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Your Retail Culture Might be Holding Your Tech ROI Hostage

There was an overabundance of new retail technology on display at the recent NRF Big Show in New York—all promising to boost engagement, grow sales and reduce shrink—but most of the companies Sourcing Journal spoke with agreed: The bells and whistles for any new solution won’t matter if your company’s culture isn’t ready for it.

Easy to use, after all, doesn’t mean easy to adopt.

Whether sellers want to increase results on the front or the back end of their operations, there are certain change-management strategies and cultural shifts that apparel and footwear retailers should undertake before they can expect to maximize the ROI for their new tech solutions.

1. Build employee loyalty

As anyone who’s ever managed a clock-watcher knows well, the best tools in the world are just expensive paperweights when they’re handed to a worker who doesn’t want them.

When LS Retail is developing its point-of-sale systems, it looks to the employees who will be using them, not necessarily the ones the company is selling to.

“You need to build loyalty with your workforce so that it doesn’t become just a job,” Magnus Norddahl, CEO and president, LS Retail, said. “When we develop, for example, all of the solutions for our customers, we are actually thinking about the employees—how they can be better at serving the consumers and integrate that experience. So that builds a good culture.”

2. Empower the front lines

In the age of the impatient consumer, the person behind the cash register is your first line of defense, but it’s often one of the most underrated investments, Ashwin Ramasamy, Pipecandy co-founder and chief marketing officer, said.

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Without empowering these workers, you can lose out on repeat customers via less-than-stellar experiences.

“In this day and age, consumers are not willing to wait. They’re used to instant gratification, instant responses,” Ramasamy said. “The people with the cash register aren’t used to making decisions, so if you can democratize and push decisions to them, it will give a better customer experience.”

LS Retail’s Norddahl agreed, noting that the apparel retail industry has a history of filling these positions with relatively low-skilled people in order to minimize salary costs. “But, in the end, these are the people that will actually serve our customers,” he said. “We need to make sure that we arm our employees with the right tools to be able to engage with our consumers,” who are now more savvy and informed shoppers than ever, thanks to the smartphones in their pockets.

3. Develop cross-team collaboration

While retailers often have individual working divisions that focus on specific areas—such as a sourcing group, a supply chain group or a store-optimization group—many new transformative technologies are designed to work across the entire enterprise, Bill Toney, vice president of global RFID market development at Avery Dennison, said.

The challenge arises when it comes to getting all of these groups to work together in one unified organization. It is, however, a cultural transformation that Toney said he’s seen increasing, and as a result “the ROI is much bigger, more powerful, and it’s focused on the customers.”

4. Move strategically…

Detego is a strong proponent of rolling out its RFID Cloud platform in a phased approach in order to give the best possible chance to succeed, said Luke Sinclair, marketing manager. Once this has been achieved, the company then moves on to integrating and adding new features up through the supply chain into the distribution centers.

“There’s a lot of change management and processes that need to happen,” he noted, “so we always focus on getting the basics right first with inventory accuracy and product value…You need to focus on what’s going to drive revenue first, and then use that revenue gains to put back into solution.”

5. …But pull the trigger, damn it

To be sure, there’s a wealth of data available to retailers. As advanced analytics becomes more widely available, it can be easy for companies to spend far too much time wading through numbers and taking wait-and-see approaches.

Tom Rittman, vice president of marketing at AI solutions provider Appriss Retail, was blunt: “Retailers need to make decisions faster. They have a ton of data, and it’s all really good data, but a lot of times what they’re doing is they’re over-analyzing it.”

Instead, Rittman said, retailers should use testing and smaller projects to make faster judgement calls. “They have so many stores that they’re thinking, ‘How do I roll this out to all my stores?’ as opposed to ‘How do I make it work really [well], and then figure out how to roll that out to all stores?’”