RSR Research: How to Fix a Broken Store

Discussion
Jun 27, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here
for discussion is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, Retail Systems
Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers.

Retail Systems
Research very recently published our annual store report. In a nutshell? In-store
employees are bringing a knife to a gun fight. Customers are walking in off
the street armed with knowledge and the technology
to get more in an instant, while store managers continue to be tethered
to back room tasks and on-floor associates flounder to meet consumers’ needs.

What
can be done to solve this problem? For starters, retailers can embrace the
wireless technologies their customers already have. Early on in the report,
retailers told us they are steadily warming to the fact that wireless devices
are driving traffic to the store, but that they have become red-hot for tapping
those wireless devices’ potential once inside the store. Further still, they
told us they want to use social networking opportunities to engage with consumers
while they are in-house. Yet 30 percent tell us they still have no wireless
network of any kind available in stores, and only 12 percent have wireless
available for their customers. Wi-fi is the missing cornerstone to a better
built (and more relevant) store.

As anyone who has ever tried to access Facebook during
peak hours on a cellular connection will tell you – this just doesn’t
cut it. In order to interact with customers in any way via the consumer’s
personal device, Wi-Fi is an absolute must.

And as the widespread advent of
4G networks promises to increase the amount of content-rich data streaming to
smartphones at any given moment, many telecommunications experts believe that
the bandwidth of cellular networks will soon become even more congested, causing
cellular connectivity to become less reliable than the 3G networks of today.
If this holds true, free Wi-Fi will become an even more compelling reason for
customers to shop your stores.

On the employee side, wireless devices give retailers
a means to arm their employees with the training and information they’ve
so vocally said they need to compete. They also give the store manager the
chance to be where a store manager needs to be most — on the selling
floor. While few retailers’ product
mix, store footprint, or security infrastructure may be ready for mobile checkout,
inventory tasks, performance management, product training and information,
receiving tasks all stand to benefit tremendously. None can operate
without a secure wireless network.

For those who are stalling for security reasons,
the first step is a thoughtful reconsideration of what can be done in store
— for both employees and customers — that does not involve personal, sensitive,
or payment data. Next, consider the data that would be most valuable to share
with employees and customers and reevaluate the associated risks. For those
stalling for financial reasons, leasing the equipment required to establish
an in-store wireless network is a highly viable option.

No matter the scope
of any other project under discussion, wireless networks need to be prioritized
by every retailer right now.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the benefits as well as the practicality of establishing Wi-Fi networks and equipping employees with wireless devices? How else should stores adjust to shoppers armed with wireless technologies?

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21 Comments on "RSR Research: How to Fix a Broken Store"


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W. Frank Dell II
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The idea that store associates can look up the answers for the customers just proves they are not trained or knowledgeable. The consumer will have little faith in what they are told. If you want to compete, you must pay.

The best associate education program I have observed is at Staples. Associates work through education programs at their own pace with a maximum time allocation of 15 minutes per day. When they complete the section, they are now trained to assist the customer and are given recognition. I’m not sure if they are still doing this today, but with the internet it is even easier. Wi-Fi will work great for confirming if product is in-stock, but not for the sales associate to play catch up to customers.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
9 years 10 months ago

Yes, wireless devices are one way to provide store employees with the information needed to help their customers. But this is hardly the only way or even the best solution to the problem. Retailers selling non-technical products might want to rethink their approach to employee training. In many stores training consists of one, two or maybe three days of initial orientation or training and that’s it! Yet, The Container Store, Apple and some other retailers invest a great deal of time and effort to actually teach their employees about their products and how best to help the customer make an informed decision. After all, a customer talking to an employee who uses a wireless device to help them get information is little different than the customer going to the Internet and getting the same information for themselves.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I give up.

So having sales people hold and focus on a wireless machine is going to lead to more sales? Really? If the answers are on the handheld, why do you need the agent at all? Isn’t the fundamental problem that sales people don’t know how to engage customers, don’t know how to focus in on what they might be looking for? Isn’t the problem that there’s really no human engagement whatsoever in the retail experience?

Imagine treating all our relationships this way. You’re on a hot date and there you are in the restaurant, heads down focusing on your handhelds. Thank goodness the restaurant had Wi-Fi. After all we’d just hate to be away from a connection for even a few minutes! What a wonderful heartwarming experience!

And I know it’s only a metaphor and so very American–but do we really need to use a “gun fight” as a way of understanding customer relations?

Kevin Graff
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

This really is IT run amok! As a consumer I can do my own research online if I have the time. When I get to the store is the relationship and experience that counts. If you want your staff looking at devices instead of providing solutions to customers then just put the product in a vending machine.

Technology can be wonderful, but sorry, this idea just isn’t flying with me this morning.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
9 years 10 months ago

Store labor productivity continues to be a major opportunity for retailers and wireless is one of the key enabling technology elements. Spend some time with millennial associates outside of work (largest segment store employees,) and the “knife to a gun fight” analogy becomes clear.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I’m afraid of beating a dead horse but…as I wrote in “Bricks and Mortar Retailing at Risk in the Digital Age” mobile is not the answer–it is an admitted defeat of care for our employees.

