Blame the Associate or Fix the Problem
By Joe Skorupa
It’s a beautiful thing when the traditional store works like it’s supposed to, but we know it frequently doesn’t. Products are not always conveniently displayed for customers to touch, purchase and take home. Associates are not always friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and equipped with the tools and training they need. And when things go wrong and customers leave stores dissatisfied, we know that sales are lost.
Since, associates are the customer’s primary touchpoint while in the store, it is logical to note the associate must have had something to do with it. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Associates, and the managers who supervise them, are only as good as the tools they have to work with, the training they receive, and volume of tasks they are required to carry out.
In the just-released Custom Research report “Blame the Associate” findings are uncovered that shed light on the complexity and difficulties facing the store workforce as it rises to the challenge of meeting the expectations of the omnichannel shopper.
Impact of the Associate
Just as products have to be in the right place at the right time, so do sales associates. On a scale of one to 10 where one stands for no impact and 10 stands for highest impact, retailers give an 8.6 rating to the impact of having associates and managers in the right place to help customers in the right way at the right time.
However, when we asked about the retailer’s confidence that the store workforce will consistently do this we get a much different answer – a score of 5.5. (Note that a score of 5 is a neutral score that reflects neither high nor low confidence.) Retailers look for a score near the high end of the spectrum to be considered a well-run business, so a score of 5.5 falls well short.
The gap between the influence associates have on store performance (sales, profits and customer satisfaction) and the confidence retailers have in actually making this happen is disappointing to say the least and disastrous in terms of delivering optimum business performance.
Why Associates Are Failing
Tech tools are proliferating at the store level with the assumption that it will lead to improvements in productivity, standards compliance and reducing workloads.
However, the expected benefits of this technology are effectively being neutralized by the sharp increase in new omnichannel services and functions simultaneously being added to stores.
Nearly nine out of ten retailers (87%) say the volume of store-based corporate-driven workload has increased year over year. Of this group, 13% say the increase in new workload has been very high.
More than seven out of ten retailers (71%) say the volume of new omnichannel services to shoppers has increased year over year. Of this group, 16% say the increase in omnichannel workload has been very high.
The study finds that one of the contributing factors to the big increase in workload is the number of store-facing applications that associates and managers must use on a daily basis. These applications are essential to operating a successful store, but they also add a layer of complexity to the daily workload.
More than one third of retailers (36%) say they need to access 6-10 store-facing systems on a daily basis. The same amount (36%) say they access at least 11 store-facing systems on a daily basis. Of that group, 10% regularly use 16 or more applications.
Solving the Problem
While it is true that technology is flooding into stores and creating a new complexity and workload for store personnel, it is also true that the technology brings many advantages worth preserving. Here are key insights from the study that can lead to solving the problem by accepting responsibility for the situation and not blaming the associate:
- Get rid of paper reports: More than three quarters of retailers (77%) say that some of their reports are delivered on paper. Of these, more than a quarter (27%) say they deliver a fifth or more of their reports on paper. Time to embrace digital transformation.
- Go mobile: The vast majority of retailers (81%) say that five or fewer applications are accessible through mobile devices, which forces associates and managers to access fixed computers or terminals, typically in the back office. Retailers can solve this problem by making applications accessible through mobile devices.
- Single role-based dashboard: Retailers rated the impact of having a single role-based dashboard with an intuitive user interface as 7.8 on a scale of 1-10 where 1 stands for no impact and 10 stands for highest impact.
- Send and respond to alerts in real-time: Retailers gave the ability to update alerts and notifications in real-time an 8.2 rating on a scale of 1-10 where 1 stands for no impact and 10 stands for highest impact.
Gone are the days when an associate’s primary tasks were stocking, restocking and checkout. Much more is required to meet both the demands of the omnichannel shopper and the demands of digital transformation.
To see more key findings, insights and a full set of charts, click here to download the report.