January 19, 2018

NRF 2018 takeaways: Tech, well-being, and the future of retail employment

While much of the discussion at The National Retail Federation’s Retail’s Big Show 2018, held Jan. 14-16, focused on transforming the customer experience, it was clear that many of the best practices for retail CX are applicable for employee experience and corporate culture.

In particular, retailers are putting a greater focus on investing in technology to take their customer experiences to the next level. In parallel, they are increasingly looking at creating better, more robust employee experiences to keep their workforces relevant, empowered and connected.

Retailers must act like tech companies, and empower their workforces with technology

The boundaries of the retail customer experience are expanding – and so, too, must the boundaries for retail employee experience.

As noted by Paige Handza in Retail Touchpoints about winning in retail in 2018, to ensure retailers are providing exceptional customer experience, they are investing in their workforces and digital workspaces because employees are what drives successful customer experience. This includes improving onboarding and training or equipping associates with “intelligent collaborative, social and self-service applications for improving skills and product knowledge.”

Handza adds that “employees expect mobility and connectivity … to gain access to information anytime, anywhere.” Empowering the retail workforce via mobile is a hot topic for 2018, as mobile becomes an increasingly indispensable device for the modern worker.

AI technology was also much-discussed at this year’s NRF, particularly the idea of embedding AI into both the customer and employee experiences, using it to turn data into more actionable insights and automating some tasks so employees can focus on other things. As noted by BizTech, “instead of seeing AI as a threat that eliminates jobs through automation, retailers should embrace technology as a tool that can solve their business problems.”

Employee well-being must be a priority

“A company’s human capital is the most important part of any company. And this applies to all companies, but especially to retail,” said Arianna Huffington in an interview ahead of her NRF session.

Huffington founded the Huffington Post, and is currently founder and CEO of Thrive Global, a startup dedicated to improving wellness and reducing stress. “Company culture, fueled by prioritizing employee well-being, acts as an immune system, building a company’s resilience to deal with change,” she said.

During her session, Huffington emphasized the importance of individuals investing in their own personal wellness, noting that people take better care of their phones than themselves. (“When we see our battery at 13%, we start looking for a charger. We need to look at ourselves the same way.”) She also called for shorter, device-free meetings to boost productivity at work.

Cultural transformation is continuous

Former GE vice chair Beth Comstock spoke about transforming corporate culture through disruption and innovation during her NRF session. Many retail execs said that one of their goals for 2018 is to focus on innovating within their businesses.

“Transformation never ends. You need to get your head around that,” Comstock said, adding that companies should take a “lab approach” to change, being flexible with new ideas and testing them out before scaling them full-force.

Retail jobs are not dead

One thing NRF 2018 attendees agreed on: retail employment isn’t fading away. While the retail industry is undergoing a major transformation, it remains the U.S.’s largest private sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs.

In an interview with CBS News, Ellen Davis, NRF’s senior VP of research and strategic initiatives, provided a positive outlook for the future of retail employment and how the retail workforce is changing. Below are some key points.

On today’s recruiting challenges:

“An industry with so many employees will constantly be challenged: How do we find people? How do we keep them? How do we better educate people on the variety of our jobs? How do we ‘upskill’ them and offer them ways to grow?”

On diversity and growth of retail positions:

“We literally teach Americans how to work, giving them valuable skills in conflict resolution, teamwork, accountability and customer service … Many retailers are seeing tremendous growth in very specialized positions, especially technology.”

Regarding the increased use of technology in stores and the concern of employees losing their jobs:

“People are being hired for other jobs – in customer service, quality control. Employees are often redeployed to meet the technological changes.”

In summary, retailers should be prepared for the future. More than ever, the industry is relying on, as Davis puts it, “a crazy combination of data and creativity,” so employers should ensure their workforces are equipped with both the skills and modern infrastructure to focus on excellent customer experience.


Related: Dayforce HCM continues retail momentum worldwide

Image via NRF

Danielle Ng-See-Quan

Dani is the Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Ceridian.

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