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[7 comments]

NRF: More Effective Store Management Via Technology

January 20, 2012

Effectively managing store associates is an age-old retail issue, but Aeropostale believes 21st century technology can be an answer to this challenge. A presentation at this week's National Retail Federation convention in New York by Julie Sedlock, group VP store operations for Aeropostale, outlined their solution.

Aeropostale addresses a target audience of 15-25 year-olds and strives to create a very engaged workforce that can impart its enthusiasm to these shoppers. To do this, four out of five associates are under age 25. This group, the Milllenials, grew up with technology, but present some special challenges: they value autonomy, like to work when they want, and look for a balance between work and life.

Aeropostale's solution is to upgrade technology, not only because that is one way to "reach" these associates, but it is vital that the employees be tech savvy if they are to relate to the shoppers.

Aeropostale implemented Dayforce, a technology driven workforce management and communications program. Integral to that is Dayforce Mobile, which puts communication literally in the palm of every associate's as well as manager's hand. The mobile associate can check:

  • Availability - view and choose availability;
  • Schedule - add time or transfer;
  • Time away - review and submit requests;
  • Time sheet - instant access.

From a manager's point of view, it provides a high level of control in a way that Aeropostale believes is acceptable to Millenials. Dayforce Mobile also provides communication and information while not keeping the manager off the floor. The manager has a staff directory instantly available, can perform call-ins immediately, and can easily view and track tasks. In addition to staff management, managers also have instant access to sales and store performance data. Since it is likely that many associates already own a mobile, investment is minimized.

Aeropostale sees plenty of positives in this program including:

  • More flexibility in operations and communications;
  • Perception by associates as tech friendly;
  • Immediacy of communications.

The chain also understands there are negatives including:

  • More employees and more employee engagement can mean problems;
  • There is the opportunity for a lot of feedback, which may be too much of a good thing.

Aeropostale believes the system, along with other management programs, will go a long way to making a low-wage workforce into powerful sales people on the floor.

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:ARO]

Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: Does a program such as Aeropostale's improve associate engagement? Are there better ways of leveraging technology for store management?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Will mobile-based programs such as Aeropostale's make store managers more or less effective at their jobs?

Comments:

Aeropostale's approach is particularly well suited for their younger associates and should be a strong attraction for hiring good, technically engaged associates. This technology also paves the way for extending the use of the system to enable these same associates to better manage the store. Inventory on hand, customer purchase data, product information, pricing, sales and upcoming store events are all elements that store managers and their in-store associates should have access to that will assist them in becoming more efficient and knowledgeable customer agents.

How many times have we asked a retail associate a question about a product or price, only to get a blank stare in response? A customer agent system available to in-store associates may not eliminate all the blank stares...but it should be a tremendous plus in not only creating a better level of customer service, but also a more efficient and profitable store.

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Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

The Aeropostale program makes sense. It creates transparency and allows associates to have some control of their destinies. A program like this would have saved my son a lot of aggravation and frustration when he worked at Jamba Juice, where managers controlled everything and were difficult to reach or find time to talk with.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

I believe biggest adoption of technology in the United States will come from the 25-55 age group, not the young people.

In media, they portray young kids with technology as a gee-whiz and cool effect. In the real world, it is very common to see a 37 year old man or a 48 year old woman with a tablet computer doing comparison shopping in a store.

I was at Michaels and in front of me was a lady in her 50s who had a phone with a barcode on the screen that the cashier scanned for a discount.

The reason why is that the current 25-55 year old is more "mature" about technology and grew up with it. Your Wii and Kinect buyers are not young people and the top selling video games are purchased by adults over 25.

With that diatribe, I hope retailers do not approach technology trying to be hip with the youngsters and instead focus on the middle age crowd that knows how to use a tablet or smartphone to improve productivity and conduct a transaction.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

Kudos to Aeropostale for understanding that great customer service starts with engaged and energized store associates. It seems to me that the "negatives" referenced are most likely to be positives as Aeropostale and other retailers realize real business benefits of social platforms, with both customers and employees.

It will be interesting to see if two things happen at Aeropostale and other retailers sure to follow:
- include measurement and communication of critical in-store factors like customer engagement, stock/promotional compliance, customer service, etc.
- becomes even more transparent to their non-management employees over time by opening up the store and personal performance information to all employees.

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Verlin Youd, Principal, VPY LLC

A number of vendors have been offering a lot of what is talked about here, especially in the area of time and attendance. Hotschedule for one, in the restaurant area has a cutting edge time and attendance package that has been using electronic means to let both managers and employees control there shifts for a number of years.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

Aeropostale's program is a fantastic start to leveraging new technology, particularly mobile, in engaging younger associates at the retail level. The ability to manage schedules and timesheets will reduce stress and improve job satisfaction. A satisfied worker is a happier worker, which will lead to an improved customer experience.

However, the program as it is represents just the beginning. Ultimately, associates must be motivated by the mission of the company and properly trained and empowered to deliver on a superior, consistent customer experience. Once Aeropostale integrates training, reward and recognition into the mobile environment, customer experience will jump in quality and the company will recognize revenue gains, as well as the reduced attrition costs the current program will deliver.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, M Squared Group, Inc.

There is an interesting trend in which forward-thinking brick and mortars are starting to think like e-commerce sites have been thinking for more than a decade. Traditionally, e-commerce has been very fast to embrace new technology when it stood to improve the bottom line. Not surprising, considering the category's technology background and the tech-savvy people who gravitate to that industry. Nonetheless, it's a stark contrast to physical retail stores, which until recent years resisted technology innovation more than you'd expect. Now in the last few years we've observed that retail is opening up to a variety of technology innovations in a way it hasn't previously.

Tim Callan, CMO, SLI Systems

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