IoT Wearables Revolutionize The Container Store Experience

The Container Store’s (TCS) employees had relied on basic walkie-talkies and overhead speakers to exchange limited information for years. But what if there was a way to revolutionize how employees on the front line communicate with each other?

This is the problem TCS set out to solve with its nationwide rollout of voice-controlled wearables as a service at all of its locations. 

The Theatro service, which was piloted and enhanced through feedback from TCS, connects the retailer’s employees and managers to product and order information, enabling immediate problem solving and an uninterrupted focus on customers. 

The voice-controlled Internet of Things (IoT) wearables and workforce optimized apps come together in a software as a service (SaaS) offering to provide a mobile solution for on-the-move employees. The small device can clip onto an employee’s outfit, keeping users hands-free. 

The SaaS app adds capabilities like SKU look-up, while its analytics application provides insight into employees’ day-to-day activities, how they work as a team, and how on-floor performance varies from store to store. 

“Today we have a wearable device that’s connected to our network in the store through WiFi,” says John Thrailkill, EVP of IT and business development at TCS. 

Via a conversational user interface, the wearable gives all employees immediate access to store resources, such as real-time inventory availability (even in nearby stores) and status of pickup orders.

“Employees can use the wearables’ apps to have one-to-one conversations, share expertise and product information, support one another, and guide new teammates all while remaining heads-up and hands-free,” says Thrailkill. 

Currently, around 80 stores and 4,000 employees are utilizing the technology. Before the implementation, the retailer would schedule 30 minutes for employees’ “communication time,” where they would listen to recorded voice mail messages. Now managers can record messages for associates to hear throughout the day. 

By simply removing that communication time from the schedule, the payroll savings has been significant, says Thrailkill, with the added benefit of associates being kept better up to date. However, the new technology requires a little extra training.  

“It is a learning curve like anything new,” he says, noting you don’t need any training for a simple walkie-talkie. “We spend around an hour with each employee.”

Thrailkill remarks it takes a number of days, not weeks, for associates to get comfortable with the tech and “we’ve gotten raves from customers about it.” 

If a shopper is searching for an item, for example, a store associate can use the device to check inventory availability without going to a computer. Then the associate can ask the solution if there is another free associate near the stock room, thanks to WiFi and beacons. The system can communicate with the associate near the stock room, and that person can bring the item over. This all means the first associate never has to leave the customer’s side. 

“It’s so much better of a customer experience to stay with them and let that product come to you,” says Thrailkill. “Customers love when they get that level of service.”

As advice to other retailers, Thrailkill does note a good WiFi set up in stores is needed for this technology, featuring full coverage across the entire space. 

“I truly do think in the next few years every retailer is going to have this tool,” he says. “The potential for the future is huge.