The Future of Retail: Enterprise Social Networking

Want to do a better job at work? We all do. According to new survey data from Microsoft, 46% of retail employees think social tools would help them do a better job – more than any other industry. However, retail employees are also the most likely to say that using social tools at work is frowned upon (48%).
We are all aware of how social networking has changed our personal lives, both for the better and worse. But for many of us in retail, it's a technology that we leave at the door on the way into work. We worry our co-workers think we aren't being productive, that bosses think we aren't working, or about the various concerns over company secrets getting leaked. But, according to new survey data from Ipsos commissioned by Microsoft, bringing social networking to work is something that employees want, can make them more productive, and can help foster quicker and more successful communication across the business. In fact, 40% of all respondents feel there isn't enough collaboration in their workplace and that social tools can help foster better teamwork, and 33% are willing to spend their own money to get them.
The opportunity for retailers to leverage enterprise social tools like Yammer, internal collaboration sites like Microsoft SharePoint, Office 365 productivity software, and Lync instant messaging and videoconferencing is huge. With stores opening across the country and even the world, immediate employee communication is essential to a well-run business. For instance, a local retail outlet may have to implement a marketing campaign with direction from corporate headquarters and need to tailor it to their specific market. By using social technologies, employees can instantly share feedback from the ground, so other stores can quickly learn from their successes and failures.
How about using social networking technology to listen to trends to help evaluate, pilot, and launch new products? Or immediately communicate with inventory employees to ensure a product is available? The scenarios for retail are endless. Not only that, but implementing social tools can help attract and retain talent, empowers employees and franchisees to stay connected throughout the business, and decreases the organizational silos we often find ourselves in.
Technology always moves forward. Just as e-mail accelerated the pace of business in the 90s, enterprise social networking will be the new cornerstone of communication and collaboration that will drive greater speed and competitive advantages in retail moving forward.
As we look ahead at how collaboration and communications continue to evolve in the retail space, we believe that the tools being used today – e-mail, IM, voice, video conferencing, social – will come together and be deeply integrated into business apps in ways that will speed collaboration and truly transform the way people work.
Greg Jones is worldwide retail industry solution manager for employee engagement at Microsoft.
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