By Adam Silverman, SVP Marketing, Theatro
The idea of quickly popping into my local grocery store and walking out with everything I need for dinner, without waiting in long lines, is undoubtedly appealing to almost every shopper. That desire to streamline in-store shopping and reduce friction is what Amazon Go is all about and what has made its arrival, and potential expansion, the talk of the retail industry. Of course, shoppers are demanding a streamlined and personalized shopping experience across all retail channels, but many are left wondering what the impact of associate-free checkout will mean for the future of hourly retail workers.
The associate’s role is changing
Retail is the largest private sector employer in the U.S. with a total employment of over 15 million people, according to the National Retail Federation. A major loss of retail jobs due to automation and technology would be catastrophic, and Amazon Go’s arrival is fueling this fear.
However, the Amazon Go store is chock-full of associates — from greeting customers, to stocking shelves, to checking IDs for liquor sales, to handling returns and customer service issues. Amazon Go isn’t eliminating jobs. It’s changing the role of the associate in the name of customer experience and continued operational improvements. Associates are being empowered to create more value for customers and are reclaiming the role of customer service specialist by forgoing menial tasks. By connecting store associates to key business and customer information, retailers are using technology to empower associates to create a positive customer experience that yields long-term loyalty.
The modernization of the retail associate has begun
Today, leading a data-driven, connected retail enterprise is table stakes to keep up with customer expectations. In fact, with 80 percent of shoppers doing research online before coming into the store, associates often struggle to provide the differentiated service the customer expects.
According to a recent study, more than 30 percent of associates don’t receive any formal training, while nearly a quarter don’t think their training is even useful. They often forget what they learn, or the demands of the job evolve faster than the training. That’s why 88 percent of employees across industries want knowledge on demand. Once they have access to real-time knowledge, not just intermittent training, they become the experts that consumers need them to be.
To modernize the retail associate, organizations must:
• Connect every associate to the network: To deliver on-demand knowledge, every modern associate in the retail store must be connected to the network. Full stop. You can’t expect a disconnected associate to streamline operations and drive customer engagement without rapid access to information.
• Enable assistance from machines to perform tasks: Amazon has this right. Amazon Go is essentially leveraging the power of machines to perform the check-out function while changing the role of the associate to facilitate engagement.
• Provide new associate performance analytics: Most retailers only know when associates clock in, and clock out. The insights into what they do during the day, and how well they do it, is often locked away with the store manager. And headquarters only manages to the antiquated performance numbers, such as comparison store sales or year-over-year store traffic numbers. When everyone is connected, modern retail organizations can personalize training for each associate, and can coach and guide their team with performance data that is only unlocked when everyone is connected.
A vision of the store of the future
The store of the future may not have a checkout line, but without question it will require retailers to integrate each store’s technology with enterprise data and systems and provide that insight to every employee no matter what role they occupy. There is no other way to provide consistent, authentic messaging and experience across the organization. In addition, modern retailers will need to create a digital store platform, or store operating system, that will connect all of the new point solutions emerging into one cohesive mesh network that shares data across applications. Just like the WeChat communication platform has connected people with commerce apps (you can order pizza from your WeChat application) and how Facebook Messenger has deployed chatbots to provide customer service, the emerging communication platforms of the retail store will be the hub of all activity and integration for the store. Only when each employee is connected to each other, to enterprise systems, and to emerging point solutions can the retail store truly enable associates to meet the needs of customers and reduce friction within the store.
While some see the rise of Amazon Go as the demise of the store as we know it, it more accurately paints a vision of how technology can make the in-store experience better by removing friction and empowering associates to focus on high value activities. It does mean that the frustrations we experience in today’s stores will continue to fade away as technology penetrates all areas of the business and makes information easier to access, service easier to offer, and experience more rewarding. Thanks to this customer-centric and associate-approved technology, a connected, intelligent retail workforce is ready to serve today’s on-the-go and digitally enabled shoppers, and your bottom line.