New Associate Training Category mACP Advances How Retailers Educate, Inform and Evaluate In-store Employees
The Internet changed how people shop. Mobile changed how shoppers interact with retailers. Now a nimble and sophisticated new mobile associate communication platform mACP is changing how retailers educate, inform and evaluate their most powerful and expensive asset: Their in-store associates.
Advances that shaped the new mACP category at last fill the gaping void in how Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning and Development (L&D) departments prepare associates for today’s fast- paced, digitally-influenced in-store selling environment. These advances ultimately deliver the last-mile solution to educating, informing, evaluating and empowering customer-facing employees, allowing them to create the personalized retail engagement and experiences that only the physical store can provide.
Hint: It’s not a stagnant, old- fashioned, back-room, HR-owned retail training solution (though
it does tie data to traditional HR platforms).
Think Flintstones meet the Jetsons: A sophisticated, highly branded, private broadcast network with instant-on, non-streaming video; a self-publishing interface; granular targeting; real-time metrics; field accessibility; instant, internal global broadcasting from an iPad or desktop; and a simple dashboard interface, all and more from a well- established service training expert and Apple Business Solution Provider.
E-commerce sales continue to boom but 85% consumers still prefer shopping in stores1. Only those retailers who invest in effective associate training and evaluation strategies, and in providing up-to-the minute, on-floor communications can keep their employees one step ahead of today’s demanding, tech savvy consumers. Keenly knowledgeable associates help incite the benefits that only in-store shopping can provide: With ongoing and motivating sales and brand training, they create the enjoyable, effective in-store experiences that instill loyalty and lure consumers back to the physical store again and again.
Many retailers have yet to move beyond outdated back-room LMS methods and HR- owned associate education, even though the VP of Stores now answers to associate performance, and the multi-function iPad permeating the sales floor can fortify associate impact – a benefit that also broadens tablet ROI
Most brick-and-mortar retailers (B&M) recognize this truth and its challenges. But many aren’t spending the resources necessary to empower customer- facing associates to best leverage the physical store’s unique benefits and thus generate stellar consumer experiences. For example, many retailers have yet to move beyond outdated back-room LMS methods and HR-owned associate education, even though the VP of Stores now answers to associate performance, and the multi-function iPad permeating the sales floor can fortify associate impact – a benefit that also broadens tablet ROI.
This white paper introduces the mACP category of communications software and the needs it fulfills, and explains how B&M retailers can thrive in the increasingly competitive in-store universe even
Stores and Associates Remain a Critical Revenue Driver
First let’s lookmorecloselyattheenduringvalueofthe physical store. Despite the hype around e-commerce and online shopping, “85% of consumers prefer to shop at physical stores versus online,” according to a May 2015 press release1 announcing results of a study from TimeTrade of Tewksbury, MA. The company surveyed more than 1,000 consumers about their perceptions and habits around retail shopping. Results suggested that shopping trends favor the B&M model, and that customers value the personal experience of the physical store. More specifically, “we found that shoppers have done their shopping or discovery online, then go into the store to get help with their final purchase decision,” the press release stated.
The TimeTrade announcement further indicated that once a cross-channel strategy converts an initial inquiry into a high-value, in-store experience, retailers must give customers prompt service with a knowledgeable store associate. In-store expertise drives purchase volume, the study found: 90% of consumers are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable associate.
APriceWaterhouseCoopers report, titled: Total Retail 2015: Retailers and the Age of Disruption2, stressed that consumers want their shopping needs met in a way that maximizes pleasure (among other factors). The report stated that the physical store remains the retail touch point with the highest frequency. “As online shopping continues to grow at the expense of store visits, the premium in the future will be on creating unique, brand-defining experiences that keep customers coming back.”
In-store expertise drives purchase volume, a study by TimeTrade study found: 90% of
consumers are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable associate.
