Store Operations - Retail TouchPoints - Retail TouchPoints Wed, 24 Apr 2019 05:32:13 -0400 RTP en-gb At Half Price Books, Empowered Associates Create Curated, Store-Specific Assortments At Half Price Books, Empowered Associates Create Curated, Store-Specific Assortments

While most physical booksellers are contracting and consolidating, Half Price Books has been slowly and steadily growing. Multiple factors, all of which are aimed at creating intense customer loyalty, contribute to the retailer’s success in a difficult industry:

  • A focus on choosing highly promising locations for new stores;
  • Comfortable store layouts built to encourage browsing and discovery; and
  • An enthusiastic staff of associates who are empowered to shape each store’s inventory.

“People always ask me, ‘How are you opening stores when other people are closing stores?’” said Kathy Doyle Thomas, Chief Strategy Officer at Half Price Books in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Part of the reason we are growing is because we’re privately held — we don’t have to open stores if we don’t want to, and if we can’t afford it. If we don’t have enough money in the bank and we know that store won’t make money for three or four years because it needs to build its brand and customer base, then we don’t do it, and we don’t have any debt. We grow and expand when we want to and how we want to.”

This process includes taking a careful look at the overall retail market. Half Price Books opened fewer stores than it had planned in 2018 due to high real estate prices and the fact that its existing markets were already well-saturated with stores. The retailer currently operates 120 stores, and is looking at new cities and states, including Boise, Idaho and the Detroit area.

Half Price Books is unafraid to take its time when expanding to new markets. The retailer needs the right combination of demographic makeup, population growth and size for a city to become a good target, and it recognizes that not every scouting mission will be successful.

“Unlike a shoe store, we need lots of people, just because such a small percentage actually buys the printed word,” said Thomas.

Homey Stores And Devoted Associates Generate Strong Loyalty

With such a small audience, the key to success is making sure those that do shop there are dedicated. One way Half Price Books achieves this is through its ambiance. The retailer builds its own wooden shelves for a “homey feeling” inside the store, and its eclectic selection of both popular and unknown authors recalls the experience of visiting the famous Strand, an independent New York City store that claims to house 18 miles of books.

“Stores are a destination,” said Thomas. “If you’re a reader, and you live in New York City, you go to Strand. You want to browse their sections and discover new authors and discover new books, and we are a browser’s paradise. People love treasure hunting.”

The other key to the Half Price Books shopping experience is the staff. These associates aren’t just passionate readers who are experts on their favorite genres — they are also the ones purchasing used books from customers to further develop their relationships. Half Price Books uses a comprehensive onboarding process that includes author and category tests, as well as training on how to price incoming books.

“We give them a lot of autonomy and a lot of responsibility and authority,” said Thomas. “We’re giving our employees a pot of money and telling them, ‘You decide how much to pay for this book.’ So they feel an ownership, they love it, and they know how important it is. We have to train them thoroughly because we have 3,000 employees, and over 2,500 are deciding what to buy that book for, and what to price that book at.”

The extra effort and responsibility gives the staff more to do than the average retail associate, creating a deep sense of investment in the company. The buying process also means local selections are highly tailored to their shoppers — a Half Price Books located next to a university will make a large volume of purchases from students and professors, which can then be sold to students looking for the same books during future semesters.

The combination of carefully curated, comfortable stores and highly empowered associates has earned the retailer an extremely loyal customer following who will happily share stories about their “HPB Hauls” online. While used book shoppers represent a limited market, Half Price Books has fashioned a business model that perfectly fits their needs.

]]> (Bryan Wassel) Store Operations Fri, 19 Apr 2019 09:00:03 -0400
Stage Stores Accelerates Off-Price Conversion Strategy, Anticipates 300 Gordmans Stores By 2020 Stage Stores Accelerates Off-Price Conversion Strategy, Anticipates 300 Gordmans Stores By 2020

Stage Stores is accelerating the conversion of its department stores to Gordmans stores after the off-price banner has achieved considerable success. Michael Glazer, President and CEO of Stage Stores, revealed that through mid-March 2019, sales in the nine converted Gordmans locations completed in 2018 grew by more than 150% compared to their department store counterparts.

The retailer has converted 37 stores so far in 2019, but the 35 store conversions that it had previously planned for the back-to-school season will now be completed by June. An additional 10 to 15 stores will be converted to the Gordmans format in Q3. Gordmans sells name brand apparel, accessories, cosmetics, footwear and on-trend home decor at discount prices.

Most of the conversions have taken place in small Midwest markets.

