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The Omni-channel Conundrum: Associate Adoption

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 12, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, March 10, 2015

by Dwight D. Hill, McMillan Doolittle LLP

We hear about more and more retailers daily that are launching new omni-channel programs. From innovative mobile apps (consider the new Neiman Marcus "Snap Find Shop" app using photo recognition technology) to the E-bay-enabled mirrors designer Rebecca Minkoff is launching in her New York stores, we are seeing more retail adoption of technologies that continue to blur the channels.

What I think is most interesting is what we're seeing in the store – new tools are being deployed that can be characterized as "consumer facing," including digital signage, iPads with mobile POS, click and collect, etc. or "associate enabling," including associate tablets that have the ability to act as a mobile POS, provide visibility to inventory, provide product knowledge, or employee training to name a few capabilities. The implications of these technologies are many, and while the next "shiny tool" can be appealing, we are seeing retailers struggle with one of the most fundamental aspects of retail stores – that of associate adoption. These large investments of in-store technology will fail to result in meaningful ROI if your associates do not understand how or are outright rejecting usage to enable the customer experience. I'd like to offer up a few tips for retailers to consider when looking into new technologies to enable their omni-customer experience.

1. TRAIN. While the concept of training during deployment of any new technology is a no-brainer, retailers must ensure the training is scenario-based, providing associates with the context of how the technology can be applied to the typical customer journey. We cannot assume everyone knows how to make the best use of a customer-enabled iPad, certainly not with new apps and with a customer standing in front of them! Try to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. HOW do you serve your customers? Reinforce your expectations for the ideal customer journey.
  2. WHY is this technology important to the customer experience?
  3. HOW does the technology integrate with the customer journey?

Do your associates understand the fundamentals of your customer journey strategy and how to deliver a differentiated customer experience?

2. COMMUNICATE. Design a comprehensive communication strategy that provides answers to the "How, Why, When, and Who" questions involving stakeholders from headquarters to the field to build engagement and adoption. Develop a cross-functional team including customer experience, store operations, field and store leadership to support this effort.

How are you ensuring all your teams are aligned and marching to the same drumbeat?

3. CERTIFY. Deploy a certification approach and process to measure and encourage adoption with the new technology and customer journey as well as provide an ongoing method to measure sustainability.

What is your plan to ensure your stores are providing a consistent customer experience according to your strategy?

As the channels continue to blur, we will continue to see technologies emerge that are designed to allow your customer to shop how and when she wants. Will your associates enable this experience or prevent it from happening?

Dwight D. Hill, whose background includes leadership roles with Neiman Marcus and Deloitte LLP, is Partner, McMillan Doolittle LLP. Dwight can be reached at

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Tags:  Omni-Channel 

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