The Changing Expectations Placed on Frontline Store Associates
Just as the ocean floor constantly changes, so, too, does the retail landscape. The retail environment must respond to changing consumer demands as customers continue to search for the right balance of price, availability, selection, and convenience. And, in today’s climate, decide which retailers they want to support based on their political stances, humanitarian efforts, or even who has the best social media presence. The fallout, however, is on those frontline workers servicing customers in the retail industry and how they must adapt to meet and exceed changing expectations and demands.
For years, we have been talking about the “Amazon effect” and how online shopping changed consumer behavior and expectations. The Amazon effect is the impact that online marketplaces such as Amazon has on the traditional brick-and-mortar business model1. A 2018 article from Forbes2 explained that as shoppers flocked to online vendors, spending money that had previously been spent in-store, retail businesses needed to adjust and offer exceptional customer experiences for their customers in-store to continue operating and profit.
The Shift Towards Omnichannel
More recently, the conversation has centered around “omnichannel” and how retailers can leverage multiple shopping formats and delivery methods to meet customers where they are in their shopping journey. In a recent blog post, Tessa Roberts explains, “Omnichannel retail is a multichannel approach to sales that focuses on providing seamless customer experience whether the client is shopping online from a mobile device, a laptop, or in a brick-and-mortar store.” A 2017 study from Harvard Business Review3 states that 73% of all customers use multiple channels to shop. And this does not extend solely to that final purchase point: according to The State of Commerce Experience 20214, more than half of consumers polled explained they would research a product online before going to a physical store or would even do further research on a product while in the store.
What makes omnichannel so interesting is that the solution can vary across each retailer’s offerings. Whether a retailer provides curbside pickup and/ or home delivery, personal shoppers or a personalized catalog, a website and/or physical store, the results are driven by each retail brands’ customer base. For example: families with young children purchasing consumable home goods have different needs and expectations than empty nesters purchasing a high-end automobile, and as such, the elements of their omnichannel shopping preferences will differ. Regardless of the retail brand and its’ omnichannel implementation, one subject that is often overlooked is the effect that these changes in consumer expectations place on frontline workers.
The frontline retail worker is a brand’s primary interface with its customers, whether they are answering questions over the phone, via chat, or in person, stocking shelves, picking an order, or securely placing goods in the customer’s car. The truth is that, like deep ocean currents, consumers continue to change the landscape, often raising the bar of expectation, and frontline workers are expected to adjust and deliver on the promise.
The simple fact is that frontline and mobile workers are found throughout the supply chain, and without them, it will come to a grinding halt. Over the last couple months, retail conversations have begun to shift and are beginning to reflect the importance that frontline and mobile workers play in delivering new customer-focused shopping models across all possible channels that positively represent the brand.
Empowering Retail Associates with Mobility Solutions Becomes Critical
Unfortunately, employee turnover continues to be a huge obstacle. In fact, in 2021, the average turnover rate in the retail sector was an astounding 63%. Recruiting and retaining top talent to meet the ever-changing demands of the customer in the retail industry is now paramount, and employers must be focused on improving the experience of their workers on the front line in order to protect their business. These new employee-focused conversations include salary and benefit discussions, but equally important topics include training, productivity, and safety while out on the floor.
For three decades, Spectralink’s mission has been to equip frontline and mobile workers with tools that allow them to respond to their changing world while exceeding their customer’s expectations. We provide solutions that support three critical frontline worker concerns:
- Communication/ collaboration
- Employee/ location safety
Effective communication is at the center of every successful business transaction, and there is no better method of exchange than a conversation between buyer and seller. However, as mentioned above, in today’s omnichannel world, the number and types of conversations have dramatically increased with the introduction of each new buying variable. This means the expectation on frontline workers increases as well. A typical store associate will perform many roles during any given shift, including stock clerk, cashier, knowledge expert, product locater, and delivery person. As such, retail associates need to be armed with more information than ever before.
To meet consumer demands, frontline workers need instant access to product information, pricing, inventory levels, delivery options, and more. And they need this information at their fingertips when the customer or job demands. Being able to immediately reach knowledgeable coworkers, “experts,” and data-driven systems has become non-negotiable as educated consumers expect more from retailers and their employees.
Spectralink is known for our high-quality wireless voice products and our ability to integrate with a wide variety of telephony solutions enabling frontline and mobile workers to efficiently communicate with customers, vendors, and coworkers while on the store or warehouse floor. Our ability to extend a retailer’s existing PBX or Unified Communication solution to their mobile workers not only improves customer satisfaction by streamlining many omnichannel workflows, such as shoppers notifying store associates of their arrival for a curbside pickup, but it also promotes teamwork by connecting the various team members involved in each process or department, drastically improving collaboration.
Doing more with the same or less is becoming a retail norm. As frontline workers are expected to do and know more, it is up to the store operations and information technology groups to equip their mobile workers with the tools needed to achieve their objectives.