Stage Stores acquired 48 stores and a distribution center from Gordmans in March 2017 after Gordmans filed for bankruptcy and decided to liquidate. Stage Stores turned the acquired chain into an off-price retailer, with successful results — so positive that Stage Stores has been converting its own stores to the off-price banner. The success of the Gordmans banner comes as Stage Stores closed 41 department stores in 2018. During the recent holiday season, Gordmans saw comparable sales increases of 2.4%, well ahead of the overall Stage Stores decrease of 0.1%.

Stage Stores is a public company, but it was in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange after failing to maintain a 30-day average closing price of at least $1 per share. Stage Stores notified the NYSE of its plan to regain compliance, which must be achieved within six months of notification. The company promoted interim CFO Jason Curtis to the permanent position of VP, CFO and Treasurer after the delisting warning.

As of March 28, 2019, Stage Stores operated 688 specialty department stores under several banners (Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, Peebles and Stage) and 105 Gordmans off-price stores.

With approximately 85 total conversions now planned for 2019, Stage Stores expects to end the year with nearly 150 Gordmans off-price stores. Stage Stores plans to convert an additional 150 stores to the Gordmans banner in the first half of fiscal 2020. The 300 Gordmans stores will represent approximately half of Stage Stores’ total sales volume, according to Glazer.

]]> (Glenn Taylor) News Briefs Fri, 29 Mar 2019 12:41:29 -0400
Only 23% Of Retailers Leverage In-Store AI, While Just 19% Deploy IoT Devices Only 23% Of Retailers Leverage In-Store AI, While Just 19% Deploy IoT Devices

Retailers often describe the “store of the future” having multiple customer service options, such as automated returns or cashierless checkout, and offering disruptive technologies such as AI, VR, AR, virtual mirrors and IoT. But many of these brick-and-mortar upgrades remain saved for just that — the future. For example, only 19% of retailers have implemented IoT within their stores, with 23% implementing AI-powered platforms such as voice-activated POS and digital assistants, according to a report from BRP.

In another sign that adoption of these technologies is still a long way off, only 5% of retailers said they have implemented each technology and that it is working well.

The BRP report, titled The Future Store, is based on findings from the BRP Consumer Study and the 20th Annual POS/Customer Engagement Survey, which are designed to offer insights into customer expectations for the store of the future as well as how retailers’ current capabilities match up with these expectations.

In total, 55% of retailers believe they will have implemented IoT in their stores within three years, while 53% say they will implement AI in that time frame.

The slow adoption rate extends to various other technologies that have been hyped in recent years:

  • 9% currently offer augmented reality; another 29% plan to add it within three years;
  • 7% offer virtual reality to customers; another 23% plan to add it within three years;
  • 9% offer virtual mirrors to allow customers to virtually see products in use; an additional 23% plan to add within three years; and
  • 21% currently offer videoconference capabilities; another 25% plan to offer it within three years.

Customer interest in these technologies is outpacing retailer adoption: 32% of consumers are likely to shop at a store offering an AR experience over a retailer that doesn’t offer AR, and 29% would like a virtual reality VR experience as part of their shopping environment.

Consumers Want More Automation, But It’s Not The Answer Yet

If retailers need additional motivation to add these technologies, shoppers display more interest in relying on them, rather than human interaction, during the purchase process. For example, 55% are more likely to shop at a store with self-checkout vs. a store without, and 57% will choose a store offering automated returns to avoid human interaction, the report said.

While automation can be a way to cut costs and improve customer service options in some retail segments, a number of highly personal product decisions and luxury brands likely will not adopt automation to replace humans. The trend of identifying customers in real time and guiding them through the sales process via human interaction won't soon be replaced by automation.

Factors that inform the effectiveness of consumer engagement require a finesse that robotics will likely not perform as well as humans, such as context (time of day, how the customer is dressed, what department they are shopping, if they are wearing a wedding ring, etc.); responsiveness to visual cues; and cross-selling and up-selling.

As Store Concepts Evolve, Retailers Must Prioritize Next-Gen Customer Service

The store itself is evolving as more retailers experiment with different formats, such as pop-ups and store-within-a-store, or even stores as mini distribution centers. While 48% of retailers are increasing the number of brick-and-mortar stores, 23% are planning to increase the number of store-within-a-store concepts and 16% say they will add more showrooms and pop-up shops.

