The Last 100 Feet: Retail’s Biggest Execution Challenge

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By Glenn Schwartz, Product Lead, Restore for Retail

Today, retailers face reduced staffing levels along with a severe shortage of experienced workers. This makes it more important than ever to motivate and empower your shrinking pool of associates to execute in-store activities flawlessly and efficiently. At stake is nothing less than shopper satisfaction.

While some progress has been made to improve associate satisfaction (like flexible scheduling, upgraded benefit plans, and other perks), real ways to motivate and empower associates to perform better remain elusive. What is missing (the real gap) are the solutions to address associate challenges that will directly impact the in-store customer experience and ultimately sales and profits. Furthermore, retail operations leaders are struggling to maintain optimal staffing levels due to limited technology – technology that can measure and report associate satisfaction and the impact that it has on customer experience.

These challenges remain because, in recent years, most retailers’ priorities have been focused on the massive shift towards omni-channel and unified retail commerce – at the expense of in-store associate investment. To be sure, associates' challenges are not being ignored but rather deferred until pragmatic solutions appear.

Getting Back to Basics

Recently, I visited the flagship location of a large retailer, meeting with their store manager and district manager to brainstorm associate productivity ideas. They showed me an impressive myriad of sophisticated systems reporting on store performance, traffic, inventory levels, integrated store calendaring, and other features to optimize operations.  When it came to associates, they used a confusing collection of communication siloes, all somewhat held together with a paper checklist, which was impossible to track across shifts and staff rosters.

What they lacked was an easy way to help associates understand the tasks at hand and the information they needed to feel empowered to succeed. According to the store manager, the associates, especially the newer ones, were often “confused and overwhelmed” by this myriad of communications. The direct associate feedback was that the information was often disconnected from the actual work they were doing. Furthermore, the store manager said associates don’t really care about internal IT systems, but rather just want to know: “How do I get through the day without asking for help every 20 minutes, and why is no one listening to me?

This obviously this leads to frustration and bad employee experiences. An associate having a frustrating day will not effectively serve customers and make sales. Moreover, district and store managers cannot be in multiple places simultaneously to support associates. It doesn’t have to be this way. It all starts with understanding the “experience.

The “Experience” Matters in Retail

Understanding experiences in the context of a retail environment is critical to unpacking and solving the problem. It begins with the employee experience. Simply stated, if retailers focus on engaging employees to do great work, it will help them drive more effective in-store execution, which is required to drive immersive customer experiences. I call this symbiotic relationship the retail customer experience cycle.

A recent study by Service Channel has shown that 86% of respondents tend to spend more time in nice stores. Consumers are two times more likely to make big purchases ($101-$250) in stores vs. online, and four out of five impulse purchases are made in brick-and-mortar stores. We believe this is the direct result of engaging with empowered store associates or managers.

Bad experiences can be devastating to a brand. As described in a report appropriately titled The Real Reasons Shoppers aren’t Returning to Your Stores, 70% of surveyed shoppers had a recent negative experience in stores - from dirty bathrooms to empty and disorganized shelves. Sixty-four percent of shoppers surveyed reported walking out of a store because of their physical appearance or disorganization.

In an age where modern retailers have little control over outside factors- like consumer spending, interest rates, and inflation -retailers can certainly control their employee experiences, which in turn will control their customer experiences.

The Last 100 Feet In Retail

The last 100 feet is a reference to where strategy and execution for retailers is most important.  It’s where customer experiences happen and where shoppers make purchases. These 100 feet can seem like a chasm for a tired store manager who must support associates struggling to keep up because they are overtasked or inexperienced.  

How does a retailer begin to solve these challenges? The answer lies in three simple and proven techniques to engage, empower, and support associates.

  • Streamline and consolidate store-wide communications. When overloaded with too much information, associates can get numb to what is important and what is not.
  • Leverage visual communications. A picture is worth a thousand words, and being able to share and annotate pictures significantly increases communication speed and understanding.
  • Engage store associates and managers through Shaping. Shaping in retail is defined as 'influencing and improving employees' feelings about their overall experience using psychological, motivational, and social principles. Engage associates to increase positive employee experiences, promote retention, and significantly improve execution performance.

Modern retailers consistently use innovative solutions and experimental approaches to focus execution in the last 100 feet.  Retail execution software, like Hilco Global’s ReStore-for-Retail, is a retailer built, retailer proven Visual Store Experience platform that closes the gap between strategy and in-store execution.

About ReStore for Retail
ReStore for Retail is an independent operating unit of Hilco Global, one of the world’s leading retail authorities. To learn more about ReStore for Retail’s tech-enabled solutions, please visit www.restoreforretail.com.

ReStore for Retail enables people in retail to get back to the business of retailing