Most workflows involve the collection or delivery of information that retail workers must be able to do from anywhere on the floor, including:
- Information requested by customers on things like product availability, pricing, delivery options, or even warranty
- Information required to make a business decision like lead times or stocking levels.
Retailers have invested heavily in computing solutions to manage their business, including ERP, CRM, WM, Inventory Management, and Order Fulfillment. Many of these interfaces have made it to the frontline worker through the implementation of mobile computers or smartphones, often including integrated barcode scanners to reduce data collection errors while improving user productivity.
Frontline workers use mobile solutions to look up inventory information, place orders, transfer products to another location, update product prices, and more. The latest versions of Android devices are so powerful they can stream video, deliver high-quality voice connections, and integrate with third-party devices/solutions such as scales or security systems. Rugged, handheld mobile computers such as Spectralink’s enterprise-grade smartphones are the best technology for connecting mobile workers with an organization’s information sources, and time has proven that mobile computing significantly improves mobile worker productivity5.
Many mobile workers work alone during part or all of their shift. In these cases, personal safety can be a primary worker concern and, in many cases, is regulated by some level of government oversight. And unfortunately, the last few years has seen a rise in active shooter situations in retail environments. Having a device on hand to summon help quickly and quietly has now become paramount.
To meet both employee and government needs, Spectralink includes “man down” support in our handsets. Many of our devices can also use accelerometers to determine when a mobile worker falls, is running, or has been stationary for a defined time. Using this information, our devices can notify and alert other workers or security personnel of a potential issue. We have extended this functionality to include a physical red “panic” button on most of our handsets.The panic button is supported by our “SAFE” application, and can be configured to dial a specific extension such as the security office or 911. The button can also be configured to launch a web service or another application to start specific workflows. Retail workers can use this button to report many types of alerts or notifications such as cleanup on aisle 12, suspicious customer activity, or something as serious as an active shooter event. Employees take comfort in knowing that help is just a button press away, whether that help is required for themselves, a coworker, or a customer.
As the retail community continues to evolve to meet changing consumer demands, it is important that we never lose focus on the employees that make the supply chain work: our frontline and mobile workers. And, it is also critical that we do not become complacent with today’s solutions, as tomorrow brings new challenges and new solutions.
Take, for instance, the typical retail store. Frontline workers utilize a wire phone system for communicating with customers, vendors, and coworkers outside of the store and walkie-talkies and/or overhead paging systems for employee-to-employee instore communications. In this example, workers are required to learn and support two or three solutions and manage the associated hardware devices that accompany them. To further compound the problem, these systems often do not interface with one another, so there is no easy handoff or transfer, creating friction across the communication channel.
Fortunately, frontline workers are benefitting from improved technology, such as purpose-built devices that support their needs for communication, productivity, and safety. The Versity 92 and Versity 95 from Spectralink are great examples of this technology convergence, where data, voice, and productivity workflows align on one device. The Versity enterprise smartphone family provides high-quality voice communications with an extensive list of telephony and Unified Communication integrations to support both outside and inside building communication, plus native walkie-talkie functionality to cover all possible voice workflows. Based on the Android operating system, the Versity Series devices are high-performance mobile computers with optional integrated barcode scanning to drive all data-driven productivity applications and come complete with our SAFE application and an emergency button to ensure individual and group safety. Versity is the one device meets all frontline worker needs.
For more information on the Versity product family, please visit https://www.spectralink.com/products/wi-fi/smartphones/.
Ready to upgrade your mobile communication to the latest technology? Talk to our Sales Team to learn more about the next steps.
1Mitchell, Cory. “What is the Amazon Effect?” Investopedia. October 31, 2021. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/amazon-effect.asp
2Grosman, Lin. “What the Amazon Effect Means for Retailers.” Forbes.com. Feb 22, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2018/02/22/what-the-amazon-effect-means-for-retailers/?sh=1c36e8012ded
3Sopadjieva, Emma, Dholakia, Utpal, M. and Beth Benjamin. “A Study of 46,000 Shoppers Shows that Omnichannel Retailing Works.” January 3, 2017. Harvard Business Review online. https://hbr.org/2017/01/a-study-of-46000-shoppers-shows-that-omnichannel-retailing-works
4” The State of Commerce Experience in 2021: An annual study on the latest digital commerce trends and global shifts.” Bloomreach online. https://visit.bloomreach.com/state-of-commerce-experience?_ga=2.267143495.816129975.1636149640-1029416710.1636149640
5Boyle, Joe. “How Mobile Devices Became a Key Enabler of Productivity for Today’s Dynamic Workforce.” March 4, 2021. Nasdaq.com. https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/how-mobile-devices-became-a-key-enabler-of-productivity-for-todays-dynamic-workforce-2021