Whichever type of store the retailer is seeking to build, merchants still need to prioritize new customer service options. But as with the adoption of disruptive technologies, implementation rates of these services remain low:

  • 43% currently offer an electronic receipt with personalized suggestions, with 30% more planning to implement this service within three years;
  • 37% offer scan-and-deliver functionalities, in which a customer purchases an item by scanning a barcode and then gets the item delivered to their home (or other desired location), with 20% planning to offer it within three years;
  • 36% offer virtual inventory, with 27% more within three years;
  • 32% offer personalized promotions based on real-time location, weather or other analytics, with 38% more within three years; and
  • 25% offer persona-based user interface for POS, with 39% more within three years.
]]> (Glenn Taylor) Store Operations Mon, 11 Mar 2019 10:06:28 -0400
As Walmart Phases Out Greeter Job, Employees With Disabilities Face Biggest Impact As Walmart Phases Out Greeter Job, Employees With Disabilities Face Biggest Impact

Walmart’s decision to change the qualifications for its front-door greeter jobs is coming at a controversial cost, with greeters at nearly 1,000 stores anticipated to lose their jobs by the end of April 2019. Critics of the change contend that it appears to disproportionately affect workers with disabilities.

Greeters with disabilities in five U.S. states told NPR they expect to lose their jobs after April 25 or 26, but the total number of greeters that will be let go is unknown.

In response to NPR's inquiry, Walmart acknowledged the effect on workers with disabilities. Spokesperson Kory Lundberg said that the company will now give greeters with disabilities more time beyond April 25 to find new accommodations: "We recognize that our associates with physical disabilities face a unique situation. With that in mind, we will be extending the current 60-day greeter transition period for associates with disabilities while we explore the circumstances and potential accommodations, for each individual, that can be made within each store. This allows associates to continue their employment at the store as valued members of the team while we seek an acceptable, customized solution for all of those involved."

When Walmart brought back its front-door greeters in 2016, the retailer announced that it was piloting a program to slowly transition the job into that of a “customer host,” described as “an associate who greets customers, but also checks receipts where appropriate, assists with returns and helps keep entrances clean and safe.” Customer hosts have been employed in approximately 1,000 U.S. stores, and the number continues to rise.

The expanded qualifications of the customer host position requires standing for extended periods, the ability to lift and move 25-pound parcels, checking receipts, writing reports and helping with product loss investigations.

The greeter job had traditionally been that of a store ambassador with a friendly face and demeanor to meet shoppers upon entry. While Walmart has long dealt with legal and public relations battles related to employee mistreatment, low wages and poor working conditions, the greeter positionhad been an attractive fit compared to other store associate jobs, as it isn't physically strenuous and is easy to learn.

During the pilot phase, more than 80% of the affected associates were able to find new positions, according to the May 2016 Walmart blog post on the change. But with numerous reports over the past year that disabled greeters have been fired from their positions, including a recent report of a Pennsylvania store greeter with cerebral palsy who is being let go after 10 years on the job, Walmart has generated plenty of negative attention on a national scale.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not preclude companies from changing their job descriptions and expected job functions as they see fit for their business goals. The ADA's requirement is for companies to provide "reasonable accommodations" for workers with disabilities facing changing job demands, as long as the worker can perform the "essential functions" of the job. 

]]> (Glenn Taylor) News Briefs Tue, 26 Feb 2019 12:06:25 -0500
Wayfair, Shinola Among Retail Leaders Presenting At RIC19 Wayfair, Shinola Among Retail Leaders Presenting At RIC19

The fifth annual Retail Innovation Conference (#RIC19), May 6-8 in NYC, will be a motivational gold mine for retail executives who will be inspired by leading innovators and disruptors. They will have a chance to learn from retail executives at Wayfair, Orvis, Boscov’s, The Vitamin Shoppe, Rebecca Minkoff and other brands, along with industry experts such as Brian Solis, Deb Gabor, Brian Smith and Jeff Fromm.

The RIC keynotes will be presented by some of the industry’s top thinkers, who will help retailers navigate the latest developments in the industry:

  • Brian Solis, Principal Analyst at Altimeter, will discuss the topic of “Digital Darwinism” — how the modern landscape is challenging traditional brands and ushering in a new breed of retailers. Solis will offer best practices to help retailers understand this new wave of retailing, spotlighting six key takeaways and success stories from brands including TUMI and Neiman Marcus.
  • Jeff Fromm, President of FutureCast, will tackle the topic of connecting with next-generation consumers. This session will debunk some of the myths surrounding Gen Z, explain how savvy retailers gain their frequency of use and price elasticity advantages, and identify the three kinds of retailers he expects to be big winners in the future.
  • Deb Gabor, CEO and Founder of Sol Marketing, will teach retailers how to inspire “irrational loyalty,” which she describes as a condition in which customers are so strongly bonded to a brand that they would feel they were cheating if they chose an alternative. Gabor will discuss the foundations of this relationship — as well as how branding is like sex.
  • Kasey Lobaugh, Principal and Chief Retail Innovation Officer at Deloitte will be joined by a retailer panel to unveil insights on how shoppers are changing (if perhaps not in the way you think). This panel will be the culmination of a year-long study, correcting some strongly-held myths about demographics, spending and in-store shopping habits.

