16Jan

Reimagine Retail Workforce in the Automation Era

The Future of Retail Insights Report published in 2017 by World Economic Forum predicted the replacement of 30-50% day-to-day operations jobs due to technology automation. The report stated the large disparity between the employee efficiency of online and traditional retailers: One online store employee generated four to five times revenue comparing to one employee in physical store.


However, despite the hype of e-commerce, consumers are still looking forward to shopping in a physical store. The 2018 CX Index Brand Loyalty & Engagement by Sitel Group indicated that nearly 70% consumers preferred to interact with a human customer service rep vs a digital rep or chatbot. 
As automation gives modern retailer an edge in labor cost and operations streamline, it puts pressure on HR leaders on re-organizing the workforce. As brick-and-mortar stores adopt self-service models, frontline workers’ skill sets need to evolve. In order to create a rich experience that triggers different senses at the physical store that the online store isn’t able to replicate, your customers service reps need to add values in different ways than traditionally assigned. Below are some holistic goals your employee training programs should look to achieve: 

  • Bring out the staff enthusiasm that fills the space with an authentic welcoming feeling. The emotional needs that a sales rep fulfill through his/her interaction with the customers, though not recorded in a sales report, could amplify the customers’ connection to your brand. The physical store is a place to create the sense of community between your staffs, your products and the customers. The local flavour could be communicated through the visual store design, theme, decoration and staff etiquettes. 
  • Shift the frontline’s staff mindset from order fulfillment to style/product consultancy. The store staff should be able to articulate who is the product best for, how the product solves the problem, how it works together with other products, how it fits in the customer’s lifestyle and guide the customers through the product trial. The instant gratification of having a human being on site to validate our choice of product is not to be taken lightly.

Instead of eliminating your frontline workforce, revisit how you have developed your existing workforce to meet with new business requirements. Research shows that replacing a worker who makes $30,000 a year or less costs the company around 16% of the employee’s annual salary. HR leaders should look to upskill frontline employees accordingly to retain their loyalty, considering few key capabilities: 

  • Mobility: To reduce disruption to the staff’s schedule, retailers should enable mobile solutions to offer employees accommodate employees’ learning style and communication. Being able to perform back-room tasks on mobile, an employee could immediately address issues at store level when it first arises. 
  • Monitoring: What isn’t measured couldn’t be justified. To gain clarity on the skill gaps, you need to quantify the employees’ skills and knowledge. This will also help gain visibility into the future of your workforce: what initiatives you should implement, what learning structure you need to build, how you incorporate learning into the performance management system. 

So how do retailers revise the workforce in automation era? 

  • Review the work process: Determine who is doing what, and how effective. Deloitte study “Shop for tomorrow’s worforce” in 2017 predicted that retail sales assistants’ roles have a 93% chance of automation and retail cashiers and checkout operators have a 97% chance of automation. By understanding the combination of the workforce, retailer can balance the human touch and robots in their workplace. 
  • Encourage a learning culture: Retailer should move away from the heavy reliance on contingent workforce to a more robust development track for internal employees. Sales floor technology will change significantly over the next decade, training is therefore crucial for your employees to progress. As we’re seeing more millennial shoppers and workers in retail, the workplace needs to support the new working style: mobile, responsive and flexible. 
  • Break down silos: As retailers are moving toward an omni-channel customer experience approach, the organizational experience should move in the same direction. Sophisticated data allow retailers to scrutinize customer behaviors and predict trends so they can increase profitability.  Relevant insights should be share across different business units to empower employees to make suggestions that will drive sales. 

Sparkwork is currently attending NRF 2019 in NYC. We have helped retailers from 10 to 600 locations increase their workforce productivity. Our customers have seen their employee NPS (net promoter score) improve by 8% and customer NPS by 12% on average after the first year of using Sparkwork. Want to here more? Speak with us here.