Consumer expectations have transformed over the past year, and retailers are looking for new technologies to meet the needs of evolving customer demands. During the first three months of 2021, visits to physical stores increased by 28.5 percent. While many shoppers are eager to return to stores, retailers must find opportunities to ensure that they have a great in-store experience in order to welcome them back and keep them coming back. With steep competition and the mass adoption of online shopping, elevating the in-store experience is critical.
Most retailers are still working to find the best mix of technology that will enable them to connect their teams to each other and critical information to meet the changing expectations of customers. According to Theatro benchmark data, store managers spend an average of 3.5 hours per week repetitively disseminating updates and critical communications from headquarters to their in-store teams. In order to run high-performing stores, store managers need to be alleviated from mundane tasks and equipped to streamline communications and drive critical metrics like the service experience, sales and loyalty. At the same time, associates must be empowered with information that enables them to quickly and knowledgeably serve customers.
Connecting Communications Across the Store and Headquarters
One of the biggest challenges today in retail’s fast-paced environment is effective communication at the frontline. For those not part of the morning huddle due to scheduling, daily goals and tasks may be posted on a bulletin board, but this best effort approach is often overlooked by team members. Traditionally, stores have relied on walkie-talkies and overhead paging systems to reach their associates, but these communication channels are overcrowded and often ignored due to the lack of relevancy for the whole team. More importantly, these communication methods cannot connect store teams with the enterprise and critical back-office systems, resulting in a disjointed organization that’s unable to handle the variability in customer demands.
Voice-enabled mobile technology is a streamlined way of communicating to every employee, regardless of location or role. For example, if a night shift team needs to know information about a change in inventory or COVID-19 sanitation processes, a store manager can leave all team members a voice message to relay store information.
Empowering Employees on the Floor With Real-Time Resources
Enhancing the customer experience must first begin with the employee experience. At the frontline, sales associates have a significant impact on the success of a brand. As a result, the focus of in-store workers should be on elevating the customer experience, conversion and customer loyalty.
Consumers will intentionally shop in-store to receive the expertise of an employee around product information, as well as inventory availability and return policies. While customers expect to have knowledgeable sales associates available when they need them, the reality is that not everyone is an expert on all things. Additionally, budgets don't allow for “experts” to be staffed during all hours across all categories. Voice-controlled, in-ear Internet of Things (IoT) devices provide associates with real-time access to "experts," allowing them to connect with other team members and collect information needed to assist a customer. As a result, shoppers get the information they need quickly from associates, driving trust and loyalty as they consistently receive the service they expect.
Ensuring Attention is Fully on the Customer
While the in-store experience has changed for most businesses, responsiveness to customer inquiries still remains critical. When requesting assistance, a shopper doesn’t want to be left waiting alone in an aisle while an associate walks to find another team member to answer their question. Customers value eye contact, which is not possible when an associate is using a tablet or handheld device. With voice-enabled communications, associates are free to be heads up and attentive to customers needing assistance and can maintain eye contact throughout the interaction while having the immediate connections to the people or information needed to serve a customer.
Enhancing the In-Store Experience Begins With Superior Employees
The unexpected speed and volume of operational change resulting from the challenges of the last year have highlighted just how essential it is for retailers to have a direct line of communication to in-store associates. Misalignment across stores and the enterprise can create inconsistency in customer experience and overall store performance.
A connected business fosters better collaboration between associates, managers and their teams. It improves employee engagement and morale, and enables frontline employees to do their jobs well. As a result, a connected team drives greater efficiency and gives shoppers the help and experience they demand.
Amy Bakos is associate vice president, product and solutions marketing, Theatro, pioneers of the world’s first voice-controlled mobile platform connecting employees to resources across their enterprise.