Track Sessions Offer A Focused Experience

This epic three-day event can be overwhelming, but getting the most out of this potential information overload is easy. Sessions are divided into four content tracks: Digital Strategies, Marketing/Customer Engagement, Omnichannel CX and Operational Planning, to help you easily determine which presentations will be most valuable to your business.

  • Digital Strategies will include a panel on building a pragmatic roadmap for AI implementation and a presentation from Wayfair on how the retailer has been implementing AR in its shopping experience;
  • Marketing/Customer Engagement will include a panel on the evolution of influencer-based social media in the age of micro-influencers, and how brands are using events to drive loyalty and engagement;
  • Omnichannel CX will include a presentation on how GasBuddy And Audible's partnership fueled growth, and how a 360-degree experience can bring innovation to life; and
  • Operational Planning will include a panel of financial analysts discussing how retailers can grow in an uncertain economy, plus a session on how retailers can develop an industry-leading business without compromising ethics.

This is just a sample of the topics that will be discussed at RIC; other sessions include two panels on women in leadership, and a presentation by Shinola about how the brand has developed a nontraditional loyalty strategy. Visit the web site for a regularly updated roster of speakers.

RIC Provides More Than Education

Thought-provoking presentations are a major part of the RIC experience, but they are far from the only attraction. The show is about fostering conversation and showing off all the latest trends in retail innovation, including those that don’t lend themselves to a single discussion.

Exclusive Store Tours at Hudson Yards will offer participants their first look at New York City’s latest high-tech shopping center. Attendees will receive guided tours from executives representing several retail brands, as well as a chance to experience the cutting-edge innovations that set Hudson Yards apart from traditional shopping centers.

In addition to meeting new people during track sessions, RIC features plenty of opportunities for retail executives to relax and forge new connections in a casual environment. The Networking Breakfast kicks off the show with a golden opportunity to meet new people, lunch breaks are set up to encourage interactions, and the nightly cocktail receptions will provide an excellent opportunity to chat about highlights from the day’s speakers.

RIC offers plenty of other highlights — including the Fun Run at Central Park, Innovation Zone at Convene and Innovator Award Winners to be announced throughout the event — so don’t forget to order your ticket soon, because early bird pricing ends on March 30! Register for RIC19 here.

]]> (Bryan Wassel) Store Operations Tue, 26 Feb 2019 09:00:00 -0500
Study: 85% Of Shoppers Expect Associates To Have Instant Access To Price, Inventory Information Study: 85% Of Shoppers Expect Associates To Have Instant Access To Price, Inventory Information

As smartphones become a critical shopping tool for consumers, they expect associates to have the same level of access to digital information. In fact, 85.3% of shoppers expect retailers to provide associates with handheld or fixed devices to check inventory and price within a store, a nearly 51% increase over 2017, according to a survey from SOTI.

The Annual Connected Retailer Survey has found that consumers’ expectations of in-store technology have heightened dramatically year over year:

  • Mobile registers: 41.7% of shoppers expected this in 2018, up 64.3% from 2017; and
  • Handheld devices to communicate with the back room — 22.3% of shoppers expected this in 2018, up 29.65% from 2017.

Retailers are adopting technologies such as mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) devices with scan-and-swipe functionalities, and are even implementing modern kiosk devices that enhance self-checkout for in-store customers without the intervention of a sales associate, according to Ryan Webber, Director of Enterprise Mobility at SOTI.

“These mPOS devices ensure long queues do not form in the stores so employees can assist with inventory scanning and merchandising checkout,” said Webber in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.“This also improves customer experiences within stores, as associates can approach customers and scan their products in carts, swipe credit cards for payments and more.”

67% More Shoppers Say In-Store Mobility Accelerates Purchase Journey

Overall, 76% of shoppers indicated that retailers that use more mobile technology (both self-service and used by sales associates) enable a faster shopping experience, an increase from 67% last year. Additionally, 73% of respondents were in favor of self-service technologies that are designed to reduce staff interactions and streamline the experience — up 10.6% from last year.