From in-store design studios and personal shopping assistants, “retailers are offering a comprehensive experience, evolving into something sleeker, more customized and increasingly attuned to shoppers’ expectations of what the in-store experience should be,” said Steve Barr, leader of PwC’s U.S. Retail & Consumer Practice, in the report.
While online shopping provides 24-hour shopping convenience, consumers still want to see and handle products, interact with a knowledgeable associate to discuss their personal needs, and get the instant gratification of walking away with their purchases. In fact, according to an article posted June 2015 by Retail Touchpoints3, consumers favor in-store shopping “because they like to touch and feel products before they make a purchase decision.” Another 36% of respondents to a survey cited by the article said they don’t like waiting for items to ship, and 30% like to receive advice on what products they should purchase. “Consumers also value face-to-face interactions with store associates,” underscoring that most consumers are more likely to buy when helped by a knowledgeable associate.
“Declining store traffic will remain an issue until retailers give customers a reason to visit for an experience they cannot get via online or mobile,” stated Andrea Weiss, co-founder of The O Alliance4. “Retailers expecting great store results without investing in the store experience are at best hopeful
Retailers must respect their stores as a key link to business success – not just a place to make transactions, added Weiss. “Place customer needs, wants, activities and preferences at the center of commerce creation. Invest in data analytics and a customer-centric experiential store environment, and utilize technologies that remove customer friction, maximize inventory and enhance sales associate productivity to bring the retail brand to life.”
“Declining store traffic will remain an issue until retailers give customers a reason to visit for an experience they cannot get via online or mobile. Retailers expecting great store results without investing in the store experience are at best hopeful thinkers.”
– Andrea Weiss, The O Alliance
In a recent story in WWD5, Shelley Kohan, VP of retail consulting for RetailNext, a provider of in-store analytics, stated that retailers are working hard to make “noticeable changes in the store environment, such as enabling technologies and having more knowledgeable sales associates. Those changes take into account the growing importance of the online channel, while recognizing the need to adjust the shopping experience in the physical channel.”
Retailers With “Web-lash” Will Refocus on Brick-and-Mortar Brick-and-mortar still dominates the retail scene, even in face of digital influence, “because the Web model doesn’t work as advertised,” stated Gary Ambrosino, president and CEO of TimeTrade, in a January1, 2016 article in WWD15. “Online shopping can leave buyers unsatisfied for several reasons. Physical interaction with products is impossible, pages can be difficult to navigate, there is no instant gratification, and there is a distinct lack of knowledgeable assistance available. In the coming years, we will start to see e-commerce providers succumb to these hurdles and brands will de-emphasize their Web presence and put more of a focus on brick-and-mortar locations. The retail space will begin to feel a ‘Web-lash,’ or a backlash on online shopping and an increased focus on the store.”
In response, brick-and-mortar retailers must first ensure that associates are well-trained and prepared to offer personalized service and counsel to shoppers, according to Ambrosino. “Informed and engaged employees are far better equipped to deliver the customized ‘VIP’ level service that shoppers especially those of the Millennial generation crave.”
Online shopping, despite the hype, “has failed to deliver in one critical area: experience,” he asserted. “No matter the ‘cool factor’ of online technology, consumers say that there is no substitute for knowledgeable assistance and a positive shopping experience.” Therefore, in the coming years, the shortcoming of online shopping “will result in retailers reducing focus on their e-commerce presence and refocusing attention on the brick-andmortar shopping experience.”
Traditional stores still can appeal to modern shoppers by updating their B&M models rather than trying to chase Amazon online, revealed a Forbes report, titled: Here’s What The Store Of The Future Will Look Like6. “The key to finding the edge isn’t copying what Amazon does,” said Lee Peterson of WD Partners, in the article. “It’s doing what Amazon can’t.”
WD Partners surveyed 1,700 consumers across the demographic spectrum, screening respondents on their desires and behaviors both online and in- store. According to Forbes, the survey found that shoppers still value immediacy, and that the sensory perceptions of a store (touch and feel) also are very appealing.
