Simplification Enabling Store Sophistication

A recap of the webinar discussion on the Store Associate Experience with PacSun, Incisiv, and Manhattan Associates.

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" is a quote by Leonardo da Vinci that summarizes well one of the central themes of the webinar "Transforming the Store Associate Experience to Maximize Customer Engagement” held on April 25, 2024.

In this webinar, a panel of retail experts came together to discuss how modernizing the store associate experiences is essential for maximizing customer engagement in modern retail stores. Lina Sabic, Director of Store Operations at PacSun, and Tony DiPaolo, Vice President of Commerce Solutions at Manhattan Associates, joined host Giri Agarwal, Chief Strategy Officer at Incisiv, to discuss pivotal strategies and frameworks to elevate associate performance, refine store operational efficiency, and ultimately enhance the overall in-store experience. The theme of simplicity and the importance of simplifying how store associates work to enable great customer experiences was a red thread intertwined throughout the insightful and spirited discussion.

Retail stores are becoming increasingly sophisticated, adding new capabilities and services like personal appointments, fulfillment services, checkout anywhere in the store, and much more to delight today's shoppers. However, adding this sophistication to stores adds significantly greater complexity to store associates' roles and work environment. The panel suggested that store technology that fosters simplicity is vital in enabling associates to efficiently and effectively apply the greater sophistication of in-store capabilities to delight shoppers in every interaction. Giri Agarwal of Incisiv summarized this position well: "The future of retail is about technology that boosts human capabilities, making associates more effective, productive, and insightful, and by using these advanced tools, associates can enhance their natural connection with customers."

Simplifying the Use of Information to Build Better Relationships

The panel discussed various store capabilities and services where sophistication is being introduced to elevate the customer experience. These capabilities and services included customer personalization, relationship building through clienteling, selling and checkout, and store operations, especially store fulfillment. In customer personalization and relationship building, the discussion quickly turned to the significant value, but also the growing complexities, of equipping store associates with more extensive customer and product information to support customers and build stronger customer relationships.

The discussion began with the webinar participants agreeing that retailers are expanding their use of customer information in stores to provide more personalized service.  However, the participants also agreed that modern retailers have varying degrees of success in empowering associates to access and use customer information to support customer interactions anywhere in the store. Giri Agarwal emphasized this point with data from a recent research survey of retailers by Incisiv and Manhattan Associates investigating retailer efforts to improve the store associate experience and performance. He presented an interesting survey result showing that while many retailers provide associates with customer information, they do not necessarily provide the tools to act on the information: "14 % of surveyed retailers stated they equip associates to access real-time customer data and make instant recommendations using mobile technology."

Lina Sabic described the importance of empowering PacSun's store associates to use and take action on customer and product information to build better customer relationships. "In order for our brand to be successful, we have to make sure that it resonates with the audience, not only in product but in overall experience," said Sabic. She went on to explain that customer personalization is a significant part of this experience: "We [PacSun] really encourage our associates to dig into customer data that we make available for them and use that as a tool to help drive conversations beyond the basic…we really use it to personalize their experience when they're in our stores." But she prefaced the value of personalization initiatives with the challenge of operational complexity: "…these initiatives make it very difficult for associates to function if we don't have the right technology in place."

The discussion turned to what strategies can be employed to make customer information highly usable by store associates in customer interactions. Tony DiPaolo of Manhattan introduced the concept of context as a business and technology strategy for simplifying how associates use customer information. Tony suggested: "Arguably, the bigger challenge for retailers when we're talking about presenting consumer data to the associate is really context. So what data are we making available to an associate, and when and how is that driving the desired outcome." The design of store technology, such as point-of-sale systems, needs to consider when and how to use customer information and only present what is necessary to drive the desired outcomes. In other words, keep the store associates' experience manageable with just enough information by simplifying what they see and guiding how to use it to create a compelling store experience for shoppers. For example, presenting rewards and loyalty information and associated promotions when a customer requests information about a product or when the customer checks out. Lina emphasized the importance of enabling store associates to succeed: "Our associates are definitely our biggest advocates when it comes to creating relationships with our customers."

Simplifying the Addition of New Store Functions and Tasks

Just like stores are adding associate access to deeper customer information to provide more sophisticated services to shoppers, stores are also adding new functions, like fulfillment, to delight modern shoppers. Store fulfillment satisfies shopper needs for immediacy, providing a fast and convenient way to receive their online orders. Store fulfillment proliferated during the pandemic, but in a way that created greater complexity in store operations. Lina Subic characterized this growth of digital transaction support, like buy online and pickup in-store (BOPIS) or ship from the store, as "reactive rollout, and as a result, associates have to deal with multiple devices and systems that cause a lot of frustration."

The discussion on simplifying store fulfillment centered on seamlessly integrating fulfillment functions with other store functions, especially point of sale. Subic told the story of store fulfillment challenges at PacSun that encouraged the integration of store fulfillment functions with point-of-sale to simplify operations. "We were seeing very delayed sort of fulfillments, and when we really started digging into it, we saw it taking a store 2 to 3 hours to fulfill an order," explained Subic. "We were starting to realize that the device that supported BOPIS was now sitting back room while they [associates] were out on the floor servicing customers."  She added that the solution was seamlessly integrating store fulfillment notifications and functions with PacSun's point-of-sale system. According to Subic, the result was "streamlined operations in our stores, and it allows the associates to have everything available to them in one place and not have to juggle devices and systems from day to day."

Tony DiPaolo of Manhattan added to the conversation on store fulfillment the need to incentivize store associates to adopt and support new store functions to provide a satisfying customer experience.  Lina Subic agreed that incentivizing store associates to support digital transactions in stores is important. Still, she added that providing associates with insight into performance drives the right associate behavior.  Subic explained that "KPIs to associates to help them understand how they stand against our benchmark fulfillment expectations…and presenting that data to them in a way where it was easily digestible" helped drive the desirable associate behavior and performance.

Building Confidence in Store Associates

The panel discussed many more solutions for simplifying the store associate experience, such as RFID-enabled checkout and mobile access to digital product catalogs. All the solutions addressed focused on simplifying store operations to improve user adoption and build store associate confidence, encouraging and enabling them to enhance customer relationships and trust. Giri Agarwal summarized the importance of empowering store associates to succeed quite well when he said today's retailers are "relying on them to build that last mile high touch relationship with customers."  You can view the "Transforming the Store Associate Experience" webinar here to note the many strategies and tactics you can use to empower your store associates.