It was no secret that 2018 saw many retailers struggle, with more than 3,800 stores predicted to close within the US alone. Among the closures were a string of former favorites such as Toys R Us, Walgreens and Gap.
While this certainly doesn’t paint a positive picture of the retail sector, our recent survey of retail workers and customers found that both groups believe there are a number of ways in which retailers can improve the customer experience this year to ensure this rate doesn’t increase further. Both staff and shopper alike agree that technology holds the key to the future of retail.
With technology continuing to develop at pace, by 2025 consumers expect to encounter virtual assistants and virtual reality on the shop floor. While this may still be some way off, in the coming year, we will see the implementation of new technology both on the shop floor and behind the scenes in stock rooms and back offices to tackle some of the challenges facing the industry.
According to our research, the biggest frustration of working in the retail industry is understaffing, with 82% of retail workers citing that efficient management of stores and better forecasting would improve their job satisfaction and the customer experience. Fortunately, technology which harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to improve the forecasting of both employees and stock and meet changes in demand. This is something that Sears could have definitely benefited from, as while it was once the go-to store of middle-class Americans, in recent years, the stores had become visibly both understaffed and understocked.
Not only is it possible to use this technology to forecast when stores are likely to be busy and schedule staff accordingly, but it can even go as far as scheduling employees who work well together for the same shift. Through the use of these innovative technologies, retailers will be able to both enhance employee management by staffing more accurately and provide automated systems to carry out menial tasks and enhance the customer experience.
Retailers can also benefit from using AI to add value to the shopping experience, allowing them to offer a more intelligent and bespoke service. For instance, it can be used to enable store staff to see a customer’s previous purchases and make recommendations based on them – something which online retailers have been doing for years. This not only delivers a more helpful service to the customer but also increases the retailer’s potential to sell.
In today’s turbulent retail market, the ability to predict and forecast staff and stock effectively has never been more valuable. By arming themselves with the right technology, retailers will be able to overcome the challenges of forecasting, keep customers happy and ensure staff morale remains high, and, therefore, gain a more solid standing in the market.
-Mike Callender, Executive Chairman at REPL Group