Store employees were ranked as a tremendous in- store asset: Devoted associates on the sales floor create margin whatever the business model. Peterson believes more stores will offer more training among other benefits to improve the sort of personal service currently missing at many retailers.
Today it is imperative that brands combine their updated B&M models with their digital worlds. As the digital influence grows, an estimated 64% of sales in 2015 will be influenced by a digital channel, according to a blog posted by L2 Inc.7 “This doesn’t mean brands can rely on digital to attract consumers and treat stores at bare bones stock rooms,” the blog revealed. “In fact, 72% of shoppers consider the in- store experience the most influential factor in their purchase decision.”
Indeed, today’s all-channel consumers are clicking off and traveling to the store for highly personalized experiences and face-to-face engagement with well- informed associates – an advantage only the store can provide.
The Market Void
It’s safe to say that today’s B&M retailers can combat the online threat and surpass their peers by serving the demanding, tech-savvy consumer with a treasury of digitally-enabled associates that continually learn and evolve their brand knowledge and selling skills.
But that’s where traditional LMS and L&D strategies fall short: Designed for the corporate office, these approaches to teaching, creating and supporting the high-touch type of in-store associate now required – and to evaluating how well associates are performing
Ð are sorely inadequate.
HR departments use LMS/L&D primarily to introduce new employees to corporate rules and regulations, and may again communicate defensive, compliance-driven information in another month at best. In addition, their back-room training programs require employees to leave the on-floor work environment, wasting costly payroll dollars. While these HR functions are important, they do nothing to drive KPIs. Where are the ongoing, day-to-day updates and offensive skill-building and brand strategies required in today’s fast-paced world of in- store retail?
Retail associates must keep on training and honing their skills with engaging, on-floor, immersive content, and constantly be kept abreast of competitive factors; product introductions; new up-selling and cross-sell opportunities; problem- solving techniques; professional and management development; the latest corporate announcements; and other communications. Instantly an employee’s receipt of these communications must be verifiable, and their achievements as well as areas for improvement identified, based on real-time metrics
Time for Reinvention
The void between traditional back-room LMS/ L&D methods and the KPI-driven training and communications tools now required in retail has never been felt so strongly.
A March 2015 survey report from Bersin by Deloitte, a part of Deloitte Consulting LLP, titled “Reimaging L&D Capabilities to Drive Continuous Learning” asserted that transformations in work, technology and access to information mean that L&D departments “need to reinvent themselves.” Changes in the way workers learn and how work is done “have rendered many traditional learning methods, and with them many L&D capabilities, outdated and clunky,” the report claimed.
Bersin found that “66% of L&D professionals said they are having trouble getting employees to engage with L&D offerings.” L&D professionals do not lack talent as instructional designers, but do need to “think about the overall business challenges that their organizations are trying to address.”
Changes in the way workers learn and how work is done “have rendered many traditional learning methods, and with them many L&D capabilities, outdated and clunky.”
– Bersin by Deloitte
The Bersin report also stated that:
• Many L&D departments have failed to keep up with trends and developments.
• The majority of L&D work continues to focus on delivering discrete courses, not continuous learning.
• Because business is moving at speeds never before seen, organizations need to consistently upgrade their workers’ skills – not yearly or month but continuously.
• Continuous learning must be enabled in order to be sure workers have the skills and ability to move the business forward.
• L&D departments dedicated to delivering continuous learning will likely find that time, money and human resources may need to be reallocated.
• 6 out of 10 executives surveyed described their companies as “weak” at using modern tools such as mobile, and advanced media such as video and simulations.
• L&D functions must align with the business in order to help it deliver the business strategy to understand what the needs are and incorporate learning into a culture that addresses those needs.
In keeping with the Bersin report’s title (“Reimaging L&D Capabilities to Drive Continuous Learning”), the research found that it’s time for L&D processes, systems, technologies and tools to change.
