Firstly, don’t boil the ocean.
Disruption–transformation–reinvention. Buzzwords floating around as retailers, experts, and thought leaders speculate on the evolution of the physical retail store and how technology will play a role in this change. At the store-level, we’re seeing retailers experiment with beacons, kiosks, and digital displays to augment consumer’s access to product inventory and assistance. And we’re seeing Millennials drive tectonic shifts in the way retailers handle speed of consumption and distribution as they demand a greater level of personalization and instant gratification, but at the best price possible. The accessibility and affordability of technology creates a potentially endless array of options to consider as you map out your in-store mobility strategy.
Forget about the technology.
It can be difficult to determine what’s valuable versus what’s fashionable, or what your competitors or peers are doing, which is why I’d like to start this discussion off by saying: forget about the technology. The technology is the tool or mechanism by which you’ll execute a technology transformation project. In order to ensure usage and adoption, you need the buy-in of your fleet of selling professionals. Solution? Focus on hearing your people and sourcing information based on their experience and time in the field.
Building out an in-store mobility roadmap doesn’t need to be painful or overly complicated. Begin with the end in mind and define top three “Quick wins” that will turn your store into a store of the future. Here are our top three recommended Quick Wins.
Quick Win #1: Redefine the role of the store associate (because it affects everyone)
A store associate app project is complex and challenging. It demands the participation and agreement of multiple, siloed business processes. From ecommerce to retail operations, or supply-chain to merchandising, within each of these well-oiled business units, is a long-established way of thinking about the store associate: transactional and static.
Failure rates can range between 74-81% for large-scale strategic initiatives that technology shifts, like hardware installation, business expansion, and cultural transformation. Companies whose executive team spends time envisioning who this next-generation store associate is (i.e. define new tasks, responsibilities, incentivization, and rewards programs) and how they become part of the enterprise business, see much greater success in app deployment and adoption. They spend time creating company-wide directives, messaging, and training around how this evolution affects the various arms of the business. It’s imperative to understand that successful technology deployments are no longer just about the technology, but about driving a cultural transformation from the inside out.
What you need to be asking:
- Is your business investing in store associates, or technology? Have you clearly communicated to store associates that the company will be investing in them and their career–not iPads–in order to provide the best training and skills to become elite selling professionals? Do they feel confident that they will no longer be seen as just static, transactional, “order takers”?
- Have you aligned your company strategy across each of the different business units? Is the process clear between the ecommerce, merchandising, marketing, and store operations teams? Also, does the term “omnichannel” have one, singular definition across the company, from the store-level up to middle-management?
- How does the introduction of a Tulip-enabled iPad add or reduce the amount of work currently on associates’ plates? Some individuals might be more resistant to change, so what behaviors have been defined as optimal, and which ones will be incentivized for reward?
- What new behaviors and tasks will be expected of the mobile-enabled store associate? How does this criteria translate to the hard- and soft-skills hiring managers will be looking for in next-generation sales professionals?
Quick Win #2: Store associate training and enablement
Sixty-four-percent of employees rarely use enterprise mobile apps because of poor user experience. When building an app, ensure it is intuitive enough for all levels of technical acuity and experience level. Develop the training programs early on in the store associate app project and integrate them directly into the on-boarding process.
Determine who, at the executive and store levels, need to be involved in training communications and program implementation. Then, identify who is accountable for the ongoing planning, communications, and aggregation of results.
When store associates are properly trained and regularly provided with communications on new feature sets and functionality, we’ve seen lifts of more than 30% in adoption. And assuming sales increase year-over-year, training programs will easily pay the retailer back. Store associates will require a clearly defined leadership in place for direction and sponsorship of on-going programs.
Tailor training programs based on your business, as well as experience levels and learning styles across store associates, so consider piloting your new program not only with your flagship or best stores, but also with some of the more challenged or underperforming stores. The latter will provide an indication of possible risks that you might encounter as the store associate app is rolled out.
What you need to be asking:
- Is the value of store associate training programs clearly understood at the executive levels? Have you identified any roadblocks to execute a successful program?
- Have you secured resources dedicated to the training programs and who will be responsible for defining, measuring, and monitoring success? Are district and regional leadership involved at the onset of the plan to participate and contribute insights?
- Have you visualized what successful adoption looks like for your company? For example, success could mean that over 75% of associates are actively using email and SMS? Or that over 50% of associates are increasing their usage of the product catalog by 10% week-over-week.
- Is there a ‘hypercare strategy’ to quickly resolve issues at the store level as the new systems, processes, and training are rolled out?
Quick Win #3: Tell a winning brand story through relevant and accessible product content
The physical store offers retailers a unique lever in differentiating for today’s demanding consumer: the brand experience. Retailers are using the in-store experience as a way to become more and more interweaved with the product store associates are selling. For instance, in the fashion and luxury spaces, giving store associates access to enhanced product information gives them the ability to tell a story about the craftsmanship, history, and inspiration behind a scarf or handbag.
Specialty toy and home improvement retailers sell products that require a lot of knowledge and information related to safety and use, like strollers or baby carriers, which are high informational, emotional purchases that take time to research and compare before buying. Tulip-enabled store associates at Toys’R’Us, for example, guide the customer through the path-to-purchase by accessing product details, related products, customer reviews, and competitor pricing in real-time. Since the associate is part of the decision-making process, they’ve significantly reduced the risk that their customer will simply leave due to lack of knowledge or expertise, and buy the item online.
What you need to be asking:
- Does the business have a clear understanding of your customers’ needs? Do store associates have the tools in order to meet these customers needs?
- Is there access to content-rich product information, including availability, customer reviews, or related products? Having this level of detailed information helps with out-of-stock inventory, giving the store associate another way to show how the item wears in real life, detailed stitching, or perspective on fit.
- Are there training videos that show store associates how to use or install the product? Rather than an associate explaining to the customer, they’re now able to quickly show an instructional video within the Tulip app. As a retailer, you’re able to control the accuracy of that instruction and messaging, while measuring usage.
- Are store associates able to go beyond just conceptualization and actually pull together products in a meaningful way to create a rich story of what “your kitchen could look like”, or how I think this “outfit could be pulled together”?
Your turn: The real investment is in the store associate, not the technology
In-store mobile initiatives that drive the greatest returns all center around the store associate, not the technology. Store associate projects are large in size and scope, and easily fall apart due to lack of executive buy-in, or lose momentum due to lack of store associate training. However, by distilling a highly complex problem into smaller, actionable “quick wins”, we’ve seen success across fashion, specialty, and consumer electronics who have deployed Tulip to thousands of store associates.
It goes without saying that your business must be aligned on who this next generation store associate is and what role they’ll be filling for customers:
- Are they a basic “order taker” or are they an elite selling professional who is enabled to cross-sell, up-sell, and even clientele?
- Has the business caught up to the value of training and enablement, or are their laggards stalling the planning and execution of programs?
Store associates who are brought into the enterprise community and given the tools to communicate with peers, self-train, and provide product recommendations, drive greater return through sales with higher basket size, while reducing the amount of overall churn.
The last quick-win is to provide store associates access to the complete product catalog in order to be able to more effective in telling a story. Consumers expect to learn more than just the washing instructions, and care greatly about the story, process, and craftsmanship behind the product, especially when it comes to sustainability and quality. Store associates equipped with Tulip-enabled iPads can delivery this rich shopping experience and become larger contributors to the overall success of the business.
Smith, M.E., “Success rates for different types of organizational change”, Performance improvement, 41 (1), 2, 2002
Does Sales Training for Retail Make Sense? Part 2, Seth Brickner