In order to support consumers’ needs and expectations, retailers must invest in more in-store wireless infrastructure, upgrade payment infrastructure and add next generation beacon technology, according to Webber. He did warn retailers that as they continue to implement new technologies, they must prioritize the security measures required to make the platforms safe for consumers.

“Often these technologies are vulnerable to external threats,” Webber said. “A compromised credit card can make the most loyal of customer run for the hills. Securing any new technology and ensuring it is compliant should be paramount for retailers to safeguard reputations and ensure a secure end-to-end consumer experience.”

For example, Webber noted that mobile kiosks are “ideal targets” for criminals. He explained: “Mobile kiosks that are unsecured can be used to leak valuable customer information, and at the same time, if left unmanaged, can result in devices being out of operation during busy store hours resulting in lost revenue and productivity.”

While mobile technology can bolster the store experience, it also is helping consumers be more comfortable with different types of fulfillment methods. As many as 64% of consumers expressed that they would be comfortable with new shipping methods offered by retailers, up 6% from last year. But shoppers appear to be gaining much more comfort with the most radical changes in delivery. As many as 37.1% of consumers say they are significantly more comfortable with retailers and transportation companies using drones, an increase of 28.8% since last year, while 35.5% are more comfortable with autonomous vehicles, an increase of nearly 27%.

Voice-Activated Shopping Has Room For Growth

Virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home have garnered massive hype, with experts and analysts indicating that they’re driving the “conversational commerce” movement. Despite Amazon’s announcement that voice orders via Alexa tripled during the 2018 holiday season, only 25% of consumers with a Virtual Assistant have used it for voice-activated shopping, according the SOTI survey.

However, Webber did note that “this is just the beginning” for these technologies, so retailers can’t just give up on voice shopping yet.

“Virtual assistants have completely transformed the way society uses technology,” Webber said. “While these virtual assistants/voice-activated shopping technologies are still new in-home, we are continuing to keep an eye on how retailers will implement these technologies in-store and to increase e-Commerce. We’re confident that voice-enablement will be a future shopping trend at brick-and-mortar stores. If you think about it, voice allows for the consumer to keep their eyes on the showroom as opposed to on their phones.”


]]> (Glenn Taylor) Store Operations Fri, 22 Feb 2019 09:19:18 -0500
Can Cashierless Checkout Scale Up Without Breaking The Bank? Can Cashierless Checkout Scale Up Without Breaking The Bank?

The rise of Amazon Go has put the spotlight on cashierless checkout technology over the past year, but retailers could face real dilemmas as they seek to implement and scale up these solutions. Consumers are intrigued by the technology and appreciate anything that removes friction from the in-store checkout process, but cashierless checkout has so far been largely limited to the convenience and grocery verticals. Additionally, the solutions’ current cost structure, as well as the overall disruption they bring to store operations, remain big challenges.

Before building out cashierless checkout strategies, retailers must first consider:

  • Which of the two types of cashierless technology should be deployed within stores: Amazon Go-style AI- and computer vision-powered technology, or mobile self-checkout;
  • Why traditional self-checkout doesn’t always mean a frictionless experience;
  • Why anti-theft measures remain a big concern;
  • Costs associated with each technology; and
  • The potential disruption to the cashier employment model.

Two Sides Of Cashierless Checkout

Cashierless checkout technologies today are delivered in two iterations. The first takes the form of a typical mobile self-checkout — a shopper scans products with a mobile device as they browse the aisles, then pays for the transaction via a mobile app without having to fumble through their wallet for cash.

Consumers are warming up to the concept, with 48% of U.S. consumers expressing the belief that scan-and-go technology would make shopping easier, and 43% saying they would rather try scan-and-go than wait in a checkout line, according to data from GPShopper.

The more recent iteration of cashierless has been heavily publicized with the openings of the first 10 Amazon Go stores. Most of the major players within this space have combined AI- and computer vision-based technology with in-store sensors. Shoppers walk into a store, generally scan a QR code upon entry, then pick up whatever products they want before leaving. Shoppers automatically get billed upon leaving the store, so they don’t even have interact with their phone to pay for what they buy.

Consumers seem more enthused about this largely device-free shopping experience than the self-scanning solutions. Up to 60% of global Internet users would prefer to shop at other retailers if they offered an “Amazon Go-like” experience, according to research from MuleSoft.