Staggering onto the stage since the Bersin report was released (2013) have been several dynamic best-in- class training solutions. However, their providers insist that retailers need not measure workers individually, because results will be seen in across- the-board metrics. But how can retailers be proactive in assuring each associate is growing if they don’t even know if their expensive training programs impacted each employee successfully, or even was accessed? And though several LMS and L&D initiatives have embraced video learning, it’s still delivered in a costly back-room model.
Game-changing, On-Floor Video Engagement
On-demand mobile video learning and other communications delivered to associates on the sales floor, in between customer time, has changed the game in retail associate education and evaluation.
“Digitally savvy consumers are entering stores already well-informed, knowing about features, prices, and even other customers’ experiences,” reported an October 2015 article in Women’s Wear Daily (WWD)9. They are “looking for an associate that knows more than they do and for a 360-degree brand experience.”
Mobile-equipped associates accessing up-to-the minute video-based knowledge can create these remarkable 360-degree in-store experiences that consumers now demand. In support, digital tools such as the iPad, already used in many stores for mPOS, inventory lookup and other applications, can deliver continuous non-streaming, instant-on, app- based video learning and communications – thereby extending iPad ROI.
Video has been known to “enhance the ways in which learners are able to access, absorb, interpret, process and use information” and is “quickly becoming essential for both on-demand and mobile learning because it is flexible, self-governed and self sustained,” stated another Bersin by Deloitte study, titled “Using Video to Impact Learning Initiatives10. “On-demand videos allow learners to consume knowledge that is personalized, highly accessible and rapidly applied to their work effort.” Furthermore, “video learning is here to stay. Make your plans now for how best to leverage this essential learning tool and make it an integral part of your organization’s blended learning offerings.”
The benefits of using video to train have been proven, noted Greg Buzek, founder and president of IHL Consulting, a global research and advisory firm specializing in retail technologies. “In the industry’s next stage of digital training, a video stored locally on a mobile device eliminates the network as a point of failure, which is huge. In addition, the size of the videos that dwell within the mobile device are crucial to best managing the frequency and number of store and chain-wide training updates: By dividing modules into short segments, only those segments affected by a change require modification. Store and corporate-wide procedures can be revised easily and cost-effectively across every device in every store, region and/or country, without the need for expensive video servers.”
App-based training is “interesting stuff!” asserted Katherine Jones, previous VP, HCM Technology Research for Bersin. Jones covered the underlying HCM technologies and services that support the management of a global workforce. “Application- based video learning provides multiple benefits: These include the ability to download the content for consumption offline or away from access, enabling more reliable access to the content; and the ability to push or pull content as needed.”
Meanwhile, “a handful of smart retailers are recalibrating by investing more heavily in their physical assets – particularly by arming their on- floor sales associates with instant-on video training, communications and productivity tools via the tablet,” stated Weiss. “This capability allows associates to create the unique in-store experiences that help drive traffic, increase conversion and comparable store sales, and build customer loyalty.”
Until recently, however, effective video training could not be delivered into the hands an iPad-equipped associate.
The Void Finally Filled: mACP and INCITE®
The business case has been strong for app-based, interactive mobile training and communications technology deployed locally or globally to strengthen the product knowledge, selling and conversion skills of individual sales associates, without taking talent off the selling floor.
Multimedia Plus11 of New York, an Apple Business Solution Provider, fulfilled that need with the patented QuizScore12 app, already in used by dozens of retailers, including:
- Bare Minerals
- Brooks Brothers
- David’s Bridal
- New York & Company
- Kate Spade
- Tiffany & Company
With the recent introduction of INCITE, the next- gen version of the QuizScore app, the industry’s new Mobile Associate Communications Platform category has been established. Both the mACP category and INCITE solution mark a major shift in single iPad users’ training and communications.
