The way we shop is changing. Just a few years ago, same-day delivery seemed like an impossible feat — but these days it’s not only possible but you can even receive popcorn in 13 minutes… if you live near an Amazon distribution centre and have a large garden. Who knows what the face of retail might look like in a decade — but, right now, retailers need to juggle meeting the expectations of shoppers who enjoy the flexibility of online shopping, but still love the experience of a physical store.
Retailers are battling for survival. Online shopping technology has evolved rapidly over the past decade, and consumers now expect outstanding levels of simplicity and choice. In a world where companies like Your Fitting Room will deliver clothes to your door and wait while you try them on, why bother battling the crowds and the queues on the high street? To try to bring innovation to the in-store experience, retailers are rightly experimenting with ‘Stores of the Future’ that merge the physical and digital worlds, using smart payment methods to eradicate queues, or Wi-Fi technology that can customise the shopping experience.
With all this innovation on the shop floor, however, it’s surprising to see some processes and operations in retail remain shockingly outdated. Plenty of retailers still schedule staff with a piece of paper stuck on the wall, even if a real-time stream of footfall data, weather data, sales data and employee availability could be made easily available to the manager in a few clicks. If customers do venture out to the shops instead of purchasing online, they do it because they want the seamless customer experience, convenience and personal attention they don’t get from a website. That means that managers getting the right team in the right locations to give amazing customer service (especially during the busiest periods) is critical.
Retailers cannot afford to struggle with day to day inefficiencies if they want to compete with the power of online shopping. Staff are valuable, but they’re also expensive and not scheduling them effectively translates into lost sales, poor productivity and dissatisfied employees. To future-proof their business, retailers more than ever need to deploy data-driven technologies that empower businesses to accurately predict and meet demand on the shop floor.
The bricks-and-mortar experience is definitely not dead. It may no longer be the primary way shoppers make their purchases, but shoppers will likely remain loyal to retailers who perfect the in-store experience.
The way to do this is to make sure the groundwork is done internally. Looking after in-store teams and making their jobs easier through automation of day-to-day processes like scheduling and payroll is a vital first step. In 2017 processes that once required manual input can be better handled by smart technology and algorithms that can produce significantly quicker and more accurate results. This leaves managers free to focus on the bigger picture, such as maximising the in-store experience.
In-store processes and operations have the potential to be as innovative, flexible and simple as online shopping — it’s about more than just digitising a manual task — it’s about leveraging new technologies like data science, machine learning and AI that were not available a decade ago. As much as online shopping pushes the boundaries of innovation, there’s another battle raging in retail — for who can create the best in-store experience. And that will be fought behind the scenes, in the very foundations of how businesses are run.