By: John Martin, Content Marketing Manager at BlueStar US
My first “real” job was working in a mall bookstore over 20 years ago. It was perfect for a young adult that loved to read and didn’t need much more than a cheap apartment, simple meals, and surplus cash to go to the movies and buy CDs.
The tech was much different, of course. Bulky IBM computer registers with small black & white monitors (no touchscreens) and a separate PC with green screens to look up titles and stock levels. Inventory management was accomplished on big, pistol-grip mobile computers with a tiny LCD screen.
Accurate inventory, in particular, was a challenge. I took pride in knowing where most titles were or should be without consulting the computer, but that assumed everything was put away correctly or wasn’t sitting in a box still waiting to be opened in the backroom. As the person who received, opened and sorted most of the weekly shipments, there was a constant battle between scanning dozens of boxes into inventory and finding and selling the books contained within.
I recently relayed that frustrating tale on the TEConnect Podcast to Intel’s Retail Industry Advisor, Kristen Call, assuming that things have changed in the decades since. She quickly assured me it was still a common problem… hours of work and ongoing inventory visibility problems that should be easier to manage.
Much conversation is happening about deploying technology to improve customer experiences in retail when we should also address the experiences of employees expected to deliver on consumer demands. Only 24% of retail workers say their workplace tech “exceeds expectations.” You don’t need a personal history in retail to see this firsthand. Who hasn’t had to stand patiently at checkout while a cashier grumbles about how slow the payment processor is going, or they can’t get a scanner to read a slightly damaged barcode? What about an associate showing you where a product should be but isn’t? Or waiting while one cashier tries to get through a long line by themselves? You can sense how often they encounter these same problems, and their frustration becomes yours. Their attitude can be the defining trait that keeps a customer from returning.
Beyond the frustration of inadequate technology, modernizing the employee experience ultimately enables them to deliver faster, more competent service. Most retailers would rather their staff spend time with customers building a sale, restocking the hottest products before they sell out, or quickly fulfilling online orders. They want every customer to feel like they are the top priority and recommend their stores to others. None of that happens when technology fails the people who are the frontline ambassadors of the brand, and those workers, especially younger generations, will look elsewhere for jobs that do enable them. Recent surveys show that 70% of Gen Z workers (27% of the workforce) would leave their job for better technology.
Here’s how some of our favorite purpose-built technology can improve employee experience and ultimately impact customers.
- Handheld Mobile Computers – On-the-go information, quick communication, line-busting with payment-enabled devices, better scanning capabilities, and none of the distractions (or security issues) of a BYOD consumer phone. Enables curbside ordering or pickup.
- Point-of-Sale – Space-saving, intuitive touchscreen interfaces replicating the devices people use daily. Easy to train new and seasonal employees with minimal oversight. Dynamic software that connects inventory, ordering, marketing, and more.
- Modern Printers – Faster receipt printing to keep lines moving. Faster label printing for stocking, shipping, and price changes. Mobile printers for on-the-floor, no-wait work. Longer-lasting, easier to swap supplies.
- Inventory Management – Smarter software for managing stock levels, identifying sales trends, and easy reorders. Real-time insight into in-store inventory (front and back-of-house) and other stores’ stock. RFID for faster receiving and shipping. Item-level RFID for more specificity.
- Self–Service – The ultimate line buster. Frees up employees for more time with customers, complex sales, restocking, and other functions.
- Omnichannel – Seamless online/offline experience. Gives employees options to continue to sell when the stock or desired product version isn’t on hand.
- Payments – Shorten transactions by taking all payment types and having failover technology so no one has to wait “until the system is back up.”
Beyond the daily hardware, a trusted IT partner that can be called upon to troubleshoot issues, keep media & supplies stocked, and assist with any system updates or transitions will make a strong impression from ownership all the way down to part-time help.
The next time you visit an existing or prospective retail customer, don’t just head straight to management, purchasing, or the IT team. Spend some time on the sales floor. Watch and listen to employees as they interact with their existing technology. What do they say directly to one another, to customers, or non-verbally about what frustrates them? Equip your next sales presentation with first-hand knowledge about what’s preventing employees from delivering the customer experiences businesses crave.
It’s too late to help that nerdy young man desperately looking for the one remaining copy of the latest Oprah book club pick that the computer says is on hand. Still, his older and wiser future self will appreciate it when he sees an associate pleased that their work tech is faster and more intelligent than the device in their pocket.
John Martin is BlueStar’s Sr. Content Marketing Manager and host of The TEConnect Podcast. His career path includes stints in retail, textbook publishing, and food service equipment, but his true passion has always been writing. In his spare time, John is an avid consumer of podcasts, watches way too much TV, reads science fiction and comic books, and is consistently heartbroken by the Cincinnati Reds.