INCITE is vigorously optimized for mobile deployment and clearly demonstrates how video training and communications can be executed accurately, intelligently, successfully, individually, interestingly, instantly, measurably and on the sales floor, across retail and other service industries.
INCITE works as a private broadcast network between managers and associates to deliver information and analytics via a dashboard interface. It is delivered on a highly secure, PCI-compliant SaaS-based platform and was developed from retail industry trends and feedback from clients that represent some of the most popular fashion and lifestyle brands worldwide.
The next-gen app also includes a Publisher tool, allowing corporate administrators to publish content including videos, PDFs, JPGs and HTML5 files directly to iPads – then monitor results. Imagine filming the VP of Stores discussing new brand features or competition, and providing it to all stores just minutes later, with full tracking.
Myriad features and benefits of INCITE include:
• A dashboard interface that brings to the forefront the most important and urgent information that associates need to know.
• A Badge reward system that embodies client brands and motivates associates.
• The ability to add new content in minutes and provide access to a highly focused group of users based on title, region, completion rates and more.
• A drag-and-drop interface, creating the first private broadcast network for in-store retailers.
• Powerful tools for self-publishing video, .PDFs, .JPGs, slideshows, etc.
• Single sign-on for direct access to associate data.
• Social media link-out, making associates aware of posts and updates.
INCITE’s training and communications content is automatically and seamlessly distributed to employees based on geographic location and function. A highly branded – not merely a logo in the corner – experiential interface resonates with associates and allows them to engage in relevant training that reflects the company’s unique culture, while driving business goals.
“INCITE is a mobile-first app that takes the brains behind QuizScore and creates a robust solution to empower associates while creating an all- encompassing tool for managers and executives,” said David Harouche, founder, CEO and CTO for Multimedia Plus.
INCITE’s patented, app-based, non-streaming training video modules – instant-on, like a light switch, since the content resides in the app, not the network – brings instant training and communications to the hands of every associate. By definition of its patent, the app-based, instant-on video content cannot be obtained from any other retail service industry vendor.
INCITE’s real-time metrics are so targeted to the district, store, employee and question levels that some high-profile retailers are using these metrics to change their compensation models.
Smooth, high-quality video and large multimedia files are available on iPads even in stores with low bandwidth: This is a key benefit, since even retailers with a higher bandwidth often reserve it for mission- critical activities such as credit card transactions. In addition, upgrading bandwidth, especially in a decentralized company, significantly increases operating costs.
As employees equipped with INCITE undertake brief quizzes on the short training modules they’ve completed on the sales floor, in between customer time, hierarchical real-time reporting – down to the specific question – provides field managers with leading indicators to drive performance, impact KPIs, reward successes and identify improvement areas. In fact, INCITE’s real-time metrics are so targeted to the district, store, employee and question levels that some high-profile retailers are using them to change their compensation models. In addition, real-time data metrics also can indicate if in-store merchandising strategies are effective; if not, they can be switched out then reevaluated instantaneously.
Opportunities for Industry-Wide Training and Workforce Development
“The retail workforce is projected to be the second fastest growing occupation over the next ten years,” stated Harouche. Perhaps that why the National Retail Federation will leverage its recent grant of
$800,000 from the Walmart Foundation to bring together retailers from across the industry to identify core competencies crucial to the success of front- line associates and determine how the industry can move forward to continue developing its workforce. According to the grant announcement14, work also will include the development of forward-thinking training programs to address how the industry and its workforce needs are changing and evaluate effective ways of training employees “at scale.”
Evaluating and boosting the core competencies crucial to the success of front-line associates; moving retailers forward to continually develop their in- store workforce; and training a mobile workforce at scale are the very proficiencies highlighted by the new mACP category of employee communications.
For more information about jumping into mACP and advancing how you educate, inform and evaluate your most expensive and powerful asset – your in- store employees – please contact Multimedia Plus at email@example.com.