Blueday CEO Graeme Grant sat down with the Millennium Alliance team to discuss trends in retail store labor productivity. Here are some excerpts from their conversation. We are looking forward to attending the Millennium Alliance Omnichannel Day NY event in June!

Q: Since the retail industry is constantly in flux, how do you think the relationship between customers and stores, (especially brick and mortar stores), have changed?
A: The “retail apocalypse” is certainly a myth. We’re seeing digital-native players like Warby Parker and Bonobos opening retail locations in recognition of the importance of physical retail in the omnichannel equation. According to recent studies, Millennials and Gen Y actually enjoy shopping in physical retail as much or more than their Gen X parents. What’s changed, of course, is that customers have more options than ever before. To be viable, stores have to deliver an outstanding customer experience, or shoppers will vote with their feet. Outstanding sales associates and in-store service is a key differentiator—and sales driver—in the omnichannel world.

Q: Considering every store is so different and offers unique experiences, what overall factors contribute to success?
A: The winners in today’s marketplace will be those retailers who invest in getting the most out of their front-line people. As brand ambassadors and product experts, sales associates are the key to creating a great customer experience. And most importantly, sales associates have a direct impact on store sales performance. Shoppers are 43% more likely to make a purchase after interacting with a store associate, and associate-aided purchases are 81% higher than self-service sales. When it comes to driving sales and brand loyalty, store associates can really make the difference, provided they have the right tools to be effective.

Q: What components does Blueday offer in order to make this happen?
A: Our solution puts a laser focus on boosting the sales output of your store teams, at the field and chain level. Integrating data from traffic counters, POS, scheduling, and other systems, Blueday applies artificial intelligence and prescriptive analytics to generate a customized, forward-looking Daily Plan for each store manager every day. Within minutes, store managers understand their selling goals by associate by hour, as well as key challenges or risks, and what actions to take to mitigate risks and optimize performance. Real-time data allows for immediate feedback on the sales floor and opportunities to correct course mid-shift. District Managers and corporate leadership can easily identify which managers are making the most of the traffic they have, which stores need support, and how they can reallocate resources to drive top-line sales growth.

Q: In your opinion, what should the top business priorities be for retailers, and how can they execute these goals?
A: Store labor represents retailers’ single largest operating expense. Maximizing the return on this investment should be of paramount importance for retailers. Just as they’ve focused on optimizing inventory and infrastructure investments over the last decade, it’s imperative that retailers maximize the return on investment in labor and make the most out of every hour of selling time. With retail labor budgets running very lean and hours already at a bare minimum across many retailers, it’s not about adding more labor (and expense) but rather getting more out of the hours—and the people—they already have. Focusing store staff on selling, rather than just task completion or store maintenance, is critical.