Why are so many associates being deprived of tech by their employers?

Discussion
Source: Salesfloor promotional video
Jun 19, 2017
Tom Ryan

According to a survey from Salesfloor, store associates want tech tools. So why aren’t the devices omnipresent across selling floors?

The survey of 254 North American retail associates across a variety of product categories, compensation models and store sizes found:

  • Ninety percent of associates that use digital technology in store said they felt that they had the tools to do their job well versus only 49 percent of associates who did not have access to digital technology;
  • Associates using digital tools in-store feel seven times more confident competing with the likes of Amazon and eBay, compared to associates who aren’t equipped with digital technology;
  • Seventy-two percent are more likely to stay with a retailer if given the right tools and technology to enhance their jobs, and two-thirds said access to digital tools and technology is a must-have at a future retailer.

While associates could use such technologies in-store for tasks such as inventory lookup, mobile checkout and offering suggestions based on past purchases, Salesfloor said technology can also help associates engage customers outside the stores through e-mails, texts and other ways.

“Many retailers have been slow to leverage new technology for associates, and our study shows that when associates are equipped with the proper technology they are happier, have a bigger impact on sales and stay with the company,” said Oscar Sachs, Salesfloor’s CEO, in a statement.

While the costs involved may be the primary reason many associates aren’t carrying tech tools, a concern that workers may use them for non-work purposes such as texting friends or playing games is also holding back adoption, writes Stephan Schambach, CEO of NewStore, in a column for Women’s Wear Daily.

Mr. Schambach believes less tech-savvy execs “assume the worst” in associates.

“Most employees today really want to do a great job, and they can be trusted,” he wrote. “If they can’t, you don’t have a mere technology issue, you have an employment issue.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the cost, distrust or some other factor the main reason many store associates still aren’t being provided tech tools on selling floors? Do you see attitudes and adoption changing in the years ahead?

Braintrust
"Cost, distrust and training are all factors but those reasons can’t stop the adoption of technology tools that help retailers compete."
"Over time, digital tools will become commonplace for retail associates much as they are for personal use today."
"Our data tells us that cost is always #1 — the store multiplier effect always dampens in-store investments. Second is the distraction factor."

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22 Comments on "Why are so many associates being deprived of tech by their employers?"

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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Technology tools are tools of the modern work age. Depriving store personnel of the tools they need to be effective is short-sighted and ultimately hurts the business. While cost will always play a role in slow technology adoption for the retailers who struggle with profitability, claiming that distrust is the key issue for not adopting technology is more troubling. If retailers can trust their employees to serve customers, they should also trust them to use technology to do so. There are plenty of ways to ensure that employees aren’t misusing technology; creating an environment of trust and respect is a question of culture — that’s a leadership issue.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Our data tells us that cost is always #1 — the store multiplier effect always dampens in-store investments. Second is the distraction factor. Third is the fact that retailers aren’t so willing to train associates in the first place, so why give them more tools that they’ll ask questions about?

All this MUST change, and I suspect it will, but it’s going to be challenging to get there.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Cost, and I think how the tech will be used to help speed/improve customer experience. If the employee isn’t trained well to use the tool, it doesn’t help the customer. I remember asking a store associate one time which aisle a product is on, he pulled out his phone and fired up the app to type in a query through product locator, and I can tell he could barely read the screen because the font isn’t that big and screen too small. I am not sure that counts as customer service improvement via technology; more of a crutch for lack of training.

Frank Riso
BrainTrust

First of all, the cost is a major factor. Once the cost justification is secured the next factor is the attention span. Will the employees be doing things on the technology (since they have access to the web) or providing service to the customers? In the years ahead the use of technology will be a must since the customer will have their own devices and just to keep up the associates will need the technology. It is the only way that in-store and online sales can be done in the store and compete with Amazon!

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Retailers have been slow to provide technology to their store associates for a number of reasons. Among them, immediate attention and emphasis on all things omnichannel, a concern about the cost of deployment of in-store solutions and even a lack of understanding that these investments can have a significant ROI.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Please, most employees have the tech tool of their own smartphone out more often than not on the sales floor. To say that they can all be trusted is naïve at best. Unless and until labor scheduling isn’t done by algorithm but instead is done to provide a better customer experience, I don’t see a big push to spend for the technology.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Cost, infrastructure and support are the typical objections cited by retailers. But I would love to see a study of associates who are adequately equipped with technology to assist customers in-store … my bet would be that the value of service and additional products sold would far outweigh the initial hardware costs.

I’ve heard a number of retailers suggest that the real reason they don’t let associates have access to Wi-Fi is the fear that they will spend time surfing the web and engaging on social media. If the retailer’s major fear is that associates will abuse the technology, then the managers probably have fundamental problems of how to engage staff to create a compelling experience in-store.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

I don’t see employee distrust as the primary reason. The cost/benefit will also always play a role in the decision. But from my observations, the reasons are twofold.

