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How will future in-store technology help the workforce?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock)

The store of today looks very different to the store of 20 years ago. A large part of this is due to the technology now available at retailer’s fingertips. There’s an increase in the level of investment from retailers into in-store technology, while they’re also putting bricks-and-mortar at the heart of their wider retail strategy. But with such investment going into technology now and for the future, where does this leave the workforce and what are the benefits to employees? 

A chance to hone your skills 

When people hear about new technology entering the workplace, many employees start to panic that eventually technology will start replacing them. However the world is a long, long way from that. What I’ve actually been seeing is that technology is enabling employees to become more skills-based. For instance there’s been a massive increase in the use of self-serve kiosks throughout the in-store retail environment and looking to the future, this will eventually become the new norm. These kiosks will allow employees to focus more on customer service and depending on the type of role, what they were really trained to do. Take a DIY or home store as an example. A lot of employees have a specialist knowledge and skill set that can only be learnt through years of training and working in the store. Yet they spend over half their time simply working the tills. How often are you looking around a store for someone to help you, but no-one is around as they’re all maxed out at the checkout? Having a touch-enabled, interactive self-service kiosk hubs in the shop where customers can select, place and pay for their order will eliminate the need for a member of the team to be operating the tills.  This will allow them to really focus on what it is they were trained to do, and get out from behind the till or counter, removing the barrier between them and the customer. This would go toward speeding up wait times for customers while reducing the stress on employees having to deal with long queues of people waiting to pay for their goods or to get their questions answered.   

A helping hand to find your way 

Employees are often expected to know the exact whereabouts of every single item around the shop. Many customers presume they do or at least know where the majority of products are and their location. In a larger department store which holds a vast amount of different stock and where product ranges are being updated every day this is sometimes simply not achievable. That’s where new developments in wayfinding technology can lend a helping hand. Currently, few retailers have implemented digital, interactive wayfinding kiosks, but over the next couple of years this will be something that most retailers will be looking to install. Wayfinding touchscreens would display maps which customers can use to search for the product they’re looking for, its location and even see if it’s in stock. It can – and already is in some cases – be used by employees too. Usually when someone starts a new job, especially in a large department store or office building, they waste a lot of time trying to get to where they need to be or memorising where things are. They can use wayfinding to help them navigate their way around the store, preventing them from getting lost as they start to get their bearings around the store or office building.   

Using endless aisles for endless sales 

You may have come across the term ‘endless aisle’. Some retailers have been quicker than others in understanding the importance of offering consumers this in-store. The endless aisle, can be achieved by using an interactive touchscreen that displays the retail stores online catalogue, gives consumers the option to browse and purchase items that may not necessarily be on display in the store. Hence the term ‘endless’. We also now know that, given a choice, most shoppers still prefer to interact with a person at some point during their in-store experience. This presents employees with an excellent way of making sales and enhancing the existing sales assistant and customer relationship, the ‘side by side’ method. This can be achieved by the employee and the customer viewing products on a large touchscreen together instead of across a customer service desk or till. For example when a customer cannot find what they’re looking for or need advice on accessories, models and so on. Historically, this has been done across the till with the sales assistant searching on the computer. By using a touchscreen they can browse stock (colours, style and sizes), check availability, and process purchases together in a less transactional, convenient and more personalised way – side by side.   

‘Side by side’ interaction is a great opportunity for sales assistants to upsell complementary or completely different products that may or may not be in stock in that particular store. And despite this process being completed in an in-store online environment, nothing should change in terms of employee incentives or commissions based on sales. Assistants will use employee ID swipe cards and log-ins to track sales in the exact same way they would if the sale were completed offline, making sure they’re able to reap the benefits that the endless aisle and side by side methods offers them. Most of this technology is self-intuitive to use, however employers will still need to ensure that adequate training is offered to employees so that they can get the most of what ‘side-by-side interaction can offer. As the use of such interactive technology becomes more and more widespread, we’ll start to see these kinds of interactions in all kinds of different retail environments. 

Putting the ‘magic’ in changing room efficiency 

Maybe the largest gripe of those working in fashion retail is the chaos that surrounds the changing room. In-store technology is being designed to ease this pain. For example some clothing stores such as Ralph Lauren’s flagship Polo store have installed ‘magic mirrors’ inside the changing room areas allowing customers to order different items or sizes of clothing to be taken to them to be tried on in the changing rooms. The store assistant will then receive a notification, informing them of the product the customer wants instead and the changing room they’re in. Looking to the future the industry will begin to see further widespread adoption of these screens, with the screens displaying up-to-date stock levels that will save employee’s having to search around the store and backrooms for products that aren’t even in stock. This updated changing room technology will also finally get rid of the outdated system of handing out plastic tags with numbers on to customers that indicate how many items of clothing they are trying on. Using technology such as RFID tags, customers will be able to simply walk in to the changing room without having to worry about carrying additional tokens. 

The future of shopping 

New technological advancements such as those outlined above are designed to make the workplace a more rewarding and less complicated place. Retail technology can offer a whole host of benefits for employees, customers and store owners alike, and we should all be excited for what the future of retail holds. 

Maarten Bais, Vice President & General Manager EMEA at Elo 

Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock

Maarten Bais
Maarten is Elo’s vice president and general manager in EMEA and India. His focus is on retail, gaming, hospitality and healthcare, where he’s been pivotal in growing profit.