“On-floor associates flounder to meet consumers’ needs “in a “gun-fight” is not due to having too little mobile Wi-Fi. It is that we have as an industry so devalued so many associates to little more than cogs in a wheel that they feel one step up from the janitor at a busy rest area.

Retail is ready for a reboot and it will come from being human–not telling us that cold technology provides the supple nipple of connection.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

We continue to rehash this subject from nothing more than another angle. It does not matter that much if the sales clerk has a hand held device or what the device can do, be it 3G, 4G or 0G. This is about training. And that is what retailers are missing. It is “important” to them that they train clerks on the mundane such as opening boxes without cutting themselves or unloading trucks and storing merchandise. But for whatever reason that I find astounding; there is a reluctance to train employees on how to meet and greet to discover the needs of the person who could become a satisfied customer.

Retailers and fast food restaurants are missing this. It does not matter as much with the fast food industry because we have grown to accept minimum wage staff with possibly little education. But this is not acceptable when it comes to traditional retail when we are spending more than $5 for a hamburger.

Marie haines
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Here’s an idea; why not take all that money spent on devices and leasing and equipment and invest it in the people? Provide employees with training and benefits and adequate wages, which might then encourage them to enjoy their jobs and motivate them to actually be able to help customers.

Shopping is often a grueling and unrewarding experience where the customer is left to wander around in search of information and advice. Need those pants in a different size at Macy’s? They will hand you a list of stores to call. Need to find an item at Target? Find a red info phone and hope someone answers. Need to get information on a toaster at Walmart? Good luck finding anyone to ask.

You can have all the bells and whistles you want, but the bottom line is, shoppers can buy pretty much anything they want online so why are they in a store? Maybe they just want to talk to someone who knows and is enthusiastic about the product the store is selling.

Anne Howe
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Employees logging in on in-store wireless devices for 15 minute training segments could be a great way to use down-time. But, with so many retail associates already using their personal devices for texting and socializing with friends while working, it would be nearly impossible to police. If training is the goal, a kiosk is an alternate solution.

I do agree retailers can use in-store wireless networks to communicate on-the-spot messages and promotions to shoppers to get them into more aisles and offer them more reasons to maintain a relationship with that retailer. But the offers have to be based on providing value that still allows both the retailer and the product manufacturer to make money. If it doesn’t, and just supports more price-off deals, the financial investment it takes to deploy wireless networks in stores will never make sense.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The term “armed and dangerous” comes to mind. Without the proper training and boundary-setting, wireless-wielding associates could do more harm than good. Would they compare prices at another retailer or etailer and clue in the customer? Prioritizing in-store wireless networks is a whole ‘nother matter on both the customer and associate side. Retailers should have a clear vision for the “why” before blindly jumping in.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
I must concur with some here that positioning in-store Wi-Fi as a panacea for customer service is a customer convenience at best, a dangerous distraction at worst. Security is a non-issue with prudent technology choices; but some retailers may balk at CAPEX and maintenance expenditures. Store associates should be encouraged and trained to use their personal mobile devices in stores to assist customers when warranted. They should have secure access to a password-protected Wi-Fi network in the stores for this purpose; their interactions should be logged; and the resultant data used for performance evaluation. I do not favor providing them with handhelds–just apps that can be managed remotely. Separate, open Wi-Fi access for shoppers is a nice customer service perk. Linking it to frequent shopper programs has some interesting potential. But focusing shoppers on the screens in their pockets means de-focusing them from the products on the shelves. Not a trend I’d want to encourage, in general. That said, much depends on the retail category in question. Convenience store shoppers are highly unlikely to access… Read more »
Terence Donnelly
Guest
Terence Donnelly
9 years 10 months ago
As a leader of a company that provides retailers with Wi-Fi networks that deliver an in-store marketing program on a consumer’s handheld device, I can tell you from our experience that consumers love the service (99.3% good to great from our survey of over 2000 consumers in 2 months), and as a result they spend more. The results of our model in our test site were that those who signed up spent between 200% and 4000% more than the average basket size, and overall sales were up 18% within 2 months. The store manager said our advertising platform delivered over free Wi-Fi was like have an extra sales person. It’s not about having free Wi-Fi for consumers–it’s about using the service intelligently with its full potential to drive a merchandising experience aligned with the store’s positioning. Let me ask you this question–would you install a computer in your store and simply let consumers surf the web for free? Or would you install a computer in your store so consumers could use it to get more… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The more you train the more you gain. Don’t give the customer more technology, give them more high touch.

Invest in employees who will relate to and handle the customer as a customer and not as an interruption. Use technology to run the store better so that your managers can spend more time on the floor.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Like it or not, retailers are deploying these devices in droves. They say they’re cool. Now, if they’d only train their staff better, staff the show floor better, and deploy item-level intelligence….

