Spring 2018 Hardlines Strategies


What’s Retail Like in the Age of Automation? Hint: Customer Service is Still a Top Priority

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E-commerce capabilities continue to grow rapidly, and it’s important for independent home improvement retailers to keep up with this growth and see what other businesses are doing. To get a look at how automation might affect the retail hardware industry, as well as retailers as a whole, the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRC) commissioned Cornerstone Capital Group on a study to investigate what steps retailers are taking to automate tasks, and how those steps might affect labor issues in the future. The study, “Retail Automation: Stranded Workers?” was released in May 2017. It examines how technology has already entered the retail space as well as what products might be making further inroads into businesses in the future. Hardware and home improvement retailers mentioned in the study included big-box retailers Lowe’s and Home Depot. The range of retailers also included department stores, food retailers, all-inclusive super centers like Wal-Mart and apparel/jewelry retailers like Gap, Foot Locker and Tiffany & Co. to order dinner from our watches. Online outlets allow the convenience of shopping from your couch, eliminating long lines, drives and bad weather.

While you may not have any plans for automation that could leave your current employees without jobs, it’s a good idea to see what’s happening throughout the industry. Plus, it may give you some ideas of how you can further incorporate technology into your business. What the Study Says First, the good news: According to the IRRC study, in-store experience with employees is the No. 1 feature that may increase the likelihood of a sale. That’s right—even with the advent of more convenient delivery options for products, education and skills are still in demand with consumers, the study shows. That means that providing top-of-the-line customer service independent home improvement retailers are known for continues to be one of the most important things you can do to increase your bottom line and keep your customers coming back.

What makes customers not want to come in to stores? According to the study, it’s crowds, slow lines at checkout and lack of wanted merchandise. However, most of these factors can be solved with good customer service. Knowledgeable, helpful employees can make sure customers have a pleasant and efficient checkout experience, and ensure that shelves are stocked with the

products customers are looking for. In addition, making the most of

point-of-sale technology to ease checkout, and offering services like in-store pickup, can help with many of these issues.

What Are Other Companies Doing?

Even if you’re doing everything right, it’s still important to know what technological advances other businesses have made. Bigger stores everywhere continue to try new high-tech ideas to improve the customer shopping experience, making it faster, easier and even more fun.

34 Spring 2018 • Hardlines Strategies

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