“We’re seeing a groundswell of investment in cashierless-type technologies — pretty much every major hardware, software, POS vendor that I saw at NRF had some variant,” said Jerry Sheldon, Retail Analyst at IHL Services in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Most of it was data-driven, proof-of-concept technology, so both retailers and vendors see it as more of an imperative to bring that technology to bear. Look at the influence Amazon Go had without actually physically being there [at the 2019 NRF Big Show]. In a year and a half, with the influence that Amazon has now had on the checkout experience — if you asked POS vendors privately, ‘Would you be working on this technology if it wasn’t for Amazon Go?’, they’d shyly respond, ‘No, we wouldn’t be,’ even if they wouldn’t admit it publicly.”

It’s true that a number of competitors have entered this field in a relatively short period of time. During 2018, Zippin, Standard Cognition and Inokyo each opened their own convenience stores in San Francisco to serve as real-world testing grounds for their technologies. The stores are open for limited hours and offer a range of lunch items, snacks and drinks. Tests have remained limited in scope because the efficiency of these technologies depends on their ability to capture data about the consumer’s whereabouts in the store, as well as identify the items that they pick up and take with them.

“The core technology is based on AI/deep learning, and that means the model needs a significant amount of data for it to learn how people look from above when they shop, and what exactly they’re doing,” said Krishna Motukuri, CEO and Co-Founder at Zippin in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We spent almost 12 months training and perfecting the models in our own lab before launch. Since we launched last year, we’ve had numerous instances of seven to eight shoppers congregating in a 150-square-foot space, so it’s very dense scenarios. But after testing, we’ve been able to identify every shopper.”

Need For Traditional Checkout Wanes, But Self-Checkout Doesn’t Always Fill The Void

The increasing investments in cashierless solutions — even though only a few have progressed beyond trial mode —stem largely from consumer and retailer frustration with the traditional checkout experience. An earlier technology, stationary self-checkouts, tried to address this persistent problem, with mixed results.

It’s true that nearly 80% of retail decision-makers agree that staffed checkout areas are becoming less necessary due to new technologies that can automate checkout, according to the 2018 Zebra Global Shopper Study. Just over half (52%)of these decision makers are converting some of their traditional POS space to stationary self-checkout. But stationary self-checkout hasn’t totally eliminated purchasing friction, which is keeping the door open for more seamless options like cashierless checkout.

“Fundamentally, the grocery experience changed quite a bit with the introduction of scanners in the early 1990s, but it hasn’t changed or evolved beyond that,” said retail customer experience consultant Brandon Rael in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “When you shop at a large chain, you still experience a lot of friction points, whether with a cashier or self-checkout. With self-checkout, you still often have to depend on a store associate to help with the items you’re working with. It’s not always as smooth as it seems on paper.”

Tech-Savvy Supermarkets Lead The Way In Cashierless Trials

Major retailers such as Kroger, Walmart and Albertsons have made their own attempts at developing and deploying cashierless technology. Kroger scaled its “Scan, Bag, Go” technology to 400 stores in 2018, while both Walmart and Albertsons are partnering with Microsoft to develop their own tech. (Kroger has its own partnership with Microsoft, which will integrate the Scan, Bag, Go feature with its EDGE Shelf technology.)

These retailers’ focus on cashierless technology is in line with consumers’ desire to avoid checkout lines at the supermarket: 50% of shoppers say they would like to use scan-and-go technologies for grocery shopping, well ahead of any other product category, according to GPShopper:

  • Home goods (30%);
  • Fashion (27%);
  • Beauty/cosmetics (25%);
  • Sports and outdoors (21%); and
  • Automotive/car supplies (20%).

“Kroger’s taking a big step, but other chains should take a more conservative approach and a targeted strategy to a test market, especially with something this disruptive,” warned Rael. “New York City and other cities like that are excellent testing grounds for these kind of innovations. The customer is always looking for ways to expedite the checkout process. They have to target a very specific group of stores and test and measure the ROI, so that they can justify to floor directors or even shareholders where the value is in the solutions.”

One such New York City-based retailer, Fairway Market, deployed a cashierless checkout app of its own across its 19 stores, enabling shoppers to scan item barcodes or use product lookup for non-coded items such as produce. The app keeps a running total of purchases and also delivers appropriate product recommendations as well as information about coupons and store promotions. To pay for their purchases, customers scan a QR code displayed on the wall before leaving the store.

“The specific comment that stands out the most to me was from someone who loved the app but said ‘I miss saying hello and goodbye to the cashier, so can we go through the regular lane as well?’,” said Genine Fargnoli, EVP of Information Technology at Fairway Market in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They miss that connection, but with the app we felt it was a way to have the best of both worlds: convenience and connection.”

Anti-Theft Readiness Remains A Major Question

The biggest barrier that retailers need to consider when adopting cashierless checkout technologies is theft, especially since most retailers haven’t been trialing these solutions long enough to determine how they can efficiently prevent items from getting stolen.

