Written by: Rocky Mitarai, Senior Director Product Marketing at Oracle
The face of retail continues to experience unprecedented disruption as digitization fuels customer expectations around seamless online, in-store and pick-up experiences. As new business models are being delivered by retailers in a race to innovate and feed these expectations, these same retailers often struggle to adapt to this new reality and HR teams are getting hit harder than ever. It's no surprise, as retail is fundamentally a people driven business. In fact, across the US Fortune 500, the top three largest employers are retailers, with their numbers of employees reaching into the millions around the globe. Amidst this disruption, how are retail HR teams impacted, and how can they adapt at such scale?
To dig into this topic, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mario Vollbracht, Oracle's Global Director of Consumer Markets, and an industry veteran with 25 years in the retail and consumer goods space.
As digitization changes the face of the retail space, there are several key trends and challenges that Mario and I discussed. First is the shift of power to the consumer, which according to Mario has completely changed the equation. We're living in a constantly connected world, where at any moment we can access product prices, availability, and peer ratings to influence our decision. When a consumer walks into a store and finds an item on the shelf, it's common for them to pull out their smartphone and start doing comparisons. Or in many cases, the research has already been done online, and by the time they make it into the store, the majority of their questions have been answered. In this reality, there is tremendous pressure on associates to be smarter than the consumers in front of them.
The other big shift is driven by customer expectations for consistent, convenient, and personalized experiences across channels. One example could be in the restaurant and food retail segment, where online ordering and pick-up is becoming commonplace. The execution of this requires an intuitive mobile experience, and critically, the processes and training across in-store employees to see the order, assemble it, and be ready to deliver it at a specified time. If any of these pieces is botched, the consumer experience is damaged.
Clearly, there is a lot of pressure on today's retail organizations, and in particular the people within them to deliver the outstanding customer experiences needed to succeed. This puts HR teams in a critical position to drive this effort. So what are some keys to success?
According to Mario, there are several things HR teams should consider, many of which revolve around making employees smarter than today's consumer. Employees need to be enabled and empowered, often requiring a combination of things to be successful.
Investing in training can't be understated. There are examples of successful retailers investing in training facilities—and instead of closing or downsizing stores, turning those spaces into on-site training academies to provide associates with an experiential training process while on-site. Some retailers have begun adding virtual reality to the mix to enable associates to experience the pressures of Black Friday so they are ready for it, which is a trend that we’ll likely see much more of in the near future.
While not a solution by itself, technology is a critical enabler of employee success. For example, successful retailers have begun arming their staff with smartphones that can be used on the spot when a consumer asks them a question, to ensure they can provide the right guidance. This allows the associate to do things like scan the barcode of a shoe box and not only get key product information, but also availability in other sizes and colors, in-store location and ETA on next arrival if out of stock. Of course, this all fails if employees aren't trained on how to effectively use the technology, or the processes haven't been built to ensure the technology works.
The digital nature of today's retail has opened up new doors for automation and efficiency. For example, it's becoming more common to see robots in stores scanning the inventory on shelves and ensuring that it is in the right place—something that was necessary, yet tedious and error prone, for associates to do previously. With these kinds of innovations, it opens up the doors for empowering those associates to do higher level functions, and provide value to today’s highly knowledgeable consumer. As noted above, this is something that they are fully capable of and crave. Successful retailers have leveraged this trend and shifted org structures by cutting out a layer of management and allowing associates to be empowered with more visibility and authority on the store floor. Taking it a step further, Macy's empowers associates to leverage a self-service application to pick their own shifts, trade shifts, and request time off independently, empowering supervisors to focus on higher level tasks—and has dropped turnover by 28% in the process.
The key point that kept coming back in my discussion with Mario, is that things are moving fast, and as retail organizations look to provide an outstanding customer experience, the importance of enabling and empowering their people can't be understated.
Leveraging a future-ready HCM Cloud solution can help streamline the processes and execution of training, technology usage, and employee empowerment. Importantly, a holistic approach is needed across each of these areas, as well as a commitment to investing and trusting in each individual.
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