12.06.2016 By: Tulip Retail

Store Technology Expert: Why Retailers Must Invest In Store Associates

As seen on PSFK.

As part of our series centered around the PSFK Future of Retail 2017 report, we interviewed Jan Kotowski, Head of Product at Tulip Retail, on his insights into retail predictions in 2017 and beyond.

What is the number one investment retailers should make in 2017?

Being innovative in the retail space is really hard. Like, really hard. Tulip’s position is: in order to be innovative and change how retail is done, retailers must invest in store associates. This is what we’ve built our business on: investing in people. Luckily, we are in a time of sharing experiences: Bonobos, lululemon, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Toys”R”Us have moved beyond the notion of being just retailers and into the realm of technologists, innovators, status-quo disruptors. Why? They believe in investing in their store associates to affect the change shoppers are begging for.

How do we address success and failure in this area?

Having been retailers ourselves, Tulip understands the complexities of mobilizing omnichannel store associates while also enabling retailers through change management. An omnichannel vision intrinsically affects the entire business and how it functions–from both a cultural and technical point of view, and across ecommerce, retail, store operations, supply chain…

Buying into an out-of-the-box omnichannel product isn’t always easy for customers. They are ensuring their technology, security, customer data, and business strategy to a partner, which is sometimes why they decide to build a solution internally. The downside to going custom is cost, time, resources, and complexity.

Over the past year, however, we’ve seen some retailers come back to the table opting into the OOTB game. It makes us hopeful that as some of the bigger players in retail, like Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, and Toys”R”Us, see the long-term value of investing in the right technology and their people, the rest of world’s top retailers will follow suit. The more they buy into being cloud- and mobile-first movement, the faster we can enable store associates to offer world class customer service.

So what trends should people be paying attention to in this area?

The funny thing about clienteling is that this isn’t a new notion. Department stores at the turn of the century and into the 1940s/50s were offering “clienteling” practices from the get-go. ‘Mrs. Smith’ would come in for her regular shopping, an associate would welcome her by name, work with her shoulder-to-shoulder, make recommendations, make a personal call to remind her when her new favorite pumps would arrive, and keep notes of this in their black book. However, with the digitization of the world and growing ubiquity of mobile devices, shoppers have advanced to a point where retailers simply can’t keep up.

Shoppers are fully self-sufficient when it comes to looking up product inventory, comparing pricing, or checking similar styles at other retailers–they have outgrown the traditional model of the store associate. Instead of being a beacon of information and advice, store associates have evolved into props or deterrents to the store experience.

Clienteling isn’t a trend nor a mechanism privy to top tier retailers. Store associates can create a tailored experience with real-time access to product or customer information, like inventory, style preferences, communication history, and tasks. They’re able to offer a seamless experience, from the moment a customer creates a new profile online, to when they enter the store and browse, to when they transact using mobile point-of-sale.

But it doesn’t stop there. Shoppers become lifetime advocates when an authentic relationship is established. Store associates must be actively engaging with customers in-store and building trust with the goal of acquiring more information each time they visit. This includes things like whether or not store associates are getting customers to opt-in or fill out more detailed profile information. And beyond the store, associates need to be enabled to actively nurture relationships by sending personalized offers unique to their needs.

It’s an exciting time we live in. People, not just shoppers, want and expect real, authentic content, experiences, products, apps, interactions. I talk a lot about how to “solve for challenges” in retail and the physical store, but this is a time to capitalize on opportunity. Retail has come full circle from when department stores were a destination for the family, to today where brands like Bonobos and Frank + Oak are revitalizing the store into being a theatrical experience that seamlessly ties together the power of mobile technology, customer data, and the value of building personal relationships authentically. This will be what defines the retailers who will survive and those who will continue to shutter doors.

One really important idea to take away from this discussion is to put aside the idea of innovative retail technology and driving greater revenue. Focus on investing in the development, education, and enablement of people. We’re living in a world where in order to succeed at anything these days, we need to embrace the notion of unlocking the infinite potential out there.

Jan Kotowski is Head of Product at Tulip Retail, and is a seasoned product leader with experience across multiple industries, including enterprise IT, telecom, banking, social, ad tech and retail. Jan is passionate about disruptive technology and therefore was naturally drawn to joining Tulip Retail, which is on a mission to disrupt the old ways of brick and mortar retail operations.