are seamlessly unified with other store functions and made available on mobile devices. When associates don't need to juggle multiple applications or devices to manage different store functions, their ability to keep up with their work tasks improves.

What other strategies and technologies can retailers employ to boost store associate productivity and performance? Here are a few to consider:

Prescriptive Task Guidance

When guesswork is removed from performing tasks, store associates become more productive, and their work capacity increases. For example, when store associates are guided on their mobile devices through the optimal pick path to complete order picking, the time to complete order picking decreases, allowing them to allocate time to other store work. Research shows that 70% of surveyed store associates wish to receive prescribed tasks that help them manage their work.

Automation Through RFID

Closely related to prescriptive task guidance is the use of more automation in stores, especially with radio frequency identification (RFID). RFID tags and readers can help associates automatically find inventory during tasks such as inventory counting or order picking, leading to reduced work effort and increased productivity. RFID has been shown to reduce store inventory-related labor hours by 10% to 15%.

Real-Time Performance Feedback

Store associates can play a vital role in continuous store performance improvement. Giving them real-time feedback and insights into store fulfillment performance, such as actual hourly order picking or packing performance against performance goals, can incentivize store associates to perform their work more efficiently. Retailers can reap business benefits from a front-line workforce empowered with insights to influence operational improvements.

By improving how store associates perform operational tasks, retailers can increase associate productivity and their capacity to orchestrate an exceptional store experience for modern shoppers. Technology that simplifies and accelerates task execution is a foundational element of modern stores centered on delivering a differentiating customer experience.

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