Gina Rau
Guest
Gina Rau
9 years 10 months ago

Giving your shoppers access to their social networks in your store is of huge value. In essence, you’re enabling them to market on your behalf as they tell their friends that they’re shopping your store (endorsement), what products they like or buy (product placement), or suggest they get down there for a great deal (advertising).

We certainly don’t want store staff surfing the web and connecting with their own social networks while there are shoppers in the store. But having programs they can access for inventory management or training can make good use of that downtime that exists in every retail scenario at some point.

In regulated industries, like health care or supplements, giving store staff access to information they can’t provide themselves, but can share with shoppers via a mobile device helps the shopper find products for their health goals…and makes a sale.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
9 years 10 months ago
Maybe a little over thirty years ago in the dry counties of the South, patrons were required to buy their hard liquor at a state owned store and keep it in a locker. Public restaurants or clubs were only allowed to serve set-ups. In this case, to level the playing field for retailer employees, customers should be required to check their wireless devices at the entrance. They would place them in a locker, take the key, and could retrieve them again on their way out. While they are in the store, customers would be completely dependent on the retailer’s employees for learning about category characteristics and the points which distinguish different brands and models. Specific suggestions would come from store employees based on the particular store’s in-stock position without regard to the customer’s needs. The employee would discourage the customer from postponing the purchase by throwing in inexpensive frills or indicating that the current special price is not expected to last. Finally, the retail employee would make sure the customer feels uncertain enough about the… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 10 months ago
Retailing should not be an adversarial relationship between stores and shoppers (gunfight?, really?). When stores do their homework, they offer the right merchandise at the right price along with copious information. It’s their job to understand their competitors and design offerings to compete successfully, and then provide that information in every way possible, including digitally. When shoppers do their homework, they take advantage of the homework already completed by retailers. Their only reason for waiting until they get to the store to do their research would be to try to negotiate with the retailer. I can see this working in a price-match environment, but nowhere else. What about store stuff that cannot be affected by Wi-Fi? What about out-of-stocks, decor, employee attitude, cleanliness, etc.? And finally, didn’t we recently discuss employees’ personal use of cellphones while on the clock and how terrible that is? Do you really want your employees’ noses buried in handhelds? If they can text useless information while driving and ignoring traffic, is it a reach to imagine them ignoring customers and… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 10 months ago

Methinks you are putting the cart before the horse. What is the real question? What broke the store to begin with? My bet is that wireless devices had nothing to do with breaking the store and unless the real problem is addressed and cured then wireless will only make things worse, as it will divert employees’ attention away from what they are paid to manage–their customers and their products. Everyone is selling silver bullets and I have yet to see one that works. Nothing will cure lazy, out of touch management except Donald Trump. If you have a broke store you have a broke manager–fix the problem. Wi-Fi is only an excuse to do nothing of real value.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
It is impossible for even the best store associate to compete with the information that a consumer can get online. The choice for the retailer in-store is to provide access to information or let the consumer get it some other way. Frances50 suggests something interesting. “Need those pants in a different size at Macy’s? They will hand you a list of stores to call. Need to find an item at Target? Find a red info phone and hope someone answers. Need to get information on a toaster at Wal-Mart?” Need those pants in a different size? Zappos will send you all the sizes you need! Need to find an item at Target? Use “Search” at target.com. Info on a toaster at Wal-Mart? Over 100 toasters at walmart.com. Which one is best for you? The answer…make your associate tech savvy. If it is information that is needed, have the associate help the shopper get the info. And, if the shopper is savvy enough not to need help, make sure the info is there for the shopper… Read more »
Larry Negrich
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

There are many benefits to retailers and shoppers when Wi-Fi networks are available (secure networks for employees’, open for customers) and mobile devices are utilized properly. A store employee from anywhere within the store could quickly give the customer in-stock position, product arrival date, price checks, product location, and a host of other information beneficial to the customer and, often times, a time-saver for the employee. “Do you have any of these in size 6?” Scan the product and give the answer…no more disappearing into the back for a 10 minute search.

It would be great if every store associate received extensive training and was motivated to go above and beyond the expectations of the customer in all circumstances. But in retail environments with high turnover and lots of part-time and seasonal workers, equipping and training store staff on how to utilize mobile devices to support established customer service processes has many benefits.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Sure Wi-Fi connections provide access to information that the customer has access to, but shouldn’t the good employee also know that info as part of their job? Some retailers are fooled into getting high-tech by promoters, i.e. sellers of Tech Tools. I’d rather talk to a sales person who is genuinely interested in me, the customer, without having a headset in his ear or relying on a Wi-Fi device that is feeding him information he should know.

Also, in reviewing my fellow contributors, I note a growing frustration that we are rehashing the same issues. It’s been said and written numerous time by many that Technology is not a Replacement for Competent, Knowledgeable or Sincere Customer Service! It is a whiz-bang distraction from what a Prospective Buyer needs. It has its place, but only for those who can’t find or train staff.

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