Attending NRF’s Big Show 2017 provided me with the opportunity to see how retailers, specifically their operations, are evolving. We are in the midst of a technology revolution! NRF offered everything from robots enhancing the customer experience to wearable technology improving the effectiveness of in-store teams. The pace of change in how retailers go to market (omni-channel retailing, customer insights, advanced analytics, and the integration of robotics into the workforce) is advancing like never before. As a former operations leader at a large retailer, I walked away both excited and cautiously optimistic.
Don’t forget about your workforce
The integration of technology with the retail workforce is paramount. It starts with optimizing the store staff – ensuring the people you have entrusted to serve your customers are properly trained, provided the right amount of information, and have a clear understating of your expectations for the day. Coupling all of this with scheduling practices to meet customer demands and payroll targets can be challenging.
During my time in operations, having a solid labor management system and methodology in place was critical. Using engineered standards, defined methods and 5-S workplace organization as a foundation allowed me to make informed decisions on labor targets, scheduling practices and determine sound ROIs on initiatives.
There are a wide range of systems available for standards, staffing, scheduling, and task management. The key is determining what level of sophistication is required to meet the needs of your operation. If you are looking to implement a new system, understanding where you are starting from and the appetite your operations team has for change are critical points to consider in order to ensure a successful implementation.
Smart investment or shiny object?
After being bombarded with so many technologies, I took a step back to think about what technologies would actually help retail associates perform their jobs more effectively and enhance customer experience. Would systems that provide out of stocks and planogram compliance make most sense? How about robots to service the customers? Maybe advanced analytics on customer information and forecasting staffing needs would provide the most value? This is where the cautiously in cautiously optimistic comes into play. What are the real solutions vs. the shiny objects? Are retailers capable of managing the change that goes along with effectively integrating new technology into existing operations? What areas should be prioritized because they need the most improvement?
For example, if out of stocks are a focus of your organization, the Focal Tablet by Focal Systems caught my eye. The tablet is mounted onto the shopping cart. It helps drive top line sales by direct marketing to shoppers as they walk through your store and provides a product location service. Additionally, it identifies out of stocks and gaps in planogram compliance, which are communicated to the store team. This drives stocking efficiency and reduces re-shelving time.
The combination of increased competition and customer expectations, along with rising operating costs, do not allow for investing capital into the wrong solution. In the world of omni-channel retailing, the in-store experience remains critical. Ensuring that you are selective in allocating funds and resources to the right solution is key. What is the ROI? Did proper vetting occur? Are the targets, i.e., top line sales and wage cost, attainable?
Evaluate carefully, implement successfully
In my new role with West Monroe Partners, I am in a position to help retailers navigate through the questions and challenges above. Laying the foundation with traditional workforce optimization practices and then evaluating and integrating the newest technology are the challenges that excite me. Working together with our workforce optimization, customer experience, and advanced analytics practices, I’m looking forward to partnering with our clients to help solve these challenges and work together on business solutions that deliver sustainable change. The retailers that effectively integrate technology into their workforce will have a competitive advantage!