How Retailers Are Using Technology to Improve the In-Store Experience and Engage Frontline Teams

Digital transformation, consumer demands for convenience, and Gen Z buying power proliferation have created waves of disruption for retail. As automated technology like chatbots and blockchain permeate the industry, the demand for elevated shopping experiences and human interaction are requiring retailers to adapt and experiment with technology that allows them to thrive online and offline. Fast-growing retailers are investing in technologies that directly affect the customer experience; and since 90 percent of sales still happen in-store, omnichannel success depends on retailers’ ability to deliver more human experiences, not fewer.

Keeping up with complicated consumer expectations has proven increasingly difficult for many brick-and-mortar retailers. This year in the U.S., e-commerce spend is expected to reach $666 billion, while 84 percent of all e-commerce buyers will complete transactions on mobile devices. Although the rise of digital may seem to signal a departure from brick-and-mortar, omnichannel trends prove otherwise: Almost 70 percent of U.S. consumers use BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), and 85 percent of those shoppers say they’ve completed additional in-store purchases while picking up an online order.

These “microtrips” — shopping trips lasting less than five minutes — allow retailers to merge online and offline experiences to increase transaction count and retain customers. However, this shift to “click-and-mortar” has come with challenges, particularly when aligning in-store operations with the convenience of mobile and e-commerce. BOPIS practices require precise tracking of inventory, knowledge of the consumer journey at multiple touchpoints, and highly trained employees capable of providing an enjoyable shopping experience and able to sell customers additional products in-store. A recent study by Signifyd revealed 90 percent of consumers want to buy online and pick up in-store, and 83.2 percent of retailers associate at least 20 percent of online revenue to BOPIS. However, almost 40 percent of retailers have doubts about their own BOPIS practices. To create a frictionless shopping experience for consumers between online and offline, retailers are deploying technology to track execution and ensure the in-store experience is as flawless as in digital.

In January, Stein Mart introduced a “smart button” for BOPIS notifications, located near the entrance of test stores. Once a BOPIS shopper enters, he or she can press the button to trigger an overhead page for an employee to take action. An associate then fulfills the customer’s order, seizing a valuable chance to engage the shopper in-person. After rolling out BOPIS to all of its 283 stores last year, 15 percent of Stein Mart’s online orders have been picked up in-store — making the new smart button technology critical to operations and customer experience.

But there’s more to the story than perfecting in-store execution. To truly enhance the shopper experience, retailers are investing in analytics platforms to track the customer journey throughout all touchpoints. Adobe’s “Customer Journey Analytics” platform, unveiled earlier this year, was designed to enable BOPIS management and execution in retail. The platform compiles data across the customer journey into one dashboard, giving brands tools to illustrate shopping patterns, analyze consumer behaviors, and draw insights to evolve their BOPIS strategy. This enables retailers to visualize the paths customers experience before, during and after they enter a store, and is intended to create deeper interactions with customers.

Equipped with technology to ensure in-store execution and to track omnichannel performance, retailers are returning to a key driver for success: properly trained and engaged employees who directly impact the human experience. Disengaged employees cost retailers up to $500 billion annually, and poor retail execution amounts to 25 percent of sales lost each year, forcing brands to search for strategies to improve learning, training, and engagement outcomes for frontline teams. Smart retailers are paying special attention to preferences surfacing from the first digital-native generation to enter the workforce, Gen Z, and their mobile-first learning style.

Intuitive execution management platforms on mobile are helping retailers give operational and program directives to stores, and include training materials available in an app, which employees access anytime, anywhere. Software is serving as a digital guide to help teams navigate SOPs and program launches, like new BOPIS procedures and holiday promo plans. Data flows into executive dashboards in real time to give corporate leaders a window into every store, so they can resolve execution gaps quickly. By placing the power in the hands of their employees, retailers are ensuring seamless execution on key programs that enhance the human experience in-store; reduce employee turnover; and cultivate engaged, well-trained team members who drive results on the frontline.

As BOPIS and omnichannel transformation continue to revolutionize the industry, retailers will need to embrace all brand touchpoints and place a renewed focus on the in-store experience. Category leaders will be defined by strategic investments that place the customer first, safeguard their experience at each interaction, and free up teams to engage with in-store customers with precision at scale.

Heather Larrabee is the Chief Marketing Officer at FORM, the software company that’s reimagining how tomorrow’s workforce works, with a mobile app to distribute work to the frontline, and reporting dashboards to help leaders spot and close execution gaps, and make better decisions, faster.