January 18, 2019

Top takeaways from Retail's Big Show 2019

Retailers at this year’s event were buzzing about how to better use technology to elevate the employee experience, and new drivers impacting their people and business strategies. Read on for our key takeaways.

While retailers were primed to discuss how to take the customer experience to the next level at NRF’s Retail’s Big Show 2019 in New York this week, the conversations also put a bigger spotlight on employee experience.

In particular, retailers are recognizing how technology can both simplify and elevate the employee experience, which in turn leads to a great and differentiated customer experience. Why? It’s simple – happy and engaged employees mean happy and loyal customers.

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We also heard that retailers are increasingly looking to data to drive both their people and business strategy decisions. They recognize that a holistic approach to managing their workforces creates more value and leads to greater success.

Here are some key learnings and employer priorities we heard on the ground at NRF this year.

Employers will prioritize improving the employee experience using smart technologies

Ashley Stewart CEO James Rhee is quoted in this NRF wrap story discussing the value of time for retailers: “Assets don't have the same value they used to. Your inventory is not an asset, it is a liability. Traditional accounting doesn't gauge time as a factor. Your chief asset is time. I gauge everything on time and cash.”

Time is a critical driver for retailers, in that the more time they save, the better they can spend it on gathering deeper insights to help their businesses, and managing their people. That’s why an ongoing conversation thread at NRF was about how retailers are improving their approach to data and technology, to put a laser focus on reducing effort and making processes more efficient.

This conversation is applicable to both the retail customer experience, and the employee experience. In recent years, retailers have matured when it comes to technology – they’re less focused on “big shiny objects” and being awed by AI (remember virtual reality change rooms?), and more focused on using technology to make smarter decisions.

This means implementing predictive technologies that make it faster and easier for people to do their jobs, and automating processes so that managers and employees can spend their time on retail’s differentiating factor – customer experience.

Related: How retailers can modernize the employee experience

Building a mission-driven organization is a top-down responsibility

Many organizations talk about being mission-driven, but being mission-driven has to be more than lip service.

Execs from Salesforce, TOMS, and Unilever discussed how they bring their mission, vision, and values to life in their organizations, and ensure their employees believe in their brand. Key points they shared:

  • It’s one thing to have a vision, but another to be authentic and unique in that vision. It’s important for new and emerging retailers in particular to truly define their vision to be differentiated in a competitive and rapidly changing market.
  • A mission-driven organization is one that is attractive to top talent.
  • Increasing adoption of a company’s mission and values has to come from the top down – and leaders must walk the talk. Brand success comes from a workforce where people truly believe in what they do.

Building on the last point, the execs shared how they have continued to bring employees on board and keep them engaged in their company mission. For example, TOMS leaders attend trips to rural countries delivering shoes (a core part of the TOMS mission), which are also extended to employees. Employees living this experience first-hand, and seeing their leaders in action, reinforces the company’s commitment to its mission.

Related: Employees are open to or looking for new jobs – here’s why, and how to make them stay

Giving back is becoming an integral part of brand strategy

The idea of citizenship – a commitment to positive social impact – is becoming increasingly important to brands, to the extent that they’re making it a core part of their strategy and identity, according to recent research from Deloitte.

A discussion featuring Warby Parker co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal and Brandless CEO and co-founder Tina Sharkey explored the value of giving back and social justice programs as value drivers and top talent attracters.

From a consumer perspective, companies are pairing innovation with doing good, and this is how they’re winning long-term consumer loyalty. For example, Warby Parker’s business model disrupted and innovated on the traditional eyewear industry model. The company not only makes eyewear accessible and easy to purchase, but it also supports its greater mission to alleviate impaired vision around the world.

Just as consumers are more willing to support brands with a greater purpose, prospective employees are more willing to work for companies that demonstrate social good or support charitable or philanthropic causes, and promote values they believe in.

With files from Zain Barlas, Leah Mendelsohn, and Tigor Mihaljevic

Danielle Ng-See-Quan

Dani is the Senior Manager, Content Marketing at Ceridian.

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