What Have Retailers Got In Store For Customers In 2014? Report from Retail’s BIG Show

My friend and colleague, Andrew Busby has just returned from New York, buzzing with all the latest gossip from Retail’s BIG Show. As I know we all shop…I thought I would share his experience with you. This year customer experience, in-store experience and customer-centric retailing were all key themes from the show, which is great news for shoppers.

NRF, The BIG Show, New York
NRF, The BIG Show, New York

2014 was the biggest and best NRF Show so far (well it would be!) with more than could be absorbed in the time available. However some key themes emerged which are both exciting and significant for retailers worldwide. Here is a personal summary of my 3 days at NRF 2014.

You can follow Andrew @andrewbusby on Twitter and follow his blog Retail Storm here


Customer Service – have we gone too far?

My colleague Andrew Busby recently attended a retail event that included some quite controversial topics of conversation around customer service. We all shop so it is quite interesting to see how retailers’ views are changing in the wake of omni-channel pressure.

“Trade abuse for availability”

I enjoyed a great evening earlier this week talking retail with some of the biggest and most well known names on the High Street. It was a lively and sometimes slightly controversial debate sprinkled with some hilarious exchanges as befits such an occasion. But one assertion gradually emerged from the discussions: customer service – have retailers gone too far in their offer for the convenience of the consumer?

The general acceptance around the table was that we are currently in an arms race with every brand on the High Street trying to steal a march on their rivals by differentiation through world class convenient customer service.

Price, product & availability have now got to be taken as assumed. However, customer experience, service delivery, online experience, in-store experience – all are at the forefront of retailers’ minds as they try to understand how to generate increased footfall, better conversion rates and therefore sales.

The consumer these days is so fickle, so savvy, so mobile and light of foot that traditional loyalty is a thing of the past. Whereas once before brand loyalty, especially to supermarkets, was a strong deciding factor in buying behaviour, today that doesn’t exist to nearly the same degree. What matters most is the experience. But this doesn’t have to be the same for every touch point. It varies according to the buying need whether it be luxury, essential or just browsing. Someone on a short lunch break wanting to grab a sandwich for lunch is typically going to be in a hurry and not interested in a personalised engagement at the checkout. They might be far happier to use the SSC and be out of the store as quickly as possible. On another occasion and perhaps for particular demographics, their trip to the supermarket is as much a social interaction as a necessity to buy the groceries, in which case an entirely different experience needs to be delivered.

But one thing shone through in all the debate: pretty much all the retailers are grappling with the same challenge. Different approaches to try to crack it but all in a similar place and all wondering whether, in trying to deliver a better offering to the customer, the arms race is in danger of causing irreparable damage? Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is click and collect and the impact this has on virtually all aspects of the retail operation: supply chain, stock availability, replenishment, store operations, returns, fulfilment – the list goes on. And in striving to offer better and better offerings to their customers will we see even more casualties on the High Street?  After all, all this customer service and convenience comes at a cost which isn’t necessarily passed onto the consumer. Think grocery home delivery; anyone making any money from that operation: No, didn’t think so.

Perhaps the time is rapidly approaching when, as the supermarkets said in the wake of the meat scandal, if you want cheap food don’t be surprised if it sometimes goes wrong (or words to that effect) so, the same maybe about to happen with online. If you want a ‘premium’ service sure, but you’re going to have to pay for it.

Or put it another way, which incidentally brought the house down the other evening: trade a little abuse for availability! We can’t have it both ways. Or can we?

Follow Andrew’s blog ‘Retail Storm’ here: http://andrewbusbyretailstorm.tumblr.com/

74 shopping days to Christmas & circa 100,000 extra staff to manage – Ho, Ho, Ho!

Christmas HelpersWith just 74 shopping days to  Christmas, many organisations are already geared up to hire more employees to cover the Christmas period. Many sectors are affected by seasonal demand but Retail, Hospitality, Logistics and Distribution are generally the largest employers of temporary workers over this period.

According to figures from the British Retail Consortium, ­big-name stores between them take on almost 5% extra staff from October onwards, which amounts to 54,703 workers (almost 1,000 for every shopping day between then and Christmas). Among the largest employers are our supermarkets. Last year the leading three stores took on nearly 30,000 extra seasonal staff, with Tesco recruiting 6,000, Asda 7,000 and Sainsbury’s a whopping 15,000.

