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The Digitally Aware Retail Workforce of Today and Tomorrow

A few decades ago there was a TV commercial for Oldsmobile cars. Describing the newest models, it proudly said, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” The idea was to create an image of cars that were no longer stodgy. They were modern and advanced. They were no longer “behind the times.” The advertising campaign was not good for Oldsmobile. But the idea behind it was very good. It predicted today’s technology boom. Today’s digitization dominates every aspect of our world. This is no longer your father’s world.

According to a 2014 Bain and Company study on the accelerating impact of technology, “The biggest change is yet to come. The next several years will bring far more innovation to most industries than they have seen in the past.” And they identified the retail industry as having the highest projected digital transformation from now through 2020.

Digital technology offers many benefits to the economy, to business, and to consumers. But it also presents new challenges. One area where these challenges are most difficult is for today’s retail workforce. These are the people who have to meet the new and changing needs of customers. With technology that is always new and evolving, we also find increasing complexity.

One of today’s most important goals is to overcome the complexity of advancing technology. Business ownership, management, and the workforce have to keep up with the complexity of ever-changing technology. Moreover, as the technology changes, so does the workforce that uses that technology.

Complexity as a Barrier

For the retail workforce, complexity is the next barrier to overcome. Digital technology has brought with it an increasing complexity. This complexity stands in the way of smooth operation and accomplishment of goals. The workforce must continually learn new systems and procedures that are supposed to make the work easier. Instead, the work becomes clouded with new and challenging learning tasks. People end up working harder but accomplishing less. The answer to this problem is systems that simplify these processes instead of making them more difficult.

Changing Customer Expectations and Employee Roles

Because of the Internet and advancing digitization, consumers expect much more from businesses than they used to. Today, a customer can make a purchase online and have the product shipped to a local store for pick-up. And this new business model continues to be on the rise.

This changes the role of the store’s employee from salesperson to POS clerk. Sales staff must adapt to these new expectations. As a result, the image of the workforce is changing. Now they need to be constantly educated about the use of new workforce tools as well as new workforce roles.

Today’s customers expect a smooth, seamless relationship. They want technology to assist them. But they want it to be invisible in the background. The workforce needs education around how they are a part of this new kind of experience. If today’s customer does not find what she wants from you, she will quickly leave to find it somewhere else. Your digital strategy needs to complement this new kind of business interaction.

Changing Character of Workers

The Millennial Generation has arrived in the workforce. They will make up more than half of the workforce by 2020. Millennials are more in tune with advancing technology. They are also a different kind of worker than many companies had in the past. Many Millennials and others have become temporary workers instead of full-time workers. The percentage of contract workers, freelancers, and other “contingent labor” is on the rise. This can have the effect of further increasing training expenses as staff members continue to change. According to an SAP-sponsored study by Oxford Economics, 82 percent of all retailers are now using contingent labor. This represents a changing of the guard that the retail industry has never before seen.

Changing Legal Requirements

Your digital strategy must also meet the needs of changing laws. Local, as well as regional and federal laws, are always changing. This makes working within the law harder to maintain. This increases the barrier of complexity. Failing to comply can be expensive. And the biggest price can be in reputation. Negative exposure in the media can send fickle consumers to your competitors.  Keep in mind, today your competitors can be found very quickly.

Executives in this industry today realize how much the world of retail has changed. As we said, “this is no longer your father’s Oldsmobile.” A 2013 study by Capgemini Consulting and the MIT Sloan Management Review concluded, “Companies now face a digital imperative: adopt new technologies effectively or face competitive obsolescence.”

Technology is re-writing the rules of retail, and it is up to us to keep ahead of the curve. SAP’s leading technology can manage your business’ growth in this time of significant and rapid changes.

To learn more about Digital Transformation for Retail, view Retail. Reimagined for the new economy.

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