Roundtable: How technology is changing the role of the store associate

As consumers become ever more connected, store assistants need to ensure they have the knowledge, skill-set and desire to offer the best possible experience to shoppers, often by using new technologies.

That is the view of supply chain software provider Manhattan Associates, which has highlighted five strategic focus areas for retailers in 2016. According to OnePoll Research commissioned by Manhattan, 54% of UK shoppers say store associates are either 'very' or 'somewhat important' to a good shopping experience – and based on these findings the company is calling for the industry to redefine the role of store staff.

Craig Sears-Black, UK managing director at Manhattan, said: "In order to succeed in the world of modern retailing, retailers must invest in technologies to empower the store associate."

"It is clear consumers still value the human interaction of a smiley store assistant," he added.

Manhattan's research suggests that store associates often do not have the knowledge and tools to provide the required great customer service, with 71% of shoppers assuming they know more about retailers' products and services than the respective store associates. In addition to providing good customer service, it is argued that staff require access to stock levels across their network, which can help them offer a full set of delivery alternatives, such as next-day, in-store collection or online ordering.

"By leveraging the technologies available, retailers can provide store associates with information that spans the entire store network in order to provide the best possible experience," noted Sears-Black.

"Whether that be advising if they have the customers size in stock, or advising they have one in another local store that can be shipped straight to their preferred address; all of which can be done via an iPad at the customer's side."

The last few years have seen high street retailers such as Monsoon-Accessorize, Dixons Carphone and Virgin Media, to name a select few, introduce mobile point of sale into their retail operations. Companies such as Apple and Burberry are often held up as successful example users of this type of technology, but others are imitating them and tailoring these processes to suit their own customer demographics.

Manhattan predicts that many more retailers will begin emulating the experiences of retailers like Apple by changing their structure so the store assistant plays a fundamental part in the buying process from start to finish. Such processes, it says, mean a customer typically leaves the store with everything they wanted and a positive attitude towards the business in question.

"In addition to this, store associates can go one step further and leverage online and offline data to gain in-depth information about a customer's order history and loyalty status which in turn empowers them to make decisions that will reflect both customer value and profit opportunity," added Sears-Black.

According to Manhattan, redefining the role of the store associate sits alongside four other key strategic plans for retailers in 2016. The others are: making the shopping experience personal and frictionless; recognising the power of a new generation of shoppers; embracing mobile to achieve customer-centric retailing success; and delivering faster and being more flexible with returns.

With retail at such a transformative point, particularly in how store estates are being utilised, Essential Retail has teamed up with Manhattan to host a roundtable on the subject of the changing role of the store associate, and how technology is fuelling a new era of retailing.

Hosted by this publication's editor, Ben Sillitoe, the event is scheduled to run from 11am to 1pm on 9 March at London's Olympia, as part of Europe's largest retail solutions conference and exhibition, RBTE. Confirmed attendees for the roundtable include Kash Ghedia, head of technologies at Dixons Carphone; Dave Abbott, retail omnichannel manager at Dune Group; Claire Glassborow, head of online at Lloydspharmacy; Paul Wilkinson, head of technology at Tesco Labs; and Julie Price, IT director at White Stuff.

The event will assess the way store associate roles are evolving and how technology is playing a growing part in store employees' everyday work. With shoppers now armed with more information than they have ever been, it is deemed crucial that staff can match that expertise, as well as tune themselves into the wider business goals of their employer and ensure they are up to speed with the latest systems and solutions.

Key subjects to be covered include the store's role as the 'glue' between off- and online retail, how in-store technology can improve the customer experience and how retailers can get the most out of their real estate and empower their employees for modern retailing.

Sears-Black commented: "It is time for retailers to redefine the role of stores, embrace technological innovation that drives both service enhancements and operating margins, and engineer a cultural shift that will enable staff to reinforce brand value and deliver the experience the consumer so clearly demands."

A limited number of places are still available for retailers who would like to participate in the roundtable. If you are interested in taking part, please contact for more details.

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Manhattan Associates

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