Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research's weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
Like many chains, The Container Store was seeking out a better store employee communication tool in large part to keep up with smartphone-enabled consumers.
"Our initial reaction was to buy a bunch of devices," said John Thrailkill, the VP of store metrics and systems, customer support, and business development. "But the reality is, we needed to look at employee communication holistically. ... What we really wanted was something that would pull together phones, walkie talkies, and mobile devices for employees."
But it had to be easy and intuitive to use, something that enabled "heads up conversations, not heads down at screens."
With walkie talkies, one employee looking for another within the store had to broadcast the request to all employees, the retailer found. Continually monitoring relevant and irrelevant messages was found to be draining for the store's staff.
A new solution from Theatro, however, solves that and more by enabling store employees to not only communicate directly but reach across stores through expert groups. For example, if a customer asks a question an employee can't answer, that person can send a request for help within the store — or could ask, for example, all employees across the chain that have identified themselves as "travel storage experts." Customer service reps within the call center, or even buyers in the corporate office, could also be tapped. "The idea that an employee in Miami could help an employee and a customer in Seattle is really exciting," Mr. Thrailkill said.
The system's capabilities also enables store managers to create broadcast messages related to "the morning huddle," where employees learn about important things going on in the store that day. Relying on voice mail as a way to disseminate this information, especially when coming from corporate to stores, has been a particular challenge for part-time employees.
Described by Mr. Thrailkill as "Siri without the phone," the WiFi-enabled solution is run and managed over a ridiculously simple device, armed with a couple of buttons and a jack for a headset.
As the retailer adds the cross-store communication function across its store network, they will be particularly interested in seeing the wider impact store employees have — in the time they spend helping not just customers, and not just other employees in their own store, but how they contribute to the retailer as a whole.
As consumers become better armed with information, being able to make every store employee as well-informed as your best employee on any topic is going to be an important differentiator.
What's the likelihood that in-store communications across a retailer's store network will be fairly common over the next three to five years?