The anatomy of the retail industry is similar to the human body; in retail, employees are the backbone and technology is becoming the beating heart.
And, like in the human body, all the retail parts have to work together to stay alive. Amazingly, the human part of the retail equation – employees - is the hardest part to manage.
If you ask any retailer what the most important part of his business is, he is likely to answer “my employees.” This is because employees are like the supportive spine for the central nervous system of IT and people in a retail organization. They work with technology in back-end processes and with people (and technology) in customer-facing service operations such as the store floor.
When retailers consider technology projects, the people element is a critical consideration. There are three things that are critical 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, so adaptability - to be able to meet the needs of each set of employees - is key to success.
In particular, Generation Z poses important new issues. In 2019, 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).
Consider social media usage such as Instagram and Pinterest – use of these platforms commenced with Generation Z and has migrated to older generations.
In general, however, people don’t 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 revolutionize 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 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 minimize stock-outs and maximize sales.
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 organization will be the key to addressing these needs for customers. Luckily, Gen Z and millennials are pretty tech-savvy, making retailers’ efforts to marry people with processes and technology easier going forward.
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A version of this article previously appeared in The Retailer.