Even outside retail there are many organisations with a huge need for seasonal staffing, distribution and logistics for example with  the Royal Mail set to recruit more than 21,000 seasonal staff to help sort our Christmas post. These temporary jobs are available between early November and January 2014 to support Royal Mail’s permanent 124,000 postmen and women who sort and deliver the mail all year round.

That’s a lot of new employees to onboard, train, schedule and pay accurately in a very short space of time.

Once sourced, the biggest issue for these organisations is how to schedule and monitor the hours that their seasonal staff work. Many of them like the Co-Operative Group, IKEA, Wincanton and DHL benefit from an automated workforce solution that can monitor, track and schedule employees to demand and ensure employees are paid correctly. This can ease the burden for managers– saving time on back office tasks and giving them more time to train and supervise the performance of new (and existing) staff, ensuring that customers remain satisfied. So if you are sick of seasonal headaches when managing your temporary Christmas staff it may be time to consider a solution that will help productivity, customer satisfaction and your bottom line.

An Agile Workforce Creates A Competitive Advantage As Retail Sector Recovers

Retail StaffNumbers of workers in the retail sector are increasing faster than at any time in the previous decade according to the latest trade survey from the CBI. The upturn, driven by the feel-good factors of Britain’s’ sporting successes, the royal birth and the great weather we have had in the UK this summer is a good indication that the UK Economy is heading in the right direction. The figures indicate that car dealerships, clothing retailers and grocers are benefitting most from the upturn; however with 22pc of retailers reporting a drop in sales – there is still a way to go.

With confidence gradually returning, and the influx of new employees in the retail sector, how can retailers remain competitive and deliver the customer service necessary to meet growing demand?

Great training is essential; however, being able to manage an agile, well-trained workforce is about more than training. When the workforce ceases to be seen as an expense or commodity, and becomes a flexible, agile asset it will drive revenue and a competitive advantage.

Retailers that view their workforce as a flexible asset will have a group of skilled associates with the tools they need to be consistently productive and have the ability to adapt to different tasks or roles in real-time. This agile workforce will understand and execute key tactics that have a direct impact on key operational measurements: revenue, service, quality, responsiveness, throughput, productivity.

Most retailers know that scheduling staff to demand helps to control costs and improve customer service, but when retailers utilise their best performing associates in a way that optimises their skills at times of peak demand, they increase revenue and customer satisfaction even further. By also incorporating labour analytics into their strategy, top performing retailers can transform their staff into a network of associates working together to achieve a desired result.

When workforce analytics is combined successfully with operational data, actionable information will lead to operational comparisons and adjustments. Initial tracking of metrics like absenteeism, turnover and overtime can evolve into industry-specific trends and analysis. Retail stores can see the impact in increased operating margins, profit per employee and a stronger brand reputation.

To find out more about managing an agile workforce, take a look at these two whitepapers:

Capitalise on Competitors’ Poor Service Through Superior Workforce Management

Increase Customer Satisfaction with Productivity-Based Scheduling

Customer Service? What Customer Service?

Customer ServiceI recently read an article in HRGrapevine.com that stated half of shop workers know less about the products they sell than the customers. It reminded me of an incident some years ago, in a now out of business white goods retailer, where when asked what was the difference between two tumble dryers, the assistant’s response was fifteen quid mate!

These days, this kind of situation is almost certainly compounded by customers having access to incredible amounts of in-depth product information for their planned purchases.  When customers walk into a store with such an in-depth knowledge of the products they want to purchase, it becomes quite difficult for retailers to ensure that all their staff have the necessary depth of training and information to be able to address customer queries intelligently.

In order to retain customers or grow market share retailers must keep customers engaged instore once they are there. To do this they need to give their employees sufficient tools and knowledge to ensure that they can answer queries from customers. If an employee has to lie or pass customers on to their colleagues – there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

The obvious solution is to make sure that employee training is sufficient and timely, but it is also crucial that the most knowledgeable employees who have the best skills to engage customers with the appropriate knowledge are scheduled to be available at the busiest times in order to optimise sales. Mobile devices (Tablets such as the ipad) can also be useful; giving access to product information ‘on the go’ that will give staff the same access to information that the customer has, should they need it. A workforce management solution can make scheduling the right employee, with the right skills at the right time simpler for managers and having a mobile-enabled workforce ultimately gives both employees and customers a better in store experience.

