A woman signs for a curbside pickup order on a Zebra tablet
By Mark Thomson | March 30, 2023

How Do You Intend to Navigate 2023 (and Come Out the Other Side Better Positioned to Meet Shoppers’ Needs)?

While every retailer must respond to inflation, upward wage pressure, and more, you have a unique opportunity to stand out amongst the competition and win customers for life. Here’s what you need to do.

We’re only a couple of months into 2023, and I know you’re facing obstacles on multiple fronts. You’re trying to contend with inflation, rising interest rates, high energy prices, supply chain challenges, and the resulting cost-of-living crunch that impacts consumer spending. Unfortunately, I know those same factors also drive lower employee retention rates as people seek better work-life balance and higher wages. 

We (Zebra) recently spoke with leaders from 54 top retailers to understand how they intend to navigate these challenges to come out ahead – the changes they believe will help boost sales, increase customer satisfaction, and improve employee retention.

The common theme in their responses? The importance of the store. I imagine you feel the same way.

The store is the beating heart of every brand. It is a keystone for marketing, distribution, and community. So, to win in 2023, retailers are telling us that their staff, and the in-store experience they provide, are going to be the drivers for all decisions – including operational (and operational technology) changes. They’re starting to rethink what ‘the modern store’ looks like as they consider what it’s going to take to:

  1. keep associates actively engaged in their jobs and customer interests. 

  2. optimize inventory to ensure continuous availability and correct pricing to close sales.

  3. elevate the customer experience overall, which is going to be measured differently by each customer based on personal interests and expectations. 

In fact, these goals are more like visionary targets because it’s unlikely that retailers will ever be able to ‘cross the finish line’ so to speak. There are too many factors influencing all three, so the real objective should be to set and achieve near-term milestones that can be achieved before it’s time to adapt and reach the next set of milestones.

That said, to maximise the impact a brick-and-mortar store can have on the bottom line in the next 12-18 months, many retailers are considering increasing staffing levels. Nearly a quarter (24%) are looking to hire more staff in 2023 compared to only 9% in 2022. Despite upward wage pressure, these astute retailers know that the investments in staff will deliver a better customer experience because there will be more people available to mitigate and/or address issues, help customers, and get inventory in the right place at the right time – which might be in customers’ vehicles curbside.

However, if you want to become an employer of choice in this tight labor market, you must implement technology that helps make life easier and more balanced for associates. 

This includes AI-powered workforce management software that gives associates a greater say in their schedules, automates complex processes like shift swaps, and considers employee preferences when building schedules. If you put the responsibility of keeping associates happy solely on store managers, they will fail. They have too many other things to work on and keep up with. They can’t remember every person’s preferences or be expected to compute proper staffing requirements in the context of market conditions. The human brain is magnificent, but it’s processing power is limited to the information available – and processing speeds can be slow when there’s seemingly infinite data that must be sifted through and analysed. So, if you want people to want to work, let technology do the work of managing schedules (with your team’s input, of course).

If you really want to double-down and to see double-digit growth in employee satisfaction scores, I recommend you also think about implementing task management software that can streamline a host of other admin and operational tasks – such as telling each associate where to go and what to do each shift based on priorities. Bonus points if the task management app the associates use comes loaded with how-to instructions for each task, so they don’t constantly have to chase down someone to help show them, which wastes their time and the time of whoever ends up stepping in to coach them through the task. If managers can monitor what associates complete and intervene only if something looks like it’s fallen off the associates’ radar, then everyone will have more time to focus on revenue-generating and customer-facing activities. Not surprisingly, this resulting increase to revenue and customer-facing activities is why 37% of CEOs we spoke to signaled they are considering purchasing task management solutions in 2023. Are you one of them?

Something else to remember: When you begin retaining veteran employees and giving them hours of time back, they can focus on meeting the ever-changing needs of customers. And when your agility increases, the better positioned you become to weather any storm, which your customers will especially appreciate.

