Focus on the Future


The retail workforce is typically young, inherently social and incredibly smart. Optimizing the power of these employees will require retailers to develop social, “gamified” platforms that enable associates to connect with each other, their work, rich information/content and real-time inventory information. The vision: People, inventory and work are all accessible via a social networking platform. Work is performed collaboratively, and with an array of available resources.


Imagine if work and customer interactions could be truly balanced — both served better — via a social platform that enables workers to enroll in work, but also respond dynamically to customers with the support of an extended network of experienced associates supporting them. Work is not mandated, at the expense of the customer, and the employee has access to electronic information and tips from other associates, potentially thousands of miles away, to complete work more effectively and efficiently.


Enabling the Retail Workforce: The reality of a retail store environment challenges some current task management systems to be truly effective. There is only so much work that can be prescheduled given employee multitasking. After all, the first priority of any retail associate is to serve the customer well, and store resource constraints limit a store’s ability to assign tasks to a fixed number of dedicated resources. But when applications, including workforce and task management, real-time inventory management and customer support tools, are connected via a mobile and social platform, the modern worker is more engaged and motivated to get work done, help customers and support each other. This drives more operations efficiencies, workforce satisfaction and customer loyalty.


Incenting High Levels of Participation: Humans are relentlessly achievement-oriented, and they genuinely want to succeed. So a well-structured platform would exploit classic motivations, including one’s sense of identity, status, mastery and achievement. Outcomes need to be quantifiable. Major milestones and markers need to be in place akin to game reward systems. Think of the popular social game Farmville, which offers incentives to perform tasks and to return daily. This social platform would use games like iconography to make work seem more like play — to render the intangible tangible.


The platform encourages users to participate by contributing content that supports getting the work done more efficiently. This system works much better than any employee suggestion box ever did, because the employee is rewarded by direct response from other “players” and the virtual, yet still very real rewards earned for being a contributor. Perhaps, the virtual rewards result in a physical reward or recognition for high levels of achievement. Like deal-of-the-day shopping capabilities, certain tasks could require higher “merit” levels, but also warrant higher reward levels, creating demand for accomplishing prerequisite tasks and motivation to stay engaged.


Engaged and well-informed employees are more loyal. If you think about it, shopping is social and your best employees are social — a social platform for getting work done just makes sense. Integral, however, is the ability to contribute to and gain visibility to rich content like planograms; advertisements; special orders; inventory reservations; customer intelligence; real-time, enterprise-wide inventory; guided selling; and mobile POS. 


Another new feature would be a customer click-to-call associate feature, where the customer can find and receive help from an associate via an in-store or smartphone-based application that leverages location intelligence. This is not just a task-management system — this is a mobile social retail operations platform for the future. 


Leslie Hand is research director of IDC Retail Insights, which provides fact-based research and analysis for IDC’s supply chain, sourcing and product life cycle management strategies. She also provides thought leadership on sustainability, RFID and lean operations strategies.