First, most decision makers don’t understand the technology and don’t believe it will help sell more product. Second, most brick-and-mortar retail executives are out of touch with the consumer and don’t focus on improving the store experience.

These types of changes and technology adoptions only occur when a crisis hits and the customers begin leaving en masse. It is what we are seeing today. This “retail apocalypse” is nothing more than consumers taking control of where they shop. Where they get the best value and experience.

Weak retailers who have not embraced changing consumer shopping paradigms are the ones failing. They have not focused on what their customers really need and want. Strong, innovative omnichannel retailers are surviving and thriving.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Cost is definitely a concern, fear of associates using them for personal use is a smaller concern and there is also a concern of theft depending on the device. I would also add that many retailers have been slow to add technology because they are still not convinced the investment will pay off for them. As retailers see their stores continuing to struggle, they may begin to realize they have no choice. And it’s not just technology for associates. Retailers have cut staff, cut training and held off on store renovations and other needed investments because of weak sales. However, they continue to open stores, which I do not think is smart. Opening fewer stores, investing in technology and training for store associates is the better way to build up sales.

Sky Rota
Guest
3 months 3 days ago

Maybe some retailers are holding back getting devices for their employees because they want their staff to personally engage with the customer. I know myself I want a sales person to be looking at me and helping me, not looking down at their device to tell me about the item I’m interested in. If I wanted to research products I could stay home and do it myself. Our generation wants attention in human form. Why are retailers trying to take away the outside shopping experience for us? Once again another example of how they don’t know what we want because they don’t know us. In my new book soon to be released, The Gen Z Answer Key for Business, I’m going to give you the scoop on our generation.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The problem is that comprehensive business case justification is rarely employed to determine the viability of in-store tech investments, actually. Potential revenue gains, increased inventory movement and staff productivity need to be quantified and an ROI developed. I am shocked at how often this is not done effectively. To respond to potential staff misusing the technology, I’d respond that the retailers that already have a track record of using it can attest to the tech’s value.

Marge Laney
BrainTrust
3 months 3 days ago

Yes, cost, distrust, and training are all factors but those reasons can’t stop the adoption of technology tools that help retailers compete. Isn’t it enough watching brand after brand struggle and fail holding on to the old no-tech model?

Retailers need to embrace technology that helps them relieve the pain points of their associates and customers. Retailers need to move beyond the shiny object syndrome with tech pilots and implement technology that is simple to use and solves problems. Most technology that fits that bill is intuitive for both the associate and the customer with minimal training required.

J. Peter Deeb
BrainTrust

All of the reasons discussed are valid BUT the only way to compete today is to be able to access information that can help drive sales. Investment in equipment and training are crucial to making employees more effective and more efficient. As staff is cut those remaining must be better at their jobs for companies to prosper.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Cost and distrust are the biggest factors stopping retailers from giving their associates digital tools. The cost can be justified through increased sales due to the associate having more information at their fingertips to help customers. Distrust of associates doing other things like texting or Google search with the devices is a really poor excuse for not providing the tools. Having just visited Home Depot and seeing my associate look up inventory and the location of the item I was looking for in the store provided me with a better service level than would have been possible without the technology.

If the retailer can provide better service with digital tools and find a ROI then worrying about the employee using the devices for their own use should be a small issue. In today’s online vs. in-store environment, retailers will need to increase the service levels in the stores to maintain growth. Digital tools in the hands of the associates can provide better customer service. Over time, digital tools will become commonplace for retail associates much as they are for personal use today.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
While cost is certainly a valid concern (multiply by number of stores for a large brand and by number of associates and you can’t help but reach big numbers and big costs) and distrust may be another factor, I believe a significant issue often overlooked is infrastructure required to support associate tech. If you want your associates to use a tablet, for example, be it for assisted selling, product info, inventory lookup, mobile POS, etc. you need strong Wi-Fi in the store plus extra capacity in your store network out to the cloud and the data center — more network capacity than you otherwise needed for POS and back office functions. Many retailers have tried to embrace associate tech without upgrading their networks. Associates tend to have a negative experience this way and end up not wanting to use the technology provided. Retailers then wrongly decide the new tech is to blame when it’s an infrastructure issue. Even retailers who upgrade their network often find that’s not enough and need to implement additional technology on their network to manage application performance so associate apps are prioritized enough to guarantee a minimum user experience. Let’s face it — if an associate… Read more »
Nir Manor
BrainTrust

This survey is yet another example that shows that many retail executives and commercial leaders still don’t realize the tremendous change the retail industry is going through. They still don’t prioritize better data usage, digital transformation and the use of technology, or the best advantage they have over online stores — the human touch with the shopper on the selling floor. Retailers that will not prioritize those elements will be the losers in their category.

