Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Why working in Retail got so frustrating, and how Cisco Retail is working to fix it

March 30, 2017

Ever find shopping frustrating? I do, as I lamented in my last blog. But we should all spare a thought for those working in retail and having to deal with the cantankerous masses. If you think shopping can test your patience, just imagine what it’s like manning a store these days.

Retail workers in the UK face an immediate personal risk on a day to day basis – recent BRC statistics show 51 incidents of violence and abuse per 1,000 staff. While violence is thankfully falling, abuse, which includes aggressive behaviour by angry and frustrated customers, is definitely on the rise, with the overall violence and abuse figure having increased by 40% year on year. They also face constant change as the retail landscape we knew transforms to a digital or ‘phygital’ one, with retail brands and stores frequently at the forefront of that very rapid change.

In the store of yesteryear, there were a limited number of customer-facing and back-office roles, revolving around point of sale, replenishment, customer service and supply chain. Customers (sometimes) obediently browsed the shelves before checking out at the till, pausing occasionally to flag down a passing assistant and ask after additional stock. Or queueing to return an item that hadn’t washed well.

Today, customers may have as much – or in some really bad cases – more information on stock availability and promotions as those working in store. And they can often access it easier! Retail tools and systems these days are complex to say the least and can require a relative tool belt of devices for employee to access data on the customer and stock. Just carting around these devices can leave customer facing staff looking like they stepped off the set of a Spaghetti Western.

Picture the scene now:

  • Customer: “Do you have any more of these in a size 12?”
  • Store Associate: “What we have is out on the shelf”
  • Customer: “The branch on the retail park has stock – can I reserve a pair and go and collect?”
  • Store Associate: “Sorry, I have no visibility of other stores. But you can reserve on your smart phone…”

This is why working in-store today can leave associates feeling under siege, which may explain why 26% of them are considering changing jobs according to recent research due to less than ideal working environment. Think about that for a second if you will… The high labour turnover rate in UK retail has more to do with day to day working practices than dissatisfaction with wages, benefits or promotion prospects. Imagine then the potential benefits of making the job less frustrating!! And of course, the reduced hiring and training costs.

So how can technology, and Cisco, improve things? Surely technology is part of the problem? Well, yes and no. Non-integrated technology does contribute to the disjoint for customers and retail workers alike. Yet collaborative, connected and smart technology can also deliver a 360 degree lens, resulting in visibility and intelligence rather than an ocean of data.

Picture the scene when staff front of house (and of course back office, but we’ll come back to that in a future blog) have that all-round view of the customer and of the store and everything in it and on its way in to it:

  • Store Associate: [Hand-held device notifies them a customer is approaching who is logged in on Wi-Fi or the app and flags their profile and order history] “Hello Mr X, how can I help you today?”
  • Customer: “I’ve been looking at a pair of brogues online. I can’t see them in my size – do you have any extra stock?”
  • Store Associate: “Is it this pair in brown in a size 12?” [shows picture]
  • Customer: “Yes, those are the ones”
  • Store Associate: “I don’t have any in store in the brown in your size. We have some at our retail park store, which I can reserve for you right now. I do have a pair in black, or I have these which are quite similar…”
  • Customer: [Having tried on the available options] “I’ll have this pair, but I’ve just seen the time – I’m late for a meeting.”
  • Store Associate: “No problem – you can pay via the app and I can have them delivered to your office this afternoon – is it still X address?”

We’re working with our retail customers to make this tailored, and personalised experience a reality. Not only because it’s much better for customers, but it’s a much more pleasant and frankly much more efficient way of equipping their workforce.

By combining a secure, flexible network with IoT enable devices and collaborative technologies that give staff the information they need, when and where they need it, presenting it in such a way that they can make informed decisions and offer expert advice, or source it from elsewhere in the store or in the network.

You can learn more about digitising the workforce experience at our Digital Retail Solutions website. Or by reading our eBook.

The next time you’re out shopping and start feeling frustrated, spare a thought for the store associate trying to help you. If you’re frustrated, they’ve probably got steam coming out of their ears, figuratively at least.

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