It has been a few weeks since I had the opportunity to attend the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show, and while it’s easy to get lost in all the latest tech and AI/BI, one message remained consistent throughout: retail is still a people business. To be successful in today’s world, you need to have engaged employees that are equipped to deliver what your customers want. This was heard at the keynote speech given by Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, and was also evident throughout the show’s other sessions.
Here are the top five people themes our West Monroe Partners team took away from the show.
1. Traditional Retail is Evolving
Statistics show the US retail market was up around 4% this year vs. last year. While companies are continuing to transition to seamless brick and mortar/e-commerce operations, traditional brick and mortar is not going away, it’s just changing. Think showroom stores, online orders that can be picked up in-store, and order fulfillment centers. The go-to-market approach for retailers is shifting to provide new reasons for customers to physically come into stores.
2. Stay Nimble to Win
Retailers must be continuously transforming, as the pace of change in retail is faster than ever. Customers and employees who continuously get stuck in the weeds with outdated technology become frustrated and will move on if they encounter too many roadblocks. Keeping pace with new advancements, like mobile pay, will provide positive customer experiences. Investing in strong organizational change management will help your internal teams successfully on-board new innovations. Doing both will keep employees and customers loyal and confident in your company.
3. Consistent End-to-End Customer Experience is Key
Customers have come to expect seamless, easy shopping experiences across all channels. They want to be able to purchase what they want, when they want it, in the way they want it – in-store or online. There are ways to continue bringing people into stores, and retailers need to remain creative. The more you innovate, the easier it is for customers to grow with you. Offers like buy online/pick up in-store, customer-selected time slots for convenient pickup, and in-store events and appointments all provide face-time opportunities for retailers to convert additional sales. The differentiator is that these offerings must be consistent, convenient, and provide a custom shopping experience for your buyers.
4. A Positive Employee Experience Empowers a Positive Brand
Positive company culture and a focus on employee engagement are non-negotiable for growing and retaining talent in today’s competitive landscape. A happy employee is going to be your biggest advocate, and their experience should be nurtured as they are often a customer’s first point of contact with a retail brand. Making employee engagement a priority will promote a productive workforce and lead to driving top-line sales.
5. Go Beyond Digital Transformation
The term “digital” is everywhere you look now, across all industries and verticals. Most companies have embraced digital transformation to some degree, but that isn’t enough to set you apart anymore. Right-sizing your operations for a cross-channel experience, implementing advanced technologies to mature to a seamless e-commerce operation (i.e. RFID / software / tools in-store / workforce management), and putting your data and analytics to work by leveraging insights and predicting trends are the next steps to stay ahead. Going beyond just becoming digital allows retailers to respond to customer demands in real time, create a personalized shopping experience, and drive employee engagement.
Now more than ever, the customer experience is critical to the success of a retailer. To deliver a differentiated experience, the employees must buy in and be engaged, which doesn’t happen by chance. Retailers need to invest in their teams. This includes the front-line employees and the management teams running the stores. While investing in digital and tech will continue to be key pieces of the puzzle, people are still the heart of the business and it’s important to not lose sight of that.