Technology and Product

How to make retail tech a game-changer for the associate experience

Posted on: July 28, 2022Updated on: July 10, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

From handheld devices and self-service checkouts to delivery and curbside pickup by drones and automated vehicles, technology is forever shaping the way people shop. But it’s not only the customer experience that’s being transformed by modern technology.

With new digital tools, retailers can radically elevate the frontline associate experience and make the job more efficient, engaging and rewarding for their teams.

At AxoniCom RETAIL, we brought together a panel of retail experts to explore digital tactics that retailers should be using to harness the power of technology and drive execution and business results. Tim Kane, Retail Industry Solutions Consultant at Zebra Technologies, and Mark Hirschfeld, VP of Consulting Services and Strategic Partnerships at BI WORLDWIDE, discussed how a right-fit digital employee experience is essential to reducing turnover, boosting motivation and fostering a sense of community.

Woman taking inventory stock in a warehouse that has wifi connected products

The tech conversation is changing

Digital transformation has been a major trend impacting retail businesses for some time. But according to Kane, that topic now also has a direct impact on labor.

“The ability to attract labor, retain labor and then train labor is a trend that I see gaining a tremendous amount of momentum,” he says. “Before the pandemic, a store associate had mobile devices, but now I’m seeing every associate is getting a mobile device. It hasn’t happened across every company yet, but it’s moving very quickly,” says Kane.

And in his opinion, the retailers that aren’t willing to jump on the digital wave are at risk of being left behind.

“Retailers are realizing very quickly that if I have a store environment where only half the associates have mobile devices, that’s not going to be a winner because the people that don’t have the devices will feel that they’re not part of the A-team and they can go right across the street and get the same wage that they’re getting there,” Kane adds.

At a time where hiring is still a struggle and turnover rates remain high, Hirschfeld believes it’s particularly important to use the technology available for employee recognition. As a means to engage and inspire existing associates, it provides motivation to stay with your organization in the way little else can—even compensation.

Hirschfeld recounts recent research where two retail restaurant organizations had nearly identical pay but were perceived by employees to have vastly different wages because of external factors that are within a company’s reach.

“Specifically what we found was that pay was not fair, in perception, because of a lack of appreciation and recognition,” he explains. “And isn’t that interesting, that when people felt more appreciated and valued, they actually thought the pay, which wasn’t actually much different, was actually far different.”

Companies should be leveraging available technology to enable appreciation and equitable communication that engages and inspires their teams and fosters a feeling of connection to help curb attrition and build loyalty.

More devices in-hand means more access to, and for, the frontline

Devices are an essential component of fostering collaboration, from associate-to-associate all the way up to HQ and back to the customers on the floor.

“I’m seeing retailers able to have a higher level of collaboration across the associates, and it gives the associates the ability to set up groups where they can have role-specific communications or talk to customers. The devices can be specifically designed for them,” says Kane. “It’s really hard to create the efficient and productive environment you want without giving everybody a device.”

See how tech is elevating the retail employee experience for yourself.

Worried about BYOD being a distraction? Kane is confident that the rewards will outweigh the risks.

“One of our largest customers has big footprint stores where not every associate has a device, and they’ve noticed when customers ask associates who don’t have devices for help, those associates were seeking out the ones that did have devices to get answers.”

“Across retailers I’m also seeing the application base is exploding. They’re starting to realize that not only can they save money by reducing the number of people walking around, but they can provide a much higher level of customer interaction and customer experience. Many are starting to see sales impacted by that in a positive way. Customers are going to realize that the associates who are trained are the ones who have a device. So I think it’s really important to make sure that not only is the device available for the associate, but they can be trusted to use it to help them improve their productivity and their overall workspace.”

A better understanding of the day-to-day

We all know daily retail operations don’t always do as planned. So having a plan to use technology in a way that accommodates how your organization’s people solve problems and is accessible within their day-to-day workflow can close meaningful gaps and help them be more effective on the job.

“Try to use [the technology] as an opportunity to create a collaborative environment,” encourages Kane. “From a productivity standpoint and also from a customer experience standpoint, you’re going to be able to do so much more.”

Hirschfeld adds that you need to take into consideration what your frontline needs before making the technology leap because you know them best.

“Make sure that as you’re going into this, you understand the unique elements of the audience, like what goes on within their workday and their workflow. Don’t make them fit to the technology—you fit the technology to them.”

Ultimately, the rapid digital transformation of retail means new opportunities for associate training and support in the aisles really can be game-changers—when you use the right technology in the right way for your frontline.

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Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

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