The workforce in retail

Is the sales associate ready for the future?
Reading time: 6 minutes

Find out: 

  • Will the employee in local retail become unnecessary?
  • How can a retailer win the battle for the right talent?

2020 and 2021 were in several ways the years of changes. Due to Covid-19 the labor market and the nature of work drastically changed for almost every single person. From one day to another people in certain fields had to work double shifts and over hours while others either lost their jobs or were forced to short-time work. Home offices and videocalls became the norm overnight and were implemented wherever possible.

Forward thinking companies will adapt these concepts in the future. Reducing office spaces and business travels will consequently have an impact on the demands of restaurants and local retail in office areas, public transportation and hospitality. Therefore, also jobs in these sectors are affected.

Still, there are jobs which cannot be carried out remotely and require physical presence. But according to a survey by the Ifo Institute, every third company in Germany complains about a shortage of skilled workers: After the economic upturn in 2021, the shortage also increased in sectors that were hit particularly hard by the Covid lockdown. In the retail sector, the number of companies that see a shortage of skilled workers almost doubled from 15,7 to 30,6%. In the hotel industry it is even 56%. Ironically, more than ever before, the local retail industry demands a more dedicated customer service which goes beyond just in-store customer service.

The importance of frontline workers in retail – overrated or irreplaceable?

No matter how automated the retail industry gets, it will always rely on frontline workers. These remain an integral part of the customer journey, be it when greeting customers, giving personal advice, or presenting the products in store. More than ever customers want to be touched emotionally – the personal interaction in sales remains unrivaled. The necessity and importance of skilled and motivated sales workforce are undisputed and more important than ever.

“Today’s sales associates are tomorrow’s brand ambassadors!” Markus Demirci, founder and CEO of mPocket.

Covid not only accelerated a change in customer behavior and expectations towards retailers, but also the expectations of retail employees towards their employers. Suddenly they were confronted with social media, live video shopping, various payment methods, click and collect, etc. so they could engage with their customers. All salespeople had to adapt to a completely different situation with their customers within a very short time and face new challenges that came with COVID-19, such as the compliance with hygiene measures. Due to the additional workload of these new tasks as well as the loss of some teammates, the employees remaining in the retail industry are under more pressure.

In retail, in-store employees clearly want something in return for this extra effort, something that does meet the changes of their work. This does not only mean an adapted compensation or more flexible working hours. New tasks require new employees or at least a redesign of the skills of existing employees. Without additional support, many of the remaining employees will be tired of their work and move to other industries. New technologies and artificial intelligence are spreading across all industries and can also help retailers automate, personalize and support sales associates.

“Retail remains human. What if every employee had a digital and intelligent assistant? It would help employees to do what they like the most – engage with their customers. In the last 2 years customer and shopping behavior have changed more than in the previous 25 years combined. We will see an ongoing change for sales associates in the years ahead.” Markus Demirci, founder and CEO of mPocket.

How can the retail industry prepare to be perceived as an attractive employer and win the battle for motivated sales talents?

The empowerment of the sales associate

Retailers recognize the need to create a fresh new shopping experience for customers, but are they seeing the same need for their employees? What do frontline workers want and expect from their employers in retail?

Just like every customer, who likes to get your full attention, the same applies to salesclerks. They want to be part of the team, feel important and appreciated. By promoting and listening to an employee’s feedback, a retailer not only gains valuable insight into customer preferences. He also shows his team members appreciation and motivates them to contribute their own ideas to improve the customer experience and productivity among each other.

While a salary increase could help get some workers back, it is no longer enough to retain the right talent through compensation alone, or even attract new ones. The dynamics of the past 2 years are not just about a shift towards more flexibility, but also about retailers considering new technologies and providing opportunities for their employees to acquire new skills. Salespeople need to develop digital skills along with a quick adaptability to new circumstances. This can be supported by retailers by using technology to improve the customer experience and make things easier for their sales associates.

Today’s frontline workers, especially the younger generation, got used to using their mobiles phones for many of their daily tasks, both privately and professionally. From online banking over talking to friends and sending photos to their families – people constantly rely on their mobile phones and are “always online” which makes mobile devices a necessity in every workplace nowadays. It almost feels unnatural to communicate in any other way. Employees expect to be able to use a mobile device to communicate with one another and with their customers, receive tasks and notifications, or simply check their working hours.

Working with comparatively outdated tools feels strange and uncomfortable and ultimately leads to employee frustration. Retailers need to use disruptive technology to reinvent their business from a customer and employee perspective and return to being an attractive employer.

“Forward-thinking retailers will use technology to not only provide customers a differentiated shopping experience, but also to provide employees a positive, compelling work experience. Technology dominates our everyday life. Why wouldn’t it also dominate your sales associates? Employees won’t use Instagram and others in everyday life and then use outdated technology or even handwritten notes at work. Shaping a real experience not only for your customers but also for your employees makes them feel valued, attracts other available sales talents and binds them to your company. Digitization always starts with people.” Markus Demirci, founder and CEO of mPocket.

In order to be future-ready and differentiate themselves in the market, retailers must provide the right tools and training to professionally prepare their workforce. 75% of consumers are still buying from someone they know, like and trust rather than from a chatbot fed with algorithms. Nevertheless, technology has put more power in the hands of the customers. Retail remains human but needs to adapt to the digital era.

In the future the retail workforce needs to be more flexible, learn new skills, be innovative and use technology online and in-store to give the right response to the dynamically changing customer behavior and expectation. What might be an exceptional service today is a standard tomorrow. Digital transformation and shaping the workforce of the future in retail is not only about technology, but about reinventing corporate structures and embracing the culture of innovation.

How important do you see the sales associates in local retail? Will retail remain human or will it become completely digital? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Feel free to leave us a comment or write to hallo@mpocket.io. If you liked the article, sign up for our newsletter to stay updated or check www.mpocket.io. We look forward to hearing from you.

*For reasons of better legibility only the simultaneous use of male and female language forms is not used. All personal names apply to both genders.

Jasmin Janson

Marketing & Communication Manager mPocket

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