Are Retailers Ready to Return to In-Person Shopping?

Shopping is a noble pursuit. It’s hard to imagine someone returning home with a bulging bag full of their favorite clothes, gadgets, and other goodies. We loved the idea of shopping in person even when we ordered online during the pandemic. Consumers are now eager to shop in the real world after getting vaccinated.

According to analysts, there will be a significant increase in foot traffic and spending by 50 percent of U.S. customers. However, there’s a catch: consumers are finding that in-person shopping doesn’t live up to their expectations as they venture out into post-pandemic America. Instead of glamour and style, consumers are met with piles of clothes, empty shelves, filthy floors, and untrained staff.

Why is the state of stores? It’s clear that retailers shifted to digital during the pandemic, but failed to do enough to retain the know-how and people needed to provide compelling in-person experiences. Retailers are now struggling to train their staff and reestablish the processes required to maintain retail excellence as they increase their in-person operations.

Get Back on Track

Retailers will need to incorporate digital innovations into brick-and-mortar commerce in order to get their business back on track. Digital connectivity, data and operational streamlining are the foundations of online retail. Similar technologies are needed to improve agility, increase accountability, and enhance consumer experiences in physical retail.

The simple checklist is the most common tool retail stores use. To track everything from absenteeism to bathroom inspections, stores use checklists. These checklists are mainly written on paper. This means that they can be easily lost, damaged, or ignored. Worst, this means that the insights stored in these lists rarely leave the clipboard where they are attached.

We can digitize these checklists and integrate them into the employees’ work processes. A worker might receive a mobile device from their employer that can be used to remind them of missed chores, help them to inspect bathrooms or stock shelves, and congratulate them for working on time. This creates a seamless, paperless experience that is more accountable, less messy clothes, cleaner displays, and happier customers.

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Engagement Is Key

Checklists are just the beginning. The use of mobile devices and apps may open up new avenues for communication and training in the flow-of-work. New hires can use micro-learning tools to learn new tasks, such as folding T-shirts and managing returns.

This all adds up to a better experience for customers. It also makes it easier for employees to have a better experience, which is just as important. recent survey by my company found that many retail workers, especially younger ones, feel neglected and unfulfilled. However, seven out of ten said better digital tools would make them feel valued and more connected.

Retailers need to smile again at their frontline workers in order to give customers the memorable experiences they have been missing for the past year. Retail work can be made more enjoyable, engaging, and fun with digital tools. This makes it easier for retailers to retain talented workers who create amazing experiences for customers.

Connecting the Dots

Employers and employees both value connectivity and communication. Employers can create a wealth of new data by giving employees smarter tools. This is far more valuable than any clipboard or spreadsheet. These insights are more crucial than ever in the post-pandemic era.

Retailers need to be able to see exactly what customers want. Consumer behavior is changing rapidly. The pandemic has forced retailers to employ fewer area managers in order to cover more areas. This makes it difficult to identify new buying patterns and connect dots.

Managers can use digital tools to track inventory in multiple stores and share photos and videos to coordinate operations. This allows them to maintain high standards and maintain a higher standard across an area. It is easier to replicate best practices and effective promotions in a region. Apps can quickly capture and surface information to regional managers, and then rapidly feed that information back to store managers or frontline staff.

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The Tipping point

Bottom line, the retail sector is now at an important inflection point. The events of the last 16 months have only exacerbated the trend that online shopping had already been eating into real-world sales. It is possible that returning customers will abandon online shopping if they are disappointed by poor, unprofessional experiences.

This could cause retailers significant problems. Many flagship department stores located on high-end retail strips have been closing and being replaced by mid-market chain shops. This is a troubling trend, as it reflects the fact that in-person retail has become practical and more task-oriented than aspirational or experience-driven.

Retailers need to make spaces that are inviting for customers to come and shop, wander, window-shop, dream, and spend money. This means eliminating hiccups, and insisting on premium quality. Retailers must demonstrate the same level of professionalism and consistency at all touchpoints with customers in order to wow them. Each shelf must be well-organized and stocked, with every employee properly trained.

It’s not easy to achieve this, especially after a pandemic has decimated many talent stores and experienced workers. We need to embrace new processes and give our employees the digital tools that they need to succeed. We can remind customers how much they love in-person shopping by supporting our employees and giving them the tools that they need.


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