Study: Retailers need to empower their workforces, realign skills to succeed

The increasingly digital customer is impacting the evolution of new, distinct store formats.
As stores transition to new concepts by 2020 and beyond, so will the roles of store associates, according to new research from Avanade and EKN Research. Avanade surveyed 161 global retail executives across various retail segments to understand the driving factors of digital and workforce transformation in the industry.
As digital retailing evolves, there will be significant shifts required to create a digital workplace if retailers want to stay relevant. Yet, retailers appear to be lagging behind in getting their workforce ready for what lies ahead, with most indicating very little change in how store activities will be allocated in the next few years, the report revealed.
For example, 60% of retailers believe stores will transform from a focus on traditional sales to more theme-based stores focused on attracting specific customer segments, with 56% expecting stores to perform as online fulfillment centers. The main factors impacting this evolution were identified as changing customer expectations, continued negative same-store sales and the exponential growth experienced by digital channels.
Despite these anticipated changes, retailers expect employees to work much the same as they do today. However, this is a stark contrast between retailers' vision and their ability to realize it. For example, retailers do not plan to have store employees increase their emphasis on customer-facing activities in the next few years even though they foresee a push toward more theme-based retail concepts.
"Retailers must rethink store activities and seek technologies that improve the customer experience and enhance their workforce," said Barry Givens, retail solutions lead at Avanade. 
“For example, 52% of retailers plan to use augmented reality and robotics in their stores in the next one to two years, and it's important to understand the impact of those technologies on the workforce,” he said. “Digital tools that help train staff and provide personalized employee experiences are just as important as those that engage the customer.”
Respondents did note that a more prepared, empowered and engaged workforce could improve consumer satisfaction, stock availability, online and in-store sales, and store operating margins. Meanwhile, transitioning to a true digital workplace will increase employee engagement and productivity, particularly as millennials become a bigger part of the talent pool. 
This will require retailers to provide fast, agile training to maximize performance, especially among the growing temporary workforce. They must also adopt automation at store level — and not just smartphones. They also need smart merchandise, wearable devices, augmented reality, POS tablets, among other solutions, the report said. 
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