A richer in-store customer experience starts with the employee experience

How many stories have you seen or read about how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the demise of brick-and-mortar retail? Conventional wisdom says that the pivot to online shopping simply added momentum to an inevitable trend. But as it turns out, the rumors of the death of in-store shopping are greatly exaggerated. It’s true that e-commerce sales continue to grow. But even in the midst of widespread lockdowns and an online shopping boom, e-commerce accounted for 14% of total retail sales in 2020.

So, even though the pandemic may have changed the way we shop, a sizable majority of retail transactions still take place in stores—which means the in-store experience is as important as ever. How can retailers ensure that they deliver the experiences that make a trip to the store worthwhile?

Technology is part of the answer. Retailers have to blend the online and in-store experiences in a complementary way that capitalizes on the strengths of both without cannibalizing either channel. Shoppers expect seamless continuity as they move from one channel to another, and technology plays a key role in ensuring omnichannel consistency. But that’s just part of the answer.

Thinking beyond technology to enrich the customer experience

Another component that’s essential to a rich and compelling in-store experience is the workforce that makes it happen. Employees are living, breathing ambassadors of a retail brand. Their knowledge and expertise can make all the difference in whether a one-time shopper becomes a lifelong customer. They’re already capable of doing so many of the things that retailers want technology to do—like offer personalized recommendations based on a shopper’s interests and previous buying behavior.

To make their stores must-visit destinations, retailers need a workforce that’s connected, engaged, and ready to respond to customers. And to attract and retain the best possible talent, retailers must make the employee experience as rich, relevant, and personalized as the customer experience. It should make doing the things an employee has to do as quick and easy as possible, so those employees can focus on what they were meant to do—providing great service to customers.

Retail’s to-do list for a better employee experience

Here are some of the ways that innovative retailers are transforming the employee experience to drive better in-store experiences for customers:

  • Creating individualized and meaningful employer-employee interactions – Delivering the experiences that set up every employee for success starts with an immersive onboarding experience that helps the employee embrace the retailer’s brand and culture. But it doesn’t stop there. Retailers should have the tools and data to understand what inspires and motivates employees, so they can create customized training plans tied to the retailer’s goals—and optimize benefits and incentives based on that deeper understanding.
  • Replacing HR and payroll complexity with guided simplicity – Interacting with the HR and payroll departments shouldn’t be a job unto itself. Employees need the ability to contact HR via their preferred channel, and HR agents should have access to an integrated knowledge base that helps them resolve employee issues quickly. Modern self-service time and attendance tracking can simplify the process of accurately recording time on the job, while payroll processes and systems should be simple and accurate to ensure that employees are paid on time, every time. Retailers simply can’t afford to give workers even the smallest excuse for seeking employment elsewhere—especially in an employment market where qualified talent is in high demand.
  • Building skills and agility with individualized learning and development – To make work worthwhile, retailers must create a culture that inspires curiosity and growth. They need to provide employees with the targeted learning opportunities that lead to meaningful career development. This includes learning experiences that fit each individual’s style and development plans, as well as the career planning that helps employees see that they have a potential future with the retailer.
  • Equipping store staff with the right technology and information – sales associates thrive when they can exceed their customers’ expectations. Giving them access to information that lets them serve their customers and empowering them to make the right decision in the moment of sale will further inspire your associates to providing great shopping experiences. You can’t separate the in-store experience from the employees tasked with delivering it. The better the employee experience, the more passionate they’ll be about exceeding customer expectations and making the store a dynamic component of a strong retail brand.

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