I don’t have to tell you that retail is more e-commerce heavy than ever, another legacy of the pandemic, or that customers expect you to now meet them where they are. Thirty-one percent of the CEOs we spoke to expect to see more click-and-collect in-store same day orders, and 29% each saw an increase in same-day delivery and next day delivery. 

Assuming this order volume will be sustained indefinitely, or perhaps even increase, you must get control over your inventory. And to do that, you must be able to see what you have on hand. No more guesses or accounting for “known error rates.” With less than 50% of retailers reporting a single, real-time view of their stock, there is room for growth. 

Well-configured inventory optimization technology can help you maximize availability on both store and warehouse/distribution center shelves by tracking items in transit and storage from the receiving dock to the sales register. Sometimes you can even see what’s in transit from the manufacturer or distributor depending on what type of track-and-trace systems are in place at each supply chain stop and how well those systems push information downstream to you. But, at a minimum, you must find a way to gain a real-time view of owned inventory quantity and location. If the system says you have something on hand, but customers and associates can’t find it, the system is useless and you’re going to lose a sale. You may even lose a customer if they decide to empty their basket and buy everything in one place.

Your Best Next Move

Now, saying that you need to improve inventory visibility and make workers happy in order to make customers happy is pretty much a no-brainer. It’s also very vague. So, let’s talk about what you need to do once you decide that you’re ready to make the technology system and process changes required to keep associates well-informed and focused on the right tasks and inventory moving to/sitting at the right places.

Here is what I suggest:

  1. Identify your biggest challenge: Is employee retention low? Are online orders difficult to fulfill? Do your employees spend too much time on administrative and operational tasks? Based on your answer, you’ll have narrowed down the type of technologies to look in to.

  2. Do your research: There are a lot of vendors out there who will tell you they can solve your problems. Most can’t. Take your time to learn about the different options to identify which is the right fit for your needs – from both a consultant and technology perspective.

  3. Define your goal: Once you’ve decided which technology to integrate, make sure you’re on the same page as the vendor/consultant regarding what metric you’re using to measure success. Work with their team to make sure your implementation will measure what matters.

  4. Sign on the dotted line: You’ve identified the problem. You’ve done your homework. You’ve figured out how to measure success. Now it is time to launch the initiative and help steer the course of your company.

You’re going to face many more headwinds in 2023. Inflation is still high, the increasing cost-of-living is squeezing customers and employees, and the supply chain still needs unraveling. 

But your stores are your secret weapon. It is where your employees meet your customers to create magical experiences. If you want to overcome challenges, in 2023 and beyond, invest in technologies that free your employees from tasks and instead give them time to make customers happy. If you need help getting started, let’s talk about what your best first move may be.

Retail, Best Practices,
Mark Thomson
Mark Thomson

What’s happening in retail? How has the shift in shopping behavior impacted retailers around the world and will robots take over? Mark Thomson’s exploration of the global retail landscape helps retailers gain a focus on what’s real and what works when building a retail strategy in a digital world.

As Director of Retail Industry Solutions at Zebra Technologies, Mr. Thomson works closely with retailers and hospitality businesses to provide input on how to face the challenge of a new digital retail landscape, where customers are often more connected and informed than shop floor staff. Mr. Thomson helps retailers focus on developing a vision for their retail business that aims to improve customer experience and drive business efficiencies.

With over 27 years of customer-focused experience, Mr. Thomson has developed in-depth knowledge of the EMEA and global retail marketplace and regularly speaks at industry events throughout the EMEA region including World Retail Congress, Retail Middle East, RBTE and Euroshop. He has worked closely with retailers on the pain points of modern retail and explains how technology solutions can be an integral part of their business strategy to help them solve their real business challenges from supply chain to store.

Prior to joining Zebra, Mr. Thomson held senior roles in Financial Services and Hospitality businesses.

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