Employees advanced by tech

Employees are the backbone of the retail industry – and technology is becoming the beating heart; like in the human body, all the parts have to work together to stay alive. Amazingly, the people component is the hardest part to manage.

What is one of the most important assets to your organisation? If you ask any retailer the answer would be their employees. This is because employees form the backbone of any retail organisation – from the IT department to the store floor. They are working with technology in back-end processes and working with people (and technology) in customer-facing service operations.

So, while employees are the backbone of the retail industry, technology is becoming the beating heart. And, like in the human body, all the parts have to work together to stay alive.

When retailers consider technology projects, the people element is a critical consideration. There are three things that are crucial with regards to retailers getting value out of their investments:

  • Technology (does it work?)
  • Process (is it appropriate?)
  • People (can they work the new process and technology?)

The people component in this equation is always the hardest thing to manage. Retailers work with people of various age groups, including millennials and Generation Z (more on this later), so adaptability – to be able to meet the needs of each set of employees – is key to success.

Generally, people rarely like change making it a challenge to roll out new technology and processes. Yet, technology is the most important asset to help employees enhance and revolutionise the retail operation and the customer experience. So, training and change management are absolutely critical in order to have a successful technology outcome.

Some employees might also be afraid that technology will take over their jobs – but it is more likely that it will result in their jobs changing, not disappearing. Technology in the form of machines and Artificial Intelligence (AI) may assist in making staff more effective and productive.

For example, there might be solutions in stores that help the store associate to advise the customer on the product that best suits their needs. AI-enhanced supply chain decision-making can work to advise supply chain planners if there are issues with stock – and can redirect inventory to minimise stock-outs and maximise sales. These are just some of the ways in which employees and technology can work hand in hand to develop successful outcomes for retailers.

This year, Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2009) will become the largest demographic group on the planet. As such, it will become an immensely important part of any retailer’s planning – internally (employees) and externally (customers).

Gen Z will comprise 32% of the global population of 7.7 billion this year, nudging ahead of millennials, who will account for a 31.5%. Generation Z has some very specific expectations when it comes to customer experience and desires. Interestingly enough the behaviours, habits and expectations are manifesting themselves in older generations such as Millennials and Generation X. Generation Z has specific customer expectations which impact retailers. They seek the Four C’s: Control, Consistency, Curation and Convenience.

Consider social media usage such as Instagram and Pinterest – use of these platforms commenced with Generation Z and has migrated to older generations. Gartner noted that ‘Generation Z’s are disproportionately influencing and impacting the world stage as they set the foundation for the future of living.’

Being aware of these changes is a great first step. Adapting them is going to be a challenging journey. Technologies providing visibility and co-ordination across the organisation will be the key to addressing these needs for customers. Leveraging IoT, AI and other emerging technologies will help. For employees, training and change management will become paramount. Luckily Gen Z and millennials are pretty tech-savvy, making retailers’ efforts to marry people with processes and technology easier going forward.

Oliver Guy is Global Industry Director for retail at Software AG, specialising in Digital Transformation and unified commerce technology strategy, Oliver advises retailers across the globe on their technology strategy and decisions. Learn more at www.softwareag.com

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