Retail staff will have to change as digital strategies take over

Retail staff in stores will have to change how they work as more shops begin to roll out digital solutions in their stores

Retail staff in stores will have to change how they work as more shops begin to roll out digital solutions in their stores, leading directors in retail have said.

As part of a seamless customer experience, retailers are trying to implement omnichannel solutions to tie up their online, mobile and in-store offerings. When digital solutions hit the shop floor, the existing shop assistants will have to be retrained and learn how to get the most out of the new tools, which may be complicated.

David Williams, director of online in Europe for footwear retailer Deckers, said retail is going through a period of change management where it’s not just the consumer who will be affected by digital change, but also the store assistants.

“Retail has got to change, store staff have got to change, area managers have got to change their way of thinking, and e-commerce teams have to as well,” he said. “And it’s tough. If you have a massive portfolio of 500 stores it’s going to be hard.”

Speaking at a roundtable session at Demandware’s user conference in Barcelona this week, Williams said digital advances like having full visibility of stock in stores online will affect staff who work on the shop floor.

“It’s a wholesale change in how store staff are expected to do things they’re not used to and they’ll just be expected to stand there and try and sell stock from their stock room,” he said.

Williams believes e-commerce teams and operations teams need to work closer together to overcome this challenge.

“It’s very easy as an e-commerce team to build something and say ‘here roll it out retail team, you start doing this’,” he said. “There’s a lot of operational procedure you need to consider and I think e-commerce teams need to understand more about what’s happening in retail operations to give the best for the customer.”

Julien Chiavassa the head of e-commerce for Clarins in Asia-Pacific agreed, saying that technology can sometimes be seen as a threat by sales associates.

Meanwhile, Jens Christian Buhl, e-commerce director at the Danish retail company Bestseller, said one of his main retail challenges at the moment is how to keep e-commerce fresh and agile now it has become a given part of a business.

“Online is now a reasonable size of the business,” he said. “So how do you keep that nimbleness, entrepreneurial spirit, speed of execution, ability to experiment without spending too much time actually conducting those experiments? How do you keep that mindset and freshness while it’s slowly becoming more and more a traditional business?”

But Buhl - who looks after e-commerce for one of the largest fashion companies in Europe with 11 brands and 5,700 stores in 43 countries - said a brand becomes important online.

“It’s about the girl on the Sunday afternoon with her iPad on the couch spending three or four hours dreaming about the dress she’s going to wear for the date next Friday, compared to the previous experience of walking into the store, which was a much shorter transactional space.”

“That’s where the brand becomes important with its ability to tell a story because it’s an experience that is being built upon the product,” he said. “And I think that’s the next phase we will be moving into.”

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