Retail is alive and kicking.
Sure, brick-and-mortar stores have had to adapt to the new competition of online resellers over the last two decades, but they've not only remained in business — they're actually growing. A 2018 study shows that in-store sales grew by as much as 5.4 percent in 2017 over the previous year. Technology is playing a key role in the fight.
Leaders at many retail companies know they want to deploy innovative technologies that will improve productivity and efficiency, but they often don't know where to start. When it comes to IT initiatives, a bit of hesitation can actually be a good thing. Rather than rushing to deploy the latest technologies that are creating buzz at trade shows, retailers should ensure that their solutions meet their business needs and help their employees be more productive. This is not to say that retailers should drag their feet when it comes to new IT investments — only that they should be strategic about such initiatives, and mindful about connecting disparate technologies in a way that optimizes benefits.
Technologies designed to boost employee productivity can have a significant impact on a retail store's operations, giving managers quick insight into whether an initiative is working as planned. For example, if the implementation of mobile point-of-sale devices increases sales, that's a concrete, measurable benefit that will show up in a matter of weeks. An effective digital transformation strategy may follow the model of "think big, act small, move fast."
In other words, retailers should make bold plans, but should first deploy solutions that capture low-hanging fruit, and then move on to bigger projects.
6 Tools That Can Improve Retail Employee Performance
Technologies that can help retailers improve employee performance and help retailers thrive include:
1. Mobile devices: Retailers are arming floor employees with tablets, smartphones and purpose-built mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) devices to connect associates with back-end data from the local store and corporate data centers. While workers at many stores have long had the ability to look up inventory information from desktop computer stations, mobile devices and apps allow employees to stay with shoppers on the sales floor, thereby improving customer service. Tablets are predominant with many retailers, but smartphones are getting bigger and more powerful, and more stores are beginning to consider deploying them as employees' primary mobile devices.
2. Enterprise mobility management: When retailers deploy mobile devices, it's critical that they adequately manage and monitor their deployments. Enterprise mobility management (EMM) tools help organizations manage not only physical devices, but also mobile applications and content. Such solutions help retailers know where their devices are at all times and how they're being used, and ensure that any sensitive data (such as payment card information) is adequately safeguarded. Mobility management is also important for ensuring that devices are used only for work-specific applications. This is especially important in a sector that often employs younger workers, who may be tempted to use mobile devices to play games or send messages to their friends.
3. IT infrastructure: Supporting mobile solutions and other technologies requires robust networking, storage and processing systems. Some retailers are fielding store-based edge computing solutions, including micro data centers, to support systems without having to route data traffic to a centralized data center. Micro data centers are self-contained solutions that provide not only essential infrastructure, but also physical security, power, cooling and remote management capabilities.
4. Data analytics: Retailers are awash in data — everything from sales numbers to customer loyalty information to employee schedules. Stores that make better use of that data than their competitors can greatly improve productivity and efficiency. Predictive analytics are particularly important for inventory management and omnichannel fulfillment, as the intelligent use of data can ensure that products are in stock where and when customers expect to find them.
5. RFID: The falling cost of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags has led to a growing number of retailers using the technology to better track individual products. In many cases, in fact, vendors are tagging items with RFID themselves, meaning that retailers only need to implement a tracking system to make use of the technology. While loss prevention is a common use case for RFID tagging, the practice can also prevent frustrating situations where an item is shown to be in stock but cannot be located for a customer.
6. Beacon technology: More and more, stores are using mobile beacons to improve interactions with customers. For example, by pushing out special offers to shoppers who linger in front of a high-ticket item but need an extra incentive to convince them to make the purchase. Beacon technology can also help retailers keep track of where their employees are during their shifts, giving managers the visibility to ensure that staffers are located where they are needed most.
Learn more about how retailers are improving the customer experience by connecting data, devices and sales associates in the CDW white paper "Technology to Boost Retail Productivity."