The Next-Generation Store Associate: A New Ideal Profile Emerges
Brick-and-mortar retail is changing, and so are the types of workers required. Stores are becoming showrooms, guide shops, meeting places and entertainment destinations. Retailers are creating more immersive experiences, digitizing their in-store journeys, elevating the level of service, and asking their employees to add more value and be more tech savvy. This is changing the ideal worker profile and driving the need for a higher level of skill set. Store associates are being asked to do more than just work the register and fold clothes; they're being asked to be product experts, style guides, brand ambassadors and personal shoppers. They're asked to use new mobile apps rolling out in stores to look up products, check inventory, capture customer information, and clientele.
A great example is the new flagship Mulberry luxury store in London that has empowered associates with iPads to elevate the in-store experience. Using the Tulip Clienteling mobile app, workers have access to a complete extended digital product catalog with a single view of stock across the business. Furthermore, they're given mobile tools for assisted selling, clienteling and mobile checkout. Mulberry's tech-savvy, passionate store associates deliver an amazing in-store experience.
Finding talent to use these new digital tools is one consideration, but finding employees with the right attitude is even more important. For retailers to deliver a heightened level of in-store experience, they need to find workers who take pride in delivering amazing service. Retailers are learning that the best store associates want to feel a part of the retailer’s vision and assist in deploying the right strategies that will help make the business successful. This deeper employee engagement and alignment is new to management, and requires a different approach to hiring. In short, retailers need to be more selective when hiring store associates.
However, the need for this new worker profile unfortunately coincides with a labor shortage. Hiring and keeping workers is harder than ever before given the low unemployment rates and smaller pool of job seekers. Minimum wage increases are also putting pressure on retailers to do more with less people. With fewer people to interact with customers, having efficient and effective associates is critical.
Consumer expectation is another factor driving the need for higher skill sets among store associates. Consumers expect well-informed, trained workers with access to technology that helps them match their online shopping experiences. Selection, convenience and price are what make online shopping so popular. These three elements also matter in-store. Store associates need access to a large product selection that's easy to search; rich information that can help them make recommendations; and tools to get their job done faster and save the shopper time. Retailers must provide these tools to associates or deal with the consequences of frustrated workers and customers.
The bottom line? The ideal store associate profile has changed dramatically, and there's a war for top retail talent with this profile. Now is not the time to cut corners in hiring and staffing; it's a time to focus on understanding exactly what profile is needed and what applicants want. This means offering better pay, better schedules and better treatment. It also means providing workers with better tools — i.e., the right technology and the right mobile applications. Although the customer experience gets all the attention in retail, and deservedly so, the store associate experience matters just as much. The next-generation store associate will be different and expect a lot more from their employer. Meeting their expectations will be critical to your company's future success.
Bill Zujewski is executive vice president of marketing for Tulip Retail, an iOS mobile platform built exclusively for next generation retail store associates to offer a world-class omnichannel experience.