Training Talent for “Storeless” Retail

With Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods, the retail industry continues to reel as it contemplates the future. Most certainly, it now seems that moving forward, more and more retail transactions will take place without stores. This means that training retail talent will also need to be radically rethought and at least some retailers (namely those with a long-term vision) are already looking forward.

Predictions

Last week, Amit Sharma published an article on the future of retail in the Harvard Business Review. Sharma observes: “What’s emerging is what I call the “StoreHouse” — a hybrid model that merges the physical benefits of a real-world store with the convenience of home. To embrace this market shift, retailers will need to experiment with a range of technologies and strategies across marketing, supply chain, and merchandising.”

Sharma also shows how some brands are already doing this. For example, Warby-Parker, a funky discount spectacle store, let’s people virtually try on eyewear at home to expand their market beyond the local. Rent-the-Runway is a retailer that “rents” high-end fashion to people who really just need a dress or suit for a single occasion (e.g., an award ceremony, graduation, or high-stakes job interview).  But that’s not all. As Sharma observes, “In categories like furniture and beauty, retailers are experimenting with other ways to offer sensory experiences. IKEA just launched an AR-powered app that lets consumers visualize virtual furniture placed in their homes. Sephora, a 50-year-old industry veteran, makes it easy for customers to shop from anywhere with its popular Virtual Artist app. With the app, you can try out more than 1,000 cheek colors using uploaded photos, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.”  The take away is clear. To thrive in a storeless retail future, retailers need to do more than have a fast website. They need to start offering an engaging new set of online customer experiences (one’s that do more than one can do in person) using new and emerging augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies.

Sourcing Talent for Retail’s Future

It is quite obvious that moving forward, retail experts will need to be comfortable using a wide range of computer applications and even building and modifying them. The future of retail, in many respects, will have as much to do with engineering as its does with customers service.  This is not to say that people skills won’t matter (they certainly still will matter a great deal) but the future of retail will pivot on finding people who understand customers service and no how to build it into virtual experiences.  The challenge facing retailers is twofold. First, retailers need to start recruiting customer-minded engineers to develop retail virtual experiences that are engaging and responsive.  Second, retailers face the even greater challenge of figuring out what to do with existing staff, including long-term employees, who have always worked face-to-face with customers.  This, of course, will likely mean redirecting resources into programs designed to cross-train existing employees.

Training Today’s Retail Talent for the Transition

As Sharma concludes, “In the last twenty years, the internet has become the front door to every retail store. Now, that entry point is briskly shifting to mobile devices, and even further with voice-activated personal assistants and other connected devices…Retailers that don’t find a way to create a happy marriage between the showroom experience you’d expect in a store and the convenience of personal shopping at home will be left behind.” This no doubt means sourcing talent who can help build and deliver the kinds of AR and VR experiences that will define the future of shopping. It also means training retail staff to feel comfortable with AR and VR. At least some retailers are already taking an important first step. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, recently announced that it will begin using VR glasses to train its staff. A recent article in Business Insider, reported, “Walmart employees across the US will be preparing for the job with virtual reality headsets by the end of the year.”

July 24, 2017   Updated :July 24, 2017      

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