Last year, Walmart abandoned its Scan & Go cashierless mobile checkout platform only four months after initially announcing it would expand the technology to 100 U.S. stores, with the retail giant citing “low participation” and the creation of new friction points.

But earlier this month, a former Walmart executive who had led Scan & Go told Business Insider that theft was a major reason why the company decided to end the project. “You think that the theft is bad on self-checkouts? Wait until you try Scan & Go, where nobody is watching the customers out in the aisles,” said Joel Larson, Walmart’s former head of checkout innovation. In one case, a customer tried to leave a Walmart store with a cart of approximately 100 items, only 40 of which he had scanned.

While this is only one retail executive’s story about one version of the technology, it does show that cashierless solutions will need to be monitored with a combination of anti-shrink technology and human supervision — particularly in a larger store environment.

The shrink issue is just one of the hidden costs of adding cashierless shopping options. “There’s operational changes that have to be made, there’s considerations you have to make in the payment space, and you have to be cognizant of the potential impact on shrink,” said Sheldon of IHL Services. “You’re probably still going to have some check-and-balance there where someone looks at the digital receipt, or some sort of assistance in bagging to help close out the sale process.”

Which Platforms Will Retailers Choose, And Where Will All The Cashiers Go?

In addition to security concerns, two other big challenges remain: the role of the cashier, and the ability to scale up the technology effectively and with costs that retailers can handle.

“If you roll this out across your entire chain, you’re disrupting the whole cashier model,” said Rael. “What do you do now with these resources that have been upended? Are store employees going to become brand ambassadors or product experts, or are they going to cut some of that staff as well with workforce reductions? That’s ultimately going to be an issue three to six years down the road.”

Sheldon admitted to being very bullish on cashierless checkout technology in all its forms, but also noted that the attempts to replicate the fully automated technologies will be pricey for most retailers, which could prevent them from scaling quickly. The original Amazon Go in downtown Seattle required more than $1 million in hardware alone, meaning many retailers would likely opt for partnerships with the third-party solution providers.

“On the Amazon Go end of the spectrum, the proof-of-concepts that I’ve seen range from very early in the development cycle to concepts which are only applicable on a small footprint approach and a lot of unknowns,” Sheldon said. “At the end of the day, your super Tier Ones are going to do their own thing because they have the money and the bandwidth to do so and they feel the need to get out in front of the technology, but I think it’s going to be cost-prohibitive for the vast majority of retailers to make the investment to develop their on technology. There’s plenty of opportunity out there for the AiFis and the Standard Cognitions of the world, rather than them feeling threatened by the Walmarts and Krogers developing their own systems.”

]]> (Glenn Taylor) Trend Watch Thu, 14 Feb 2019 08:05:10 -0500
Exclusive Q&A: How Dormify Pop-Ups Increased Market Revenue 250% 0aaadormifyAlthough Dormify started as a pure play retailer selling bedding and home décor designed primarily for college dorms, the company learned upon testing that a physical showroom, pop-up stores and events helped the retailer generate more revenue across all channels.

In an exclusive Q&A with Retail TouchPoints, Dormify President Caren Sinclair-Kay revealed:

  • How the retailer’s move into pop-up “Style Studios” near Chicago and Washington, D.C. increased year-over-year revenue in those markets 200% to 250%, well ahead of the national revenue boost;
  • Why the retailer’s customer acquisition push starts in January;
  • Why Instagram is the top social network for social media engagement; and
  • How the retailer differentiates itself, via online offerings including a College Freshman Planning Guide, Style Quiz and a new AR experience.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): Last year, Dormify launched its pop-up “Style Studios.” What spurred the team to make the move from pure play e-Commerce to physical storefronts, and why pop-ups?

Caren Sinclair-Kay: We have done a number of physical initiatives in the past, where we had direct-selling experiences such as trunk shows. We would get a host for an event in their home, where they could invite all their friends and have a décor shopping party. At those events, we saw that when you put college-aged stylists in someone’s home, where they could work one-on-one with a customer and design spaces with a lot of products on display, that the average order value (AOV) was substantially higher. We’re talking 3X higher than what we were seeing online.

Then we created a showroom in our New York office as the next step to that, because we felt that doing trunk shows required heavy lifting. You’d have to drive all over the Tri-State Area, sometimes you’d have to fly and bring all of this product to people’s homes. Also, when we developed the showroom, success no longer was predicated on how well a host promoted their event to their friends. Getting someone into our office for an hour-and-a-half appointment was important; we found the AOV in our New York showroom was actually 5X-6X what we were seeing online.

