Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

Solving the retail staff engagement crisis: Why the key lies in digital transformation 

By Mark Rogers, Commercial Director at SES-imagotag 

Over the past two years, the retail industry has had to endure a seemingly never abating merry-go-round of challenges. From supply chain disruption to inflationary pressures and cost of living crises, it has been far from smooth sailing for retailers, who now have another pressing issue to contend with: the staff engagement crisis. 

Recent research lifted the lid on this industry-wide problem, revealing that a fifth of the retail workforce was considering leaving their current roles in the next 12 months, with a further 17% contemplating abandoning the retail sector altogether. This crisis has left retailers scrambling to retain their staff, exemplified by news earlier this year that both Aldi and Pret a Manger were raising their store employee’s pay for the third time in just a year. Whilst money is certainly a motivator, the underlying issues plaguing the sector cannot be solved solely by increased pay. 

We’re already seeing technology being deployed across the retail sector to solve industry-wide challenges, such as in-store product engagement and efficient access to information, but more often this is not with the customer or employees front of mind. With more than half (53%) of retail employees feeling unmotivated at work, the industry must realise that these tech solutions should (and can) be dual-purpose, revolutionising the in-store experience for employees as well as shoppers. 
Human-centred commerce 

Through digitising their physical stores and, in turn, their operations, retailers can take significant steps towards revitalising employee engagement. IoT technology plays a pivotal role in this, helping create a human-centred physical store with thousands of connected devices, such as Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs), stock monitoring cameras and sensors and smart displays, that are linked to the digital realm. 

For employees, this technology provides a host of previously unattainable information about products, which can be used to their benefit. Real-time shelf monitoring enables ultra-precise location tracking, inventory level alerts and updates on promotions, arming employees with knowledge that they can use to streamline their activities and deliver personalised and informed assistance to shoppers. This interactive environment fosters a sense of empowerment among employees, boosting their engagement and job satisfaction. 
Moreover, IoT technology facilitates seamless communication between employees, management, and suppliers, enabling the entire supply chain to collaborate more efficiently, with greater transparency, safety, and sustainability. This will ultimately minimise delays in stock replenishment, saving employees from daily frustration. By streamlining internal and external communication, retailers can enhance teamwork and create a positive, stress-free work environment that encourages employee retention, whilst also benefitting their bottom line. 
Automation for more rewarding activities 

 An integral part of why digital transformation has the potential to solve the engagement crisis lies in in automation. The digital shelf system, with connected networks of ESLs and sensors, is truly the backbone of store digitisation, enabling the automation of monotonous, menial tasks that classically took employees a significant portion of their working shift to complete. 

In digitised stores, ESLs with accurate, automated pricing updates have rendered the time-consuming process of changing paper tickets obsolete. Employees at Kavanagh’s Belsize Park in London, the UK’s first fully IoT-powered VUSION 360 store, have saved up to two hours per day since the introduction of digital pricing displays, time which can be redirected towards more rewarding activities such as engaging with customers. 

With retail employees freed from the mundane tasks of old, their roles become more interesting, with the chance to focus on building genuine connections with shoppers, understanding their preferences, and providing exceptional service. Furthermore, a digitised store enables employees to upskill and develop, taking on higher-value roles that further their careers. By being supported to perform more fulfilling activities, employees will feel more valued within the business, increasing morale amongst the workforce and helping bosses with retention. 

Of course, a more engaged employee has additional benefits for business owners as well, with the enhanced in-store experiences being provided to shoppers helping to drive stronger customer loyalty and repeat business. 

Safeguarding jobs and creating new opportunities 

 Recently, there has been plenty of noise around technology and automation replacing jobs in white-collar industries. The reality for the retail industry is that digital transformation if implemented effectively, has the potential to safeguard existing jobs whilst creating new opportunities. Data analytics-driven optimisation of processes, deployed in tandem with in-store digital advertising, helps retailers improve their profitability while future-proofing their businesses. With the financial position of their employers secured, workers benefit from greater job security in the face of economic challenges. 

The proliferation of retail IoT technology also opens the door to a more sustainable, decentralised retail model, where physical stores become local fulfilment centres for online orders. It’s estimated that IoT-powered ‘phygital’ stores could one day fulfil over 50% of total online retail sales, enabling home delivery from around the corner in under an hour. Made possible by efficient picking, monitoring, and replenishment processes, this ‘local ecommerce’ model will curb the need for huge warehouses in centralised locations, instead creating new jobs in local communities with staff needed for localised packaging, shipping, and last-mile delivery.  

Through investment in digital transformation now, retailers can help create a more vibrant and resilient industry, ensuring a rewarding and fulfilling experience for employees. 

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