With the holiday season here, retailers have turned their attention to having the right staffing in place at their brick & mortar stores. The scramble for reinforcements this time of year is nothing new, but what is new is the type of talent being sought. Retailers are digitizing their in-store experiences, elevating the level of service and asking their workers to add more value and be more tech-savvy. This is changing the ideal worker profile and driving the need for a higher level of skill set. Store associates are being asked to do more than just work the register and fold clothes. They are being asked to be product experts, style guides, brand ambassadors and personal shoppers. They are asked to use new mobile apps rolling out in stores to look up products, check inventory, capture customer information, and clientele.
A great example is the new flagship Mulberry luxury store in London. This article, Mulberry Staff Go Mobile, describes how their in-store staff will be empowered with iPads to elevate the in-store experience and enable clienteling. Workers will have access to a complete extended digital product catalog with a single view of stock across the business and be given mobile tools for assisted selling, clienteling, and mobile checkout. If you visit one of their stores, I guarantee you’ll be impressed with their tech-savvy passionate associates and the amazing experience they deliver.
Finding talent to use these new digital tools is one consideration but finding employees with the right attitude is even more important. For retailers to deliver a heightened level of customer service, they need to find workers who take pride in delivering amazing service. Retailers are learning that the best store associates want to feel a part of the retailer’s vision and assist in deploying the right strategies that will help make that retailer successful. This deeper employee engagement and alignment is a different approach to management and requires a different approach to hiring. They need to be more selective.
THE WAR FOR TOP TALENT
But the need for this new worker profile comes at a bad time as retailers also have to deal with a labor shortage. Hiring and keeping workers is harder than ever before, given the low unemployment rates and a smaller pool of job seekers. The minimum wage increases are also putting pressure on retailers to do more with fewer people. With fewer people to interact with customers, having efficient and effective store associates becomes critical.
Another factor driving the need for higher skill sets – consumers expecting more from store workers. They expect well-informed, trained workers with access to technology that helps them match their online shopping experience. Selection, convenience and prices make online shopping so popular. These three elements also matter in the store. Workers need access to large product selection that is easy to search, rich information to help them make recommendations, and tools to get their job done faster and save the shopper time. Retailers must provide these tools to associates or deal with the consequences of frustrated workers and customers.
THE NEXT GENERATION STORE ASSOCIATE
The bottom line – the ideal store associate profile has changed dramatically and there is a war for top retail talent with this profile. Now is not the time to cut corners in your hiring and staffing. It is a time for retailers to focus on understanding exactly what worker profile they need and what applicants want. This means offering better pay, better schedules, and better treatment. It also means providing workers with better tools – the right technology and the right mobile applications. I’ve discussed this in past Tulip blogs. Retailers need to invest in technology and their store associates in order to combat Amazon – but this holiday season, it’s more than just competing with Amazon. It’s competing for the right talent and empowering them with the right tools. It’s about increasing employee loyalty and providing an amazing associate experience. Retail jobs need to be more meaningful and engaging. Workers need to be successful and enjoy their work. That is more likely to happen when associates have the right tools to engage with customers. Although the customer experience gets all the attention in retail and deservedly so, the store associate experience matters just as much. Hiring the right people will take your shopping experience to the next level. Retail store talent matters more than ever.