An associate in a home improvement store uses his rugged tablet to look up information about a product that a customer is asking about.
By James Cadman | July 18, 2019

Simple Ways to Connect Colleagues and Improve Team Collaboration in Your Retail Stores

Equipping your staff with this single technology tool can prevent out-of-stocks, improve worker (and customer) safety and even save a sale.

Communication and collaboration are the heartbeat of a great in-store retail experience. It’s something I’ve been talking to customers a lot about. The chats have been initiated by our 2019 Shopper Vision Study. It found that over half of customers (51 percent) said they’re better connected and have more knowledge than associates. It seems like a high number. Yet, it’s not that surprising given the magic we all have in our hands in the shape of a smartphone.

It is a worrying stat, though. If associates can’t access the right information to instantly help a customer, that customer may exit the store. So, what’s to be done?

The good news is that there’s a simple remedy: versatile apps that consolidate collaboration services – such as push-to-talk (PTT), instant text-based chat and voice calls – into a single handheld device. As I explain below, this gives associates instinctive ways to collaborate with individual colleagues, groups, other stores and beyond while offering wider commercial benefits to your stores and overall business. 

Attentive and knowledgeable service

If a customer’s item is not available on the shop floor, it’s vital that associates stay by the customer’s side and offer alternative ways to purchase. (If they leave the customer’s side, the customer likely leaves your store.)

Versatile collaboration tools can help with this. While assisting a customer, associates can quickly chat with the stockroom to check availability and ask for a colleague to bring different options over. If the items aren’t available, the associate can call nearby outlets and have the product held there or sent across for the customer.

Consider also a more complex issue – let’s say a DIY store, where someone wants plumbing advice. Given that only 31 percent of associates say they’re knowledgeable about half or fewer of the products in their stores, it’s unlikely that just anyone could look after this customer. But, with simple collaboration tools in hand, the first associate the customer comes across could send out a store-wide voice or text message asking for the appropriate expert to pop over. The associate could also send the message beyond the store to remote experts who can speak to the customer directly to give him or her valuable help and advice – the type of insight, in fact, that can never be found online.

Helping teams do more

You want your sales associates on the shop floor, with customers, but you also need to make sure they’re ready and available for other tasks. Collaboration tools make it easier to do this by flexibly managing teams. For example, you don’t need to overstaff key areas such as checkouts, returns or collection points. Instead, let’s say the checkout line starts to build, you can just send a group alert at the touch of a button asking till-trained staff to quickly assist colleagues.

Or, if you notice that there’s a gap in shelved stock, you can send out a task to replace sold items. Similarly, small video clips sent to individuals or groups can help departments adhere to merchandising recommendations. And, there’s no need to ensure that colleagues are always near fixed desk phones as they can pick up incoming calls anywhere on their mobile devices. They can also make calls to other landlines and mobile phones outside the store or business.

Collaboration beyond the four walls

With the option to call any phone from their mobile devices, associates can liaise with their supply chain. And, with more deliveries fulfilled from stores via smaller vans, drivers can call in to associates to let them know they’re arriving to ensure that logistics run smoothly. Stores can also talk to delivery drivers in real time to change delivery times for customers.

Reducing loss and improving security

When teams are equipped with mobile devices that include versatile collaboration tools, security and safety can be improved. For example, if someone is acting suspiciously, handheld devices can be used to silently alert colleagues who can then manage the situation. What’s more, it’s easy to share alerts about known issues in-store, or across stores in a regional area, with a simple all-colleagues voice alert or instant message.

Collaboration tools can make associates feel safer too. Consider the case of a small store where, perhaps, only one or two people are working. If they encounter a threatening situation, they can quickly communicate with their colleague or send a message out to nearby stores – or law enforcement authorities – for assistance.

Cut costs and ensure compliance

There are clear advantages in combining communication and collaboration tools into one mobile device. Not only do store colleagues no longer need to carry and use lots of kit, but there’s a reduction in buying and maintaining IT equipment. What’s more, any calls or messages sent over your network between colleagues using Wi-Fi are free of charge. And, by using tools designed for retail, you can ensure that they can properly connect to the back-office systems required to process data in a secure manner.

Collaborate to accumulate

Consolidating enhanced communication tools in a single smartphone or tablet device can pay powerful dividends. The tools are highly intuitive and immediately change the way associates work. The boost this gives associates has a knock-on effect on their interactions with customers to help improve the service experience. What’s more, I’ve seen some dramatic improvements when shop floor teams collaborate more instinctively – they get more done, operations improve, shrinkage is reduced and basket sizes grow.


Editor’s Note: To check out Zebra’s powerful collaboration and communications app, Workforce Connect, drop into here. And be sure to read the full 2019 Shopper Survey. You can download the report and associated infographics here.

James Cadman
James Cadman

For more than 15 years, James Cadman has been working closely with retailers and their supply chain to design, implement and support mobile and visibility technology solutions. Previously a Retail and Supply Chain Account Manager, Mr. Cadman is currently responsible for developing and accelerating Zebra's Enterprise Asset Intelligence value proposition in the UK retail market. He studies consumer behaviors and engages with UK retailers to identify technology solutions that will provide real-time visibility in every aspect of their operations, improve productivity, reduce expenses, empower mobile workforces and increase opportunities for sustainable growth. He then works with Zebra partners to successfully deliver these complex solutions and provide support over the entirety of their useful life to ensure retailers maintain the lowest total cost of ownership.

Mr. Cadman previously served as a Retail Solutions Account Manager for Motorola and an Enterprise Account Manager for Peak-Ryzex.