When brands recently gathered at the Toronto Congress Centre for the first in-person Retail Council of Canada STORE conference since the pandemic, there were plenty of familiar signs.
Attendees might have recognized many of the faces in the hallways, or spotted some of their peers on stage.
The logos of well-known retailers, their partners, and suppliers were all over the exhibit hall.
Even the food and beverages served during the breaks might have brought back memories of RCC STORE in 2019.
What may have been less visible -- at least until you heard what experts were saying during the conference – was how fundamentally the retail landscape has transformed, and the new opportunities that have emerged as a result.
In “The Future of Work: Humanizing Connections In A Digital World,” experts from Salesforce Canada, as well as menswear retailer Harry Rosen, provided a close-up view of the industry changes under way. Our session was really about documenting a revolution of the traditional customer journey in retail. This spans everything from the way we shop to how retailers communicate in order to develop a strong relationship between brands and their customers.
As the most recent Salesforce State of the Connected Consumer research showed, 88% of shoppers value the experience a brand provides as much as a product or service. The most successful retailers recognized this and responded from the moment the COVID-19 outbreak began, from focusing on safety protocols and introducing conveniences such as curbside pickup and removing friction in e-commerce.
The emphasis now is on enhancing those experiences beyond the pandemic by using technology to improve personalization, service, and consistency across every touchpoint. Although many retailers have been busy welcoming back customers into traditional stores, the new habits formed over the past few years are here to stay.
This calls for reimaging retail as a fusion of physical, digital, and meta experiences that work seamlessly to build trust and loyalty with key stakeholders. It will only be possible if retailers not only focus on their customers, but the employee experience that they deliver as well. Hybrid work is no longer seen as a perk, for example, but a model they deeply value and desire.
Brands like Harry Rosen are leading this charge. As the nearly 70-year-old retailer’s president Ian Rosen discussed in our STORE session, Harry Rosen’s digital transformation began in 2020 with a revamp of its website. Since then, it has been optimizing its presence across multiple channels and, more recently, exploring the potential use of a customer data platform (CDP). (Learn more in a Path to Growth event Salesforce Canada held earlier this year featuring Harry Rosen).
In a physical store, shoppers only tend to notice those on the front lines, such as associates who greet them, scan items to check for prices, and bag their purchases on their behalf. The reality, of course, is that a successful retail operation depends upon a vast array of roles and skills.
With more shoppers beginning their journey online, marketing and e-commerce teams need to be equipped with the right tools to help provide a similarly welcoming environment. Having the right data and analytics capabilities will be critical in order to acquire customers and drive engagement across complex shopping journeys.
Post-sale service and support is an important part of those journeys, which is why customer service agents will also need to harness digital technologies that allow them to respond across any channel, from email to text message, or even through a social media post.
As for those store associates, their roles are evolving too. Upskilling and reskilling will ensure they can adapt to applications that help them act as virtual stylists, assist with service issues, and act as influencers and brand ambassadors. While less than half of store associates use a mobile device to do their job today, our research found retail executives expect 74% to rely on a smartphone during their shift by 2024.
An empowered IT department will lay the groundwork for all of this transformation, weaving together formerly disconnected systems, scaling platforms, and supporting new modes of work. Which brings us to:
Retailers have always operated in multiple places at once. Head offices were connected to physical stores, which in turn were linked to warehouses and fulfillment centres. However the geography of retail has expanded even further, thanks to technology that allows retail talent to work successfully from anywhere.
Remote work may have begun as a necessary pivot during a crisis, but now it is becoming a permanent – and growing – model. Career site Ladders has conducted research that forecasts that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of this year and will continue to increase through 2023. A study from McKinsey, meanwhile, showed 75% of survey respondents said they would prefer a hybrid work model in the future, compared to 47% before the pandemic.
This can translate directly into bottom line results. In fact, Salesforce’s Experience Advantage Report found that the right employee experience is such a winning growth strategy that it can increase revenue by 50%.
This isn’t limited to those working in behind-the-scenes retail jobs, either. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of “omni-associates” who use technology to balance their time between a store floor on peak days and providing virtual assistance as needed.
A hybrid approach creates a much different retail workplace – one where flexibility boosts employee motivation and their ability to create meaningful connections with customers from wherever they are.This becomes easier through tools that allow retailers to transcend the old model of centralizing everything in one physical location and operating a digital HQ instead.
Retailers can’t stop with rethinking who does what, and where. They also have to evaluate their “why” – more specifically, why shoppers choose them and continue to give them their business.
A truly human retail experience is one where customers feel recognized, known, and valued. It’s the brands that can recommend the right products, anticipate future needs and reward customers for their loyalty.
Data is at the heart of such a strategy. Yet only a third of retailers say they can turn data into personalized prices, offers and products across all channels and touchpoints. That’s probably because, according to Salesforce data, the average retailer is using an estimated 44 systems, and associates are toggling between 14 different applications at a time.
Working in retail in a customer-centric way begins when you have a single, 360-degree view of data that can be leveraged consistently across the business. When you layer on automation and artificial intelligence (AI), you can then offer data-driven insights across every area of a retail operation. You’re also taking away mundane, manual tasks and elevating collaboration among departments at the same time.
Empowering your workforce, connecting your workplace, and activating your work might sound like a big job, and it is. This year’s RCC STORE conference was proof, however, that the industry is filled with amazing people ready to make developing more meaningful, human connections their biggest priority.