Store Technology Expert: Why Retailers Must Invest In Store Associates
Jan Kotowski, Head of Product at Tulip Retail, shares his thoughts on how retailers should be preparing for the future
What is the number one investment retailers should make in 2017?
Being innovative in the retail space is really hard. Like, really hard. Tulip’s position is: in order to be innovative and change how retail is done, retailers must invest in store associates. This is what we’ve built our business on—investing in people. Luckily, we are in a time of sharing experiences. Bonobos, lululemon, Saks Fifth Avenue and Toys “R” Us have moved beyond the notion of being just retailers and into the realm of being technologists, innovators and status-quo disruptors. Why? Because they believe in investing in their store associates to affect the change their shoppers desire.
How do we address success and failure in this area?
Having been retailers ourselves, Tulip understands the complexities of mobilizing omnichannel store associates while also enabling retailers through change management. An omnichannel vision intrinsically affects the entire business and how it functions—from both a cultural and technical point of view and also across e-commerce, retail, store operations and the supply chain.
Buying into an out-of-the-box (OOTB) omnichannel product isn’t always easy for customers. They are entrusting their technology, security, customer data and business strategy to a partner, which is sometimes why customers often decide to build a solution internally. The downside, however, is cost, time, resources and complexity.
That being said, over the past year, we’ve seen some retailers come back to the table opting into the OOTB game. It makes us hopeful that if some of the bigger players in retail, like Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach and Toys”R”Us, see the long-term value of investing in the right technology and people, the rest of world’s top retailers will follow suit. The more they buy into the cloud- and mobile-first movement, the faster we can enable store associates to offer world-class customer service.
So what trends should people be paying attention to in this area?
The funny thing about clienteling is that this isn’t a new notion. Department stores at the turn of the century and even in the 1940s/50s were offering “clienteling” practices from the get-go. “Mrs. Smith” would visit a store to do her weekly shop, an associate would welcome her by name, work with her shoulder-to-shoulder, make recommendations, make a personal call to remind her when her new favorite pumps would arrive and keep notes of every detail in their black book. However, with digitization and the ever-growing ubiquity of mobile devices, shoppers have advanced to a point where retailers simply can’t keep up.
Shoppers are fully self-sufficient when it comes to looking up product inventory and comparing pricing or similar styles at other retailers. They have outgrown the traditional model of requiring a store associate to make purchasing decisions. Instead of being a beacon of information and advice, store associates have evolved into props or deterrents to the store experience.
Clienteling isn’t a trend nor mechanism privy to top-tier retailers. Store associates can create a tailored experience with real-time access to product or customer information, like inventory, style preferences, communication history and tasks. They’re able to offer a seamless experience, from the moment a customer creates a new profile online to when they enter the store and browse to when they transact using mobile point-of-sale.
But it doesn’t stop there. Shoppers become lifetime advocates when an authentic relationship is established. Store associates must be actively engaging with customers in-store and building trust with the goal of acquiring more information each time they visit. This includes things like getting customers to opt-in or fill out more detailed profile information. And beyond the store, associates need to be enabled to actively nurture relationships by sending personalized offers unique to individual customer needs.
It’s an exciting time we live in. Everyone wants and expects authentic content, experiences, products, apps and interactions. It is a time to capitalize on opportunity. Retail has come full circle from a time when department stores were a destination for the family to today where brands like Bonobos and Frank + Oak are revolutionizing the store to be a theatrical experience that seamlessly ties together the power of mobile technology, customer data and building authentic personal relationships. This will be what defines the retailers who survive and those who will shut their doors.
One really important idea to take away from this discussion is to put aside the idea of innovative retail technology to drive greater revenue. Focus on investing in the development, education and enablement of people. We’re living in a world where in order to succeed at anything these days, we need to embrace the notion of unlocking infinite potential.
Jan Kotowski, Head of Product at Tulip Retail, is a seasoned product leader with experience across multiple industries, including enterprise IT, telecom, banking, social, ad tech and retail. Jan is passionate about disruptive technology and was naturally drawn to joining Tulip Retail, which is on a mission to disrupt the old ways of brick and mortar retail operations.
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