NRF 2021: Adapting Retail Workforces to New Hybrid Experiences

NRF 2021: Adapting Retail Workforces to New Hybrid Experiences featured image

Adaptation has been a key theme across NRF 2021, the largest conference for retailers in North America. The show’s virtual nature highlights the changes that retailers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and underscores the new processes and skills that retail employees have been required to master. Moving to digital still requires humans on the back end and often in the stores.

Verizon and SuitSupply, joined an NRF panel to discuss how the pandemic has impacted their businesses. Both have needed to close stores completely at times, and at other times go to a hybrid model of digital and store.

For Verizon, that has meant 1.4 million appointments and 90 percent of transactions moving to touchless, things that were not on the 2020 roadmap. SuitSupply had long prided itself on its in-store service and style advice but now has adopted a new process of assembling a fitting room digitally with the guidance of an online stylist. Employees then prepare before the customer arrives.

Are these changes permanent? Maybe not at the scale at which they exist now, but it has become pretty clear that many consumers prefer digital and hybrid experiences. Appointments, contactless transactions, online stylists, and prepared fitting rooms are certain to carry over even after the era of social distancing is gone.

Training and Re-Skilling Retail Workers

“Train, train, train,” said Fokke De Jong, SuitSupply CEO, and founder. “We are rebooting the company and spending all our efforts to train staff. We are also training them to become trainers as part of a scale-up model if we see momentum coming back.”

He explains that the high demand for appointments was the most unexpected development last year. People want to prepare for their store visits. Now they are leveraging the whole journey, starting with a digital style advisor and preparing the fitting room.

“There’s a whole conversation thread before they even go into the store,” said De Jong. “We never imagined people would go to such lengths.”

Verizon’s experiences have been similar. The company hadn’t used appointments back since the early smartphone era, when people needed help to adjust to their first touchscreen device. Appointments have returned since the start of the pandemic.

“People love to plan for a shopping visit,” said Krista Bourne, Verizon SVP of  Sales and Operations. “For tech support and for customer service—that tells me customers want to be in control of the time they spend, and their expectations are that they are going to be with a level of readiness…appointments are going to be there for a long while.”

NRF 2021: Hybrid Experiences for Customers—and Employees

SuitSupply and Verizon’s examples show that consumers are adapting to a more hybrid experience in retail, and it seems that elements of that will stick around even after social distancing guidelines are gone. People have discovered the convenience of appointments and preparing for a trip to the store by first exploring and putting together a shopping list online, which is likely to be something that doesn’t go away.

With that hybrid experience as the expectation, a new set of skills is required for retail workers. Digital literacy, combined with the traditional in-person touch, will be necessary for businesses to meet the new consumer standard.

That’s where HCM technology like SAP SuccessFactors can help retailers adapt with Recruiting, Talent Management, and Learning modules that can help identify candidates with the right skills and train the people you already have.

For example, Rizing offers a free configuration guide for SAP SuccessFactors Candidate Relationship Management that allows companies to survey current and furloughed staff’s skillsets. This then can enable the creation of talent pools, where staff can be reassigned to roles that fit those previously untapped skills.

Training content matters, too, and creating that can be a challenge. SAP SuccessFactors partners with companies like Skillsoft to provide premade content on a wide variety of topics. We at Rizing have used the Skillsoft library to great success.

Retail will return to some level of normalcy, but with a few digital-focused differences. To meet the challenges of a new hybrid experience, retail staff will need the right set of skills—and HCM technology can help that happen.

For more from NRF 2021, check out our LinkedIn Live recap of “Retail’s Big Show”: