NRF’s BIG Show sets the retail agenda for the year ahead, and this year’s event – which took place in New York last week – was highly focused on people and productivity.

The BIG Show is a place to showcase the latest technology, and many of the conference keynotes focussed on how that tech can empower the retail workforce to both be more productive, and offer the customer a better quality experience.

A new way of digital thinking

One of the key messages arising from the show was to invest in front-line staff, in order to meet the requirements of the omnichannel consumer. “We have to embrace new thinking to meet the demands of this new workplace,” remarked HSN’s president, Bill Brand, in his keynote session.

The recruitment of young talent was a major discussion point, with many retailers acknowledging that new skills are required to engage tech-savvy employees – who in turn can better serve increasingly digital-focused shoppers.

Generally, across the industry, there is a perceived gap between how consumers use technology in their personal endeavours, and how that tech is brought into their retail experiences. While it is second nature for shoppers to look up product information or compare prices on their smartphone, the number of retailers using mobile POS or similar devices to bring that online connectivity into the store is still comparatively small.

Retailers, therefore, need to place greater emphasis on finding customer-facing personnel who feel comfortable engaging with technology, to offer an experience that feels more intuitive to how consumers shop independently.

Make the store more satisfying

The role of digital engagement in the store was discussed in many sessions at The BIG Show, reiterating this disconnect between consumer expectations and bricks-and-mortar reality.

Deloitte’s retail, wholesale and distribution leader, Rod Sides, quoted a powerful statistic that almost half (47%) of customers are satisfied with their store experience when it comes to simply taking care of their needs.

“Expectations of the store experience are being set by the consumers’ digital experience,” remarked Sides – and yet, not all retailers are investing in the in-store technology needed to bring those two worlds together.

He also highlighted the pay-off for those businesses willing to invest; while the industry as a whole is averaging two percent growth, retailers focussing on customer experience as a differentiator are seeing sales grow by up to 13 per cent annually.

Find ambassadors for life

Returning to the theme of recruiting and retaining talent, Walmart hosted an insightful session at the show around the role of retail in society. The retailer has committed a $2 million grant to the National Retail Federation to support the development of young talent, in line with its experience of nurturing staff.

Walmart’s chief sustainability officer, Kathleen McLaughlin, noted that the company’s CEO, Doug McMillan, began his Walmart career unloading boxes in a distribution centre – and that 75 percent of store managers started off as hourly workers.

At a time when productivity is a key issue, and many retail organisations are moving towards offering fewer, but better, front-line jobs, Walmart is a good example of a company that views the long-term benefits of employee investment. And other retailers can adopt this same approach, by leveraging their omnichannel technology strategy to empower, inform and motivate talented staff.

To empower your staff through retail technology investment, visit iVend Retail’s product page.

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