Partner Voices: Store Associate App Projects and the Top 8 Must-Haves for Success
Enabling your store associates with mobile technology is the single most effective tactic to drive the greatest lift in sales conversions and brand loyalty. However, building an app for your store associates is unlike most other mobile development or IT projects. It involves complex integration across multiple systems; device and hardware procurement and management; and security and PCI compliance to name but a few considerations. Building a store associate app begins with the right mobile and omnichannel strategy, as well as ensuring proper participation and agreement across the business, from e-commerce and store operations to fulfillment and supply chain. Don’t fall victim to another failed app project. Read the following eight must-haves to ensure a successful store associate app project.
1. Define a project champion. Not having a clearly defined owner or executive sponsor to drive the project forward is like building a house on sand. From a skill and strategy standpoint, building a store associate app requires organizational learning, employee and managerial adoption, and a shift in your business culture. Having an executive team supporting the program is the cornerstone for success, but it’s also imperative to incentivize and reward positive “new” store associate behaviors once the program has been deployed. If the old incentives are still in place when you deploy, this could mean stores are missing out on bonuses because they’re being measured on old metrics. Store associates will lose interest and motivation for making it work.
2. Put your A-team in place. You’ve got your champion, but you need an A-team to execute and bring the store associate app to fruition. Building this team can mean two things: internally, having the subject matter experts, stakeholders, champions, and developers; or externally, working with a service provider or development team. The core roles and functions we recommend for a successful team include an internal steering committee or executive sponsor; business process owners; and a project manager to oversee experts across mobile, integration, infrastructure and reporting. Lastly, you’ll want to ensure there's someone dedicated to the facilitation of change management and training once the application is up and running.
3. Centralize and normalize disparate sources of data. An effective store associate app relies on the accessibility, accuracy, performance and frequency at which the data is being served. These several sources of data need to be consolidated into one place and normalized so that it's consistent across all channels. It’s also imperative to determine at the onset of the project who will be the master around the logic and data, as well as which system will be the master system of record.
Complexities arise when considering things like pricing or digital asset management, which are sometimes housed in separate systems. For instance, there’s a standard price for a given product and sometimes a basket-level price. Both of these individual pricing models live in separate systems altogether. The question becomes, how do you serve this to your customers so both online and in-store shoppers receive the omnichannel experience they’re expecting?
4. Integrate across complex systems and comply with security guidelines. What makes this kind of deployment so complex is that it requires integration across multiple silos within the retail business — store operations, training, e-commerce, IT, inventory, supply chain. Keeping in mind that none of these systems were originally designed to even talk to mobile apps, or to handle the number of requests required, nor scale to a project of this size and scope.
When dealing with payments and customer records, a system in this category would have to comply with standards for PCI and HPAA compliance, to name a few. Any devices that take payments need to be in a PCI-isolated or cordoned off network, which can often create limitations on what the device can access.
5. Connect business processes. A store associate mobile app project isn't just about technology implementation; it’s a business and cultural transformation shift that starts at the core — the executive vision, mission and belief in the changing role of the store associate. It takes rethinking the business process entirely. For instance, shoppers expect the same price no matter the channel, so e-commerce and retail operations need to agree on which system and restrictions are removed or applied. Another example is how your business buys, makes and moves product between channels. This is no longer a store operations or e-commerce process, but instead an omnichannel process.
6. Decide on the kind of device, form factor and accessories. Consider the right ergonomics for your store associates since this will greatly impact the likelihood of them using the device on a regular basis. Think about how the tool will be introduced into the store’s physical environment. How do your store associates interact and engage with customers? Where can they charge the devices? Post-deployment updates should be seamless and never interrupt the store associate’s day. Updates are communicated via email or in the app directly.
7. Get store associate buy-in and encourage ongoing training. The most important part of a store associate’s job is taking care of customers in the store. They must be heads up, making eye contact and using an app where they’re able to take immediate action in as few interactions as possible. We’ve seen lifts in usage of more than 30 percent when training was done well. The app must be simple enough for new hires to get started quickly, but also powerful enough for veteran sellers. Getting store associates involved up front in use case mapping and user acceptance testing gets them invested in the project and helps them sponsor any incoming process changes.
8. Create a functional requirements document to mitigate scope creep. It takes a special set of skills to referee the various business owners and ensure project teams are aligned and in agreement throughout each stage. When you first set out on a store associate app project, you’ll need to develop a functional specification document to outline priorities, phases and timelines. For your first release, try and strive to hit 80 percent of the functionality that's needed day one for store associates to be successful. The other 20 percent will usually be comprised of those less-chance scenarios that will take a great deal of time to fix, but run the risk of paralyzing the project altogether.
Creating a store associate app isn't a technology project, it’s a culture transformation project.
If you and your team embark upon this project with the notion that this is just another technology project, it will fail. If you neglect to get agreement and accord from the executive-level business owners on how data will be centralized and normalized, it will fail. If you don't consider the physical burdens and interactions of the store associate in choosing the right device and peripherals, it will fail. If you don't invest in education, training and enablement with store associates, it will fail. For successful change, you must drive a cultural transformation shift that starts at the top and goes down to the selling floor.
At Tulip Retail, we’ve worked with many retailers — large and small — and believe that if you get started by minding these eight must-haves, your brand will be amongst the top-tier retailers leading the transformation in bridging the digital and physical worlds. Want to learn more? Contact us today.