What’s next for the retail workplace

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The post-pandemic retail experience promises to be more dynamic and engaging for consumers, while combining the efficiency, flexibility and personalization of online shopping with the sense of discovery offered by a physical store.

At the recent Fairchild Media Group Technology Forum, Rob Garf, Vice President and General Manager, Retail at Salesforce, discussed this trend with Adrianna Lee, Technology Journalist at WWD. The session, titled ‘The New Work Environment in Retail’, also covered consumer preferences born out of the pandemic that will likely remain a permanent part of the shopping experience, as well as how merchants have reacted after the COVID-19 outbreak forced them to shut down temporarily. stores.

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“Almost overnight, non-essential retailers closed their doors and everything went digital very quickly,” Garf said. “From a consumer perspective, during 2020 we saw a 57% increase in [online shopping] and this was spurred on by new net digital shoppers. We also saw a 40% increase in digital shoppers around the world, but that didn’t mean the store had become useless. “

Garf said merchants with physical stores need to reinvent the store and also “reimagine the role of the store associate.” This meant moving from a role of ‘scan and bag’ to become experts in picking and packing as the demand for curbside pickup and online shopping, in-store pickup soared. arrow.

“They also became social media managers because they were asked to contact their social networks to represent their [company’s] brand, ”he said. “They have also become virtual service agents and stylists, and brand ambassadors while replicating the in-store vibe.”

Asked about changes at the store and district manager level, Garf said the pandemic has upended traditional management functions, but retailers are looking for ways to continue to collaborate with various technologies. “A lot of their responsibility is spent in the cars and in each individual store, and I think that’s not going to stop,” he said. “You always have to walk down the aisle – especially what’s going on in the field with associates and consumers. There’s no better way to really get the hang of what’s going on in retail than to spend time in the store.

When it comes to using technology to connect and collaborate, Garf said he believes “a lot can be accomplished asynchronously and virtually. We see a lot of retailers talking about the next generation of collaboration and communication. And you will see it at the store, district and regional manager level, but also among the store associates. There is an opportunity to create a community within the associate base that does not need to be limited by where they are physically located.

For consumers, Garf said the shift towards adoption of online shopping isn’t going to go away. And as more people get vaccinated and return to stores, he sees shoppers prioritizing and valuing health, safety, convenience and trust. And knowledgeable salespeople who can deliver personalized shopping experiences, in-store or virtually, “aren’t going to go away,” Garf added.

“Consumers also want to come back and relive life, and a big part of that is the experience of the store and its physical nature that cannot be replicated in the digital world,” Garf said, adding that showrooming will likely become more widespread in the market with less inventory in stores.

“Retailers have the tools to allow them to see where inventory is across the network and are able to have the execution efficiency to get it in a day or two,” said Garf, also noting that the showroom model is not a “one size fits all.” adapts to all ”. Some retailers and brands, for example, will be better offered with pop-up stores.

Either way, Garf said retailers need to “think about the idea of ​​pushing your brand to where the consumers are. And in many cases, it’s outside the fixed beneficial ownership of the retailer. Why not go where the consumers are, especially as they return to travel, dining and entertainment? “

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