How Tech and Connectivity Can Transform the Role of Store Associates

The food and grocery retail industry has changed dramatically in recent years, from new competitors through new channels to new consumer preferences, and that’s to say nothing of the impact of COVID.

Big-box grocery retailers are under increasing pressure to deliver an ever-more personalized experience on choice and value while maintaining availability for the many ways a shopper can purchase their products, whether in-store, bought online and picked up in-store, or delivered to home. In order to compete in the new retail battleground, grocers have to accelerate their adoption of technological innovation to improve the customer experience.

Despite the enormous growth of online grocery shopping in the U.S., the brick-and-mortar channel still remains the majority preference for most Americans. Even e-commerce giant has entered the arena, deploying its digitally enabled Amazon GO stores across the United States and beyond. Amazon’s format is pitched at revolutionizing the way technology and data is used in-store, catalyzing the belief that shopping should be as seamless as possible for the consumer. The “Just Walk Out” proposition enables shoppers to visit, pick their products off the shelf, and leave, removing the need to process the products through a cashier or associate at the checkout counter.

However, such innovation doesn’t spell the end of the role of the store associate; rather, it could be the beginning of a transformation from which they can free themselves up to serve and sell. In-store teams have a crucial role to play in executing a retailer’s omnichannel strategy, driving a successful in-store experiences by bringing together the advanced capability of technology and data blended with human creativity and flexibility.

Today’s in-store associates are increasingly tech-savvy, but there are fewer of them than ever before. Therefore, it’s vital that when carrying out their duties, such as maintaining on-shelf availability to keep shoppers happy, they’re equipped with the insight that focuses them on the right items at the right times. As new technology becomes available, it’s imperative that in-store teams have access to, and can leverage, innovations in order to increase their productivity and efficiency.

Leading retailers, such as Walmart, are already offering to equip their teams with free smartphones to help them manage schedules and tasks, but the use cases of mobile and hands-free device technologies is limitless. We see retailers leveraging this technology to receive real-time updates on shopper dynamics, store priorities, product availability, applying dynamic discounts to expiring food products, as well as executing promotional activities. Essentially, these new capabilities will ensure that the shopper experience becomes even more seamless while improving the store associate experience, showing them how their activities are adding real value to the business.

The store associate plays a vital role in the ongoing transformation of food and grocery retail, and if coupled with the right technology and training, could be the difference between winning and losing on an increasingly competitive battleground.

Paul Boyle is the CEO at Retail Insight, a store-focused retail analytics solutions provider.

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