What do you think of the levels or customer service in UK retailers today? Could it be improved? If so what measures do you think should be taken?


Which? Best Retailer survey – who made it to the top this year?

London ShopsWhich? recently asked 11,000 shoppers to give their verdicts on the 100 most well-known high street brands in the UK. I was not at all surprised to read that Apple topped the survey. The reasons given for Apple’s popularity included great customer service, knowledgeable staff as well as great atmosphere and products. No surprises there!

The thing that seems to set the best and the worst retailers apart, according to the Which? survey, aside from great products is great customer service – Apple’s employees are fully engaged, knowledgeable and eager to help customers. Great customer service is made easier to deliver when supported with an automated workforce management solution that can help managers schedule the best employees at the busiest times to maximise sales. An automated system can also help managers keep on top of skills and training and ensure that these are taken into consideration when scheduling staff in the stores, so that the right people are where they are needed most. Whether it’s front of store at the checkout or behind the scenes making sure the shelves are fully stocked and tidy, scheduling staff more efficiently and effectively will enhance the customer experience.

Good news for our favourite high-street retailers is that although the Which? research revealed over half of shoppers choose to buy products online these days, they still prefer high street shops to shopping centres, retail parks or online websites. The survey also revealed that over a third of consumers spend more money in real-world shops than online which shows, in our omni-channel retailing world, having staff who deliver great customer service in the store is still important to consumers – and to retailers with an eye on the bottom line.

Tomorrow’s Retail, Today

RetailerOver the last few years, the explosive growth of e-commerce has combined with the downturn in the economy to shift the centre of gravity from the retailer to the consumer and the problem retailers are facing now is how can they meet the demands of the more savvy customers in today’s digital world?

In the news in the last few days Tesco have been discussing their drop in profits, apparently in part due to the acquisition of space for yet to be built hypermarkets that are no longer required. The large stores just do not make commercial sense now the market has moved towards home delivery and convenience.

Customers now view current stock situations, compare prices and order goods from the comfort of their own home or while they are viewing the item they want to buy in store. They demand instant gratification, speedy delivery and total freedom of how they receive service. One bad experience can be shared with the world via the web so retailers stand to lose not only that customer but could lose hundreds, possibly thousands. In response to this new competitive landscape, today’s leading retailers are proactively leveraging their workforce as a competitive differentiator.

With multi-channel retailing now the norm, retailers who wish to retain customers, grow profits and remain competitive are looking to sophisticated workforce management solutions to help deliver a better customer experience, this need is discussed in a recent white paper: ‘Tomorrow’s Retail Today’ that looks at three key integrated workforce management tools; mobility, task management and analytics that can help turn labour into a strategic and powerful asset that drives revenue and growth.

New mobility tools such as mobile phones and iPads enable employees to juggle any number of tasks right on the store floor, executing tasks with agility, keeping costs low and customer satisfaction up.

• Employees can complete basic tasks such as checking their schedules, swap shifts, request time off, and registering attendance – improving employee engagement, reducing the effects of absent employees and simplifying administration associated with scheduling.
• Store managers can now have key workflow information at their fingertips and see up to the minute statistics on store and labour performance
• Corporate or field managers with the location facility of ipads will always have instant access wherever they may be that is relevant to the store or stores they are looking at or visiting.

Integrated task management enables employees to execute promotions, recalls, and other store tasks consistently, efficiently, and seamlessly so stores can be presented how customers prefer them — clean, organised, and well-stocked. Excellent store execution boosts customer loyalty, sales, and profitability.

According to McKinsey & Co retailers embracing Big Data could increase operating margin by more than 60%. Retailers have a wealth of information that is often locked inside the organisation. An analytics solution integrated into a workforce management suite empowers retailers with a holistic view of their businesses. Decision makers get access to flexible, real-time analytics turning data into actions that can be used to drive transformational change across the whole retail operation.

You can find out more by reading the whole white paper and as always, I would be interested to hear your views.