It is the debate that rages worldwide in retailer and retail management circles. Should retailers embrace the true digital workplace and allow associates to bring their own device to work and use it on the shop floor while they are working?
I recently spent time with a retailer to assess their digital workplace and discovered that they had a ‘company policy’ that did not allow store associates to bring their cell phones onto the shop floor yet allowed store management to do so. When I talked with the store associates, one of them told me “It is very parent/child. We cannot check that the kids are home from school, yet management can use their cell phones when they want. Why don’t they trust us to be responsible with our devices while working?”
At another outlet of the same company, I asked the store manager why associates were not allowed to use their cell phones on the shop floor and their response was: “I know it’s not the company policy, but I allow it. I think it’s OK since they don’t use them when they are working and serving customers, but I also tell them to hide them if anyone comes in from head office.”
Is this happening in your business too?
There is also the worry around what customers will think. If customers see associates on their phones, they may think the store isn’t customer-focused. But what if your workforce was more informed precisely because they are using their devices to drive sales and assist customers?
The Digital Workplace experience, a strategic opportunity
There have been many dynamic changes in the retail sector worldwide in the last few years. As a regular visitor to the National Retail Federation Big Show (NRF) in New York, I’ve noticed that the theme of each year’s event is always an indicator of what’s coming–from omnichannel to e-commerce, to a seamless experience on and offline. The focus has shifted from customer centricity to customer experience (CEX) and now there’s an emerging focus on the Digital Workplace.
Retailers across the globe are facing many challenges: online growth, stagnant property portfolios and excessive store footprints, inflation to the cost of goods from traditional sourcing markets and commodity inflation. Most retailers are struggling to achieve sales and volume growth. In fact, while many retailers are not addressing these challenges, consumers are growing more and more digitally savvy.
This begs the question: why are retailers so focused on customer experience (CEX), embracing the change that comes from a digitally engaged consumer base, and yet they ignore their greatest strategic opportunity? The opportunity I believe they should also focus on is the Digital Workplace Experience (DWEX) for their workforce.
How can retailers embrace their greatest asset? Their workforce, especially their frontline employees, crave knowledge about the business they work for and the products they sell. These employees want to be empowered, engaged, and educated (E3) on how to sell more product and drive sales. By providing their workforce with a digital workplace that embraces the ability for head office and managers to communicate with their employees on their own devices when and where they want, employees are able to peruse content and get training without the constraints of traditional communication methods.
With the growth of online shopping and the challenges of brick and mortar retailers, adopting a Digital Workplace Experience (DWEX) will be a strategic advantage for those who embrace the opportunity to engage and educate their workforce. And by doing so, they will no doubt become an employer of choice.
Most retailers use a myriad of ways to communicate with their workforce. The predominant avenues have been emails from head office to their stores, SMS messaging, WhatsApp groups, Yammer, portals, intranets, and the list goes on. These avenues have little to no guarantee that staff will read these messages and don’t do much to engage or educate their workforce. When was the last time you saw an associate standing in front of a notice board reading a message from their CEO? That is if it ever got printed and posted to the board (in the first place) by the busy store management team.
How can a buyer educate the sellers to sell more? When a product sells out, it’s the buyer and designers skill, but when the product doesn’t sell, it is the operator or supply chain that “failed to execute.” Anyone who’s worked in retail knows what I mean. So how do businesses evolve to improve the knowledge of their workforce? Well, it’s probably in the palm of their employees’ hands right now unless the business has an arcane policy invented by someone who worked in retail a time long ago.
A true digitally engaged business embraces their workforce’s use of personal devices at work and actively enables their workforce to be educated, engaged, and drive store execution. And by doing so, they improve their customer experience.
By creating your DWEX you can actually improve your CEX!
Nowadays the opportunity for sales and profit growth is in the hands of a business’s workforce. And this is not all about those millennials. The digital workplace isn’t ageist. Age is just a number, and it does not define digital engagement or the DWEX!
Having met many digitally engaged associates, I think there’s a great opportunity for retail leaders to create and support “reverse mentoring”. They could help associates actively support each other. This concept isn’t too different from an IT department, which has a help desk, support line, or tech-savvy working groups to support associates. A DWEX business drives and promotes peer-to-peer learning and presents many other opportunities businesses need to embrace.
Perhaps instead of focusing on improving your HCM system with an intranet-based solution dressed up as a mobile app, maybe the focus should be on the user experience. Consider investing in a digitally engaged workplace that drives peer-to-peer learning (often at zero cost) as a way of supporting the company’s culture.
The opportunity to put business and product knowledge into the hands of associates will be a strategic advantage. The ability for the CEO to give information directly to frontline associates has in past been impossible. With a digital workplace, your workforce can enjoy increased transparency and get better information. It’s the goal that many corporate affairs, HR and merchandise functions strive to achieve but often fail because their current ways of working are too limited.
Bold business leaders will embrace having their frontline associates get business content delivered to their devices. These leaders will be able to send their workforce product information, schedules, corporate messages, surveys, and information on what the business is doing on ethical product sourcing and how that gives back to the communities in which they operate.
How will a digitally engaged workforce be a strategic business advantage?
Here is just one scenario that will drive sales and profit for your business: every week, month, and season retailers drive new merchandise into stores. Now imagine a digital workplace where associates receive information via video content. They can now watch the buyer or designer talk about the range drops, the new lines, features and benefits of new products, design inspiration, sourcing information, right on their own devices.
Dare to imagine. Going digital has no limits. Imagine the power of your workforce armed with visual merchandise guides, in-store display setups, marketing campaigns, above the line and below the line marketing content, all on their devices. This content will not only help drive engagement and education, but it will also empower your workforce. By removing the need for the traditional cascade approach, real-time information can now get into the hands of your frontline workforce. This focus on a Digital Workforce Experience (DWEX) will improve the Customer Experience (CEX), driving sales, volume growth, and increased profits.
I wish there was a DWEX around in my earlier career as an associate, store manager, and region manager. Those years would have been far more productive, but that’s a subject for another article. Stay tuned for my next installment where I’ll cover how a DWEX drives productivity and reduces your cost of doing business.
What is your business focus? When do you plan on harnessing your workforce by creating a digitally engaged workforce?
Written by: Andrew Myers, WorkJam’s VP APAC & Global Digital Strategy.
Andrew Myers is a visionary in the retail industry with deep experience across all aspects of a retail organization. Myers first made a name for himself at Coles Supermarkets where he helped drive revenue to $37 billion across over 800 store locations. He later joined Target Australia where, as chief operations officer, he headed the team charged with transforming the supply chain, store operations, store format, and digital transformation of Target Australia. Myers and his team were successful in helping Target Australia regain market prominence and were recently named the winners of the 2018 National Retail Association of Australia’s “Innovator of the Year” award.