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Rethinking the Shopper Experience Journey to develop Store Associates Behavioral Skills

  - R. Sriram and Krishnakant Kasturi

Products are out of stock, products are shelved incorrectly, shelves are messy, change in the location of the product from the previous visit made by the customer, customers cannot locate store employees to help customers with the products and services that they demand, Long queues for billing products and product returns, "not my department" indifferent responses.

 Are not these regular customer grievances from any kind of Physical Retail Store? Can use of technology improve Shopper experience better without correcting the basics? Probably, not. It is like pouring water into a sieve.  Retailers are losing more than 15 percent of potential sales every day in their stores because of poor staff performance and bad execution of in store processes. Shoppersare likely to buy 60 percent more than their planned purchase in the store if they are happy with the store employees helping them with their purchase. With 85 percent of the shoppers likely to buy their products from a physical store, the potential loss to a retail outlet because of the employees who are indifferent to the needs of their customers is a whopping 47 percent.

The Elephant in the room is the core human behavioral skills that are lacking in the era of accelerated technological Innovation. Store associates seem to be lacking in compassion and empathy. The Gen-Z millennial associates, who are more adept at digital communication as compared to verbal communication, seem to lack the necessary behavioral skills to interact personally with the Shoppers, understand their needs, or do their job efficiently so that the Shoppers are served efficiently. This is observed across as many store formats across retail businesses.

This skill gap is widened by attention deficit, poor verbal communication, lack of structured training and lack of expertise due to frequent job-hopping is the Achilles heel of Retail Operations, which are going through the mill, trying to mature in Omni-channel operations competing with Amazons of the world that sell everything from soap to nuts.

Sports Authority has closed all its 460 stores in the US in 2016, Walmart has closed 154 stores in the US in 2016, Aeropostale, Kmart/Sears, Ralph Lauren have closed 182 stores put together in the US in 2016, all owing to negative profitability. Could the operations have been profitable if they had invested in human skills resulting in more walk-ins and conversions?

Associate training should make up a larger portion of the opex spend in comparison with the spend on technology, rather than consider it as budget dust to comply with organizational guidelines.

  • What are my key KPIs?
  • What are the root causes for the declining performance?
  • What are the basics that are missing that have impact on these KPIs?
  • How can the associates be trained on behavioral skills to improve the performance?

As targets are time-bound, there would be a rush to use technology to keep pace with competitors, with the possibility of overlooking the need to correct basic operational skills and tasks.  Here are a few examples of evaluating the need to correct basics rather than resort to a technical solution.

In the age of web-rooming, technology should complement the store associates rather than replace them. Here are a few examples where technology and human actions can complement each other:

·         Associates describing a product + reading product information on a mobile app.

·         Associates guiding the Shopper to the shelf and describing promotions + Digital signages/Guided selling tools or product locators conveying location and marketing content.

·         Associates calling and speaking to a customer + personalized messages to mobile/email.

·         Associates  recognizing a high value or regular customer  and greeting them + mobile app triggered welcome messages

 

Self-checkout vs Cashier Checkout: They cost a whopping $15,000-$20,000 with an objective to aid faster checkouts. However, are they productive, do shoppers take more time to learn the tool or do they bring up a host of other new issues to tackle and end up having associates to juggle many frogs?

·         Can the cashiers be trained better on offers, handling complaints and returns!

·         Can they be trained on the Loyalty program!

·         Can promotions be updated on the POS!

·         Can all skus have barcodes on them!

·         Can scanners be working all the time!

Robots for replenishment, stocktaking vs Trained Staff: Robots are replacing Store associates and why? Notwithstanding the augmented value of Digital product information signage or kiosks and interactive technology -

·         Can Associates be trained to comply by planogram!

·         Can they be trained to count skus efficiently!

·         Can they be trained continuously on the new products, offers etc. and in displaying PoP material!

·         Can they be trained to replenish stock on time!

·         Can scheduling be improved to ensure they are found on the aisles during lean, normal and peak business hours!

·         Can they be trained to exhibit product knowledge to help shoppers on the path to purchase!

·         Can they be trained on selling high margin products!

 

Developing Store Associates into the real Shopper Marketers

Store associates are the real Shopper Marketers in the physical store. Investment on Training to couple operational activities to their behavioral skills will lead to efficient retail operations and drive automatic walk-ins into the store.

1.       Rethink and revisit the Shopper Experience Journey in the Store connecting all Shopper touch points in the store.

2.       Map all Operational activities to be executed by associates  for each touch point- Describe the associate roles handling that point, as-is process and experience, shopper pain points, gaps, to-be process and experience, training required to achieve the to-be experience, frequency, methodology etc.

3.       Map behavioral skills to Operational activities: For every training need identified for each touch point in the store, map an activity to a behavioral skill required by the associate for executing the operational activity at each touch point in the Shopper Experience Journey.

4.       Identify Shopper and Store Value for each operational activity and behavioral skill : This would serve as basis for training the associates and as a platform to develop their behavioral skills for achieving operational efficiency.

Here is an example:

Shopper Experience Journey Touch Point

Associate activity Training Component

Behavioral skill or instinct

Shopper Value

Store Value

Shopper searches for product on the Shelf

How to Stack the Product on the shelf in the right place as per Planogram displaying the Shelf Label and Shelf Talker

Understanding the Planogram, reason for adjacencies or facings or stacking method.

ensuring compliance

Shopper is able to find the product immediately and drop the product into the basket

Conversion is ensured.

Basket value is increased.

Shopper does not switch to another store.

 

5.    Mass induction training programs are old hat. Conduct role-based Training conducted by Operations experts rather than Career Trainers.

6.   Conduct training programs continuously for all roles - immediately after induction and on a regular basis on a training calendar. Revise Training content constantly based on the business developments. Conduct Training throughout the year for all associates old and new.

7.   Impart Shop-Floor based practical training with less hours in classroom. The skill learnt has to be demonstrated by the trained associate to assess training effectiveness.

8.   Include more video-based content and less of text-based theory sessions.

9.   Supervise every training session and practical test demonstration by the so that, the desired behavioral skills for each operational activity are learnt effectively.

10.   Organize associates by various bands on a ladder based on their ability to demonstrate behavioral skills in operational activities.

11.   Incentivize associates based on their position in the training ladder.

Developing Associates Behavioral Skills are bound to be the biggest ticket to successful Next-Gen Retailing. Come what may, its always back to the basics !

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