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Why retail associates need digitally-connected storefronts and accessible mobile tech

We live in a mobile obsessed world. The rise of the digitally-connected storefront has not only transformed the face of retail as we know it, but has also ushered in a new type of store employee: the digitally-connected associate. However, the industry is still severely lacking.

The proliferation of smartphones and retail apps has enabled shoppers to become quasi-experts on nearly every product on their wish list - thanks to product reviews, sizing guides, and price comparison features. Associates must also possess the same - and preferably, greater - knowledge in order to truly serve customers. The solution? Give your retail staff a smartphone. Equipping them with the proper mobile and digital technologies at the very least means they can provide instant expertise on any question a customer could ask. I can’t tell you how many times I felt I knew more about a product - its color size combination availability, its location in the store, its latest price reduction, etc. - than the store associate “helping” me did. Perhaps because I’m a Type A personality, or perhaps because the associate simply wasn’t armed with the appropriate tools to do their job.

Today, shoppers expect premium one-on-one service, and retailers have to be ready to deliver on those expectations. In a relationship between store associate and consumer, its outcome is often a direct result of the connection the two people shared. When a retailer can truly connect storefronts, associates and consumers, it will succeed.

Connected storefronts: the tried-and-true model of products on shelves and employees behind the cash register is outdated, and frankly quite sad. When consumers visit a store, they want to be wowed by the experience - tangible evidence that the brand is not only delivering the products they want or need, but the experience they desire. A shopper’s journey includes many touchpoint - both digital and physical. To truly feel excitement about the brick and mortar experience, there needs to be something “new” - for example, smart fitting rooms, apps with product-scanning capabilities and fast inventory lookup, or NFC-enabled checkout stations.

  • Smart fitting rooms let shoppers change the lighting in their room, call for an associate and view product styling tips - all with a few taps on a screen. If a shopper loves the way a pair of jeans fit, she can opt to try on a complementary top and request one in her size, which can be delivered by an employee without even having to leave the fitting room. Tablet- or smartphone-equipped retail staff receive the request, retrieve the desired item and ferry it over to the customer within seconds.
  • When it comes to connecting the physical storefront to mobile-savvy consumers, comprehensive retail apps can be hugely beneficial. Many retailers are implementing product-scanning features into their apps, thereby allowing customers to use their smartphone to scan a product tag in-store and access a wealth of pertinent information, such as inventory, item reviews, price, and sizing. This eliminates the need for individuals to search for a product on mobile web and potentially get sidetracked by a number of website pages.
  • NFC-enabled cash registers allow shoppers to pay with their mobile devices in lieu of cash or credit card. More and more consumers are using Apple Pay and Android Pay, and actually prefer it over other payment methods. Retailers must have the necessary in-store equipment to accept these forms of payment. It’s one of the mandatory features retailers need to satisfy the demands today’s mobile obsessed consumer. Another bonus to mobile payments? They generally speed up the amount of time spent transacting, resulting in faster-moving lines.

Connected associates: Store associates must be more knowledgeable about products than customers are. This sounds obvious, but it’s not always the case. In the age of smartphones, most item information can be found within a few clicks by a consumer, making them savvier about shopping than ever before. Consequently, retail staff falls short on the floor. They must be armed with store-specific information that cannot be found elsewhere, including up-to-date inventory and products’ exact aisle locations. If associates had mobile-optimized style guides and lookbooks that weren’t accessible to consumers, they could greatly enhance the experience.

Ultimately, providing a storefront and all of its in-house personnel with complementary technology can only enhance the shopping experience and give customers a slew of physical and digital touchpoints with which they can interact. While this may seem like a daunting task to some retailers, the key is to experiment on a select number of stores and staff members before expanding the new initiative across the footprint. There will always be risks with experimentation, but the potential rewards will transform an everyday brand into a true digital connoisseur.

Casey Antonelli, Director of Corporate Communications

Casey leads internal and external communications for NewStore. She brings a decade of experience in media and analyst relations to this role, in addition to strategic marketing, events, demand generation, SEO, and advertising. She started her career working for PR agencies, then tried her hand at "in-house" PR at Black Duck Software where she led corporate communications. She has a passion for commerce and technology, which makes working for NewStore her dream job.