Retailers have made themselves clear in many RSR reports: knowledgeable employees are critical to improving the in-store customer experience. This trend has emerged in our annual benchmarks over the past five years.

At the same time, retailers express worries that immersing the store in technology could create unintended consequences: namely acting as distractions rather than assistants, or creating additional complexity in an age when retailers really want to simplify in-store technology rather than complicate things further. And, stores are busy.  While payroll is generally increasing as a percentage of in-store sales, the number of projects and tasks required in-store is also increasing, perhaps outpacing stores’ ability to manage them. Let’s take a look at some recent data, gathered in July and August of 2018:

Roadblocks to Using New In-Store Technology

We can see there is real concern about adding projects that distract from core activities, and certainly a lot of worry around the “tool or distraction” question. And the absolute watchword is “simplicity.”

Candidly, these retailers have a point. If the store manager is not also empowered with mobile technologies to keep her on the selling floor and monitor employee activities, while those employees have smart devices in hand, we could find an even less responsive in-store environment than we have today. Or we could find employees and customers alike fussing with making an augmented reality application work, while others wander the store looking for assistance.

Further, it seems some of the basic blocking and tackling of running a store has gotten lost. And layering complexity on top of these fundamentals may not be a great idea.

Think about it this way: for the past two years, when retail leaders were asked what they would do to make the in-store experience more relevant if cash was unconstrained, one of the most frequently cited responses was “Cleaner stores.” This year, 49% cited this most simple, non-technology-related solution as “very important.”

Here’s where I have to put my life-long retailer hat on. How is “make the stores cleaner” even a thing? Isn’t that the baseline of store operations: to provide a clean environment for customers? Who decided that was something that could be scrimped on? I think we can all agree both as retailers and as customers that clean stores are table stakes to the customer experience.

On the flip side, despite their concerns, retailers are clearly intrigued by technology to support that in-store experience. Sixty-five percent responded that in a perfect world, unconstrained by cash concerns, they’d work harder and faster to get new technologies rolled out to stores. They know there’s an opportunity for efficiency and service there.

Overall this tells us that technology can be an important part of the in-store experience, but it has to be easy to use, reliable, and provide visibility to the store manager, to insure it’s working correctly and not impeding the flow of traffic.

Interfaces must be simple, and display required information at a glance. Store managers need real-time alerts to exceptions or problems in-store in a mobilized environment that allows them to actually manage the store from the selling floor.

If the technology sticks to these tenets: simplicity, reliability and visibility, then it will be a clear help to the in-store experience. It will, by definition, generate actionable insights and recommendations.

If you can’t insure that an application will do that for you, you’re way better off finding another one that can. We’d like to see technology roll-outs and cleaner stores. Somehow, in 2018, that just doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Paula Rosenblum
Co-Founder and Managing Partner
RSR Research LLC