Cristian Grossmann
Guest
Cristian Grossmann
3 months 3 days ago

This article hit the nail on the head regarding major problems in today’s workforce, specifically the non-desk workforce which comprises 2 billion people. Companies don’t invest in tech tools for associates for a number of reasons: cost being the biggest and improper usage probably being the second. Employers don’t deem these tools as a worthwhile investment for non-management, and don’t recognize the monetary value they actually bring.

Putting enterprise tools in employees hands helps associates perform their jobs more efficiently (improving customer satisfaction and the bottom line), increases engagement, and has proven to reduce turnover (another exorbitant cost for employers). Management worries that a mobile tool will cause employees to go into overtime if they’re using it after work hours, or that they will use the platform for non-work purposes. Those can easily be addressed by distributing “Fair Play Rules” to every associate and make them sign it like a contract. Attitudes about this are already changing as employers realize the cost of turnover and have been working harder to not only keep their employees around, but keep them engaged.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Disregarding for a moment the remarkably self-serving nature of the “survey,” the article is distinctly vague on what “tools” are being denied, so it’s difficult to answer exactly the “why.”

Assuming, though, that something along the lines of “give everyone a smart phone” is what is intended, I think “trust” is the problem (both in terms of misuse and shrinkage.) Of course — for the “misuse” segment — it’s harder to explain why such a retailer wouldn’t seek out smartphone with more controlled apps; presumably they don’t think it’s necessary … whether or not that’s correct, is, of course, hard to know.

Verlin Youd
BrainTrust
Thanks for sharing some really interesting studies and an excellent discussion question. First, let me apologize in advance for for the length of my response, but this is a personal passion and I welcome any and all comments to my response below. Several issues have been identified by others, including cost, training, ROI models and the like. I agree, and would also add several other factors that combined have created a significant barrier to deployment, a barrier that is being breached right now: 1. Mobile devices to this point have required the associate to use their hands, taking away much of their ability to to help a client consider and compare merchandise. You need your hands to help customers find, try on, and purchase merchandise therefore associates must be able to use the technology without occupying their hands. 2. Mobile devices to this point have all had a screen, requiring the associate to occupy their eyes, causing them to miss opportunities to engage shoppers and some intimidation factor for shoppers who don’t want to disturb an associate who seems to be occupied already. Voice recognition technology has finally advanced to become a real option to replace screen heavy applications. 3.… Read more »
Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Cost is always a consideration. Trust is a cop-out and deflection. The issue, from my experience, is whether X works and whether their colleagues on the sales floor will use it to increase productivity. I’ve not found an executive who won’t invest where there is ROI.

Paramdeep Teji
Guest
Mobile devices can be locked down (to allow only pre-selected apps) to take care of not only the trust issues, but also as security and compliance measures. There are few other concerns which are intertwined: conception, usage and support. Most of the ROI is built on fancy use cases, conceived sitting around tables in HQ office. Shop floor is a different ball game altogether and needs simple solutions, keeping in mind the large user base and quick turnaround of the associates in the industry Adding to the above, in the spirit of adding “WOW” factor, the solutions sometime becomes so complex to support technically and operationally, that most of them don’t generally pass the POC stage let alone user adoption. Thirdly, although lots of attention is paid towards functional solutions, hardly any investment and interest is given to the crumbling in-store network. No associate has the patience and time to wait for 60 seconds for a page to load. End result: mobile devices are dumped in a corner in a back office. Having said that, I have personally been involved in rolling out RFID enabled inventory management mobile apps for store associates, being used very effectively in providing superior customer… Read more »
Julie Bernard
BrainTrust
The Salesfloor survey adds incredibly relevant quantitative data to a scenario retail leadership cannot ignore. With the entire Internet at shoppers’ disposal, associates must be (at least) as informed as the consumer that walks into the store. Mobile devices are the equipment they need — tools that empower on-site sales staff via fast access to detailed information via the screens they carry or that they can quickly access from kiosks and counters. Note, here, that the mobile devices provided to associates must be beautifully designed, and this includes the user interfaces. They must require as few steps as possible to get to the necessary information. Too many steps (in any retail process) risks causing the entire initiative to fall flat; customers will be frustrated if the tools make their experience more cumbersome. We already understand that retail will never replace the associate’s human touch but we also increasingly understand that we must augment that all-important face-to-face interaction with technology that allows associates to dovetail the delivered experience with sophisticated consumer expectations. The goal, of course, is to enhance the in-store shopper’s experience — and also to open new windows onto customer data, and to generate new location- and shopping-based data that brands can… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Cost, distrust and training are all factors but those reasons can’t stop the adoption of technology tools that help retailers compete."
"Over time, digital tools will become commonplace for retail associates much as they are for personal use today."
"Our data tells us that cost is always #1 — the store multiplier effect always dampens in-store investments. Second is the distraction factor."

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