We concluded that we needed to scale this to other locations where we’re seeing strong traction, but we knew that if we put in a store, we would likely replicate the success that we had in New York. This didn’t encompass just the stores themselves, but the lift that online sales experienced in communities where you “pop up.”

We launched a retail storefront in Maryland right outside Washington, D.C., as well as in the Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, Ill. outside Chicago, and we were in those locations from May through August 2018.

Whereas nationally our year-over-year revenue growth was more than 100%, our growth in the Chicago market was close to 250% and growth in Washington, D.C. was close to 200%. That just arms us with more data to show that having retail storefronts really do lift the market.

RTP: How do you position your marketing strategies to cater to specific “moments” throughout the year — such as back-to-school or end-of-winter break — to ensure that you are always lined up with what college students need?

Sinclair-Kay: We view our big customer acquisition push starting in January; we’re acquiring that high school senior because it’s very much a relevant time. Many students are getting accepted to college, whether they applied early decision or had a rolling application where everything is due by Jan. 1. The students typically are getting accepted and making decisions about where they’re going by then, so they’re very much in the moment of thinking about college.

After the decision point, the thought process starts to revolve around roommates. Girls especially are looking to Instagram and Pinterest for ideas for decorating their future dorm space.

Q1 is very much a big acquisition push for us, leading up to our buying moment — our biggest shopping season happens between May and August. Through those months, we are focused on working closely with customers, whether through styling sessions online, coming into our Style Studios or using our personalization tools to help them buy via self-service on our site.

When we move out of the back-to-school season, we gear up for holiday. We do a holiday gift initiative where we’re bringing in both our best-selling bedding accessory products, like pillows and throws, which are very popular gifting items. The audience comes back to school from winter break, we look at “New Year, New You” as our capsule, where we promote organizers and water bottles and items that you would think about for New Year’s resolutions.

We just are following the cadence of what our students are thinking about and doing throughout the year. ‘We’re always with you for those moments.’

RTP: How do you develop a marketing strategy to communicate with the target segment of college-aged shoppers in a relatable way and create stories to fit that mold?

Sinclair-Kay: It’s really about understanding where someone is in the journey. Upon implementing the Zaius platform, we realized early on that it doubled as an email service provider and CRM tool that effectively mapped the journey. Using the platform, we can pull out segments of people and market to them dependent on where they are in the journey, and determine the next behavior we’re trying to stimulate.

We use Zaius for emails, but we also pull out segments from Zaius that we feed into social. For folks who are not necessarily as actively engaged in email, you can hit them in channels that they may be more active in. Clearly our audience, given their age, they’re way more active on social than they are in email. It’s important to be able to leverage the data that is stored within Zaius so we can use that within other platforms.

We very much prioritize Instagram; it’s truly our No. 1 most important platform given our audience. We’re on Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest. We have a calendar that we use to schedule and create Stories on Instagram side-by-side with sending emails. We’ve even been incorporating text as well.

We’re just trying to be where our customers are. If they prefer one channel over another, we want to ensure that we’re engaging them in the way and the place they are most frequently using.

RTP: Can you share some of the unique e-Commerce offerings from Dormify? How do you feel these offerings build authenticity for the brand?

Sinclair-Kay: Relevance is the most important thing. Our brand stands for knowing what the college process looks like, and knowing what’s important to you at this time. We’ll get college advisors to talk about early decision or finding the right roommate on our Instagram Stories. The Dormify site includes a College Freshman Planning Guide to help shoppers answer questions related to the college experience, and offers a Style Quiz to help shoppers find their ‘perfect bed’ style. All of the data that we get from the Style Quiz is fed into Zaius as well as our on-site personalization engine.

That sets us apart from any brand we compete against. If you look at our biggest competitors from a buying standpoint, you’re looking at big box players like Bed Bath & Beyond, or even Target or Pottery Barn. They’re not talking about early decision, they’re not talking about the journey that our customer goes through, and what’s on their mind. They’re trying to sell them products during the summer months. Back-to-school is one of many markets that they are serving; it’s not the key market.

We’re spending a lot of time on the next iteration of technology that allows a customer to re-create a Style Studio experience as closely as possible. Within our Style Studios, customers love that they can make or design a bed, where they can take pillows, throw blanket, etc. and put the room together. AR (augmented reality) will help create that process online as much as possible, even though you won’t be able to touch and feel the products.

There’s only so many stores we can launch in any given year, so it’s important for us to bring as much of that in-person selling experience online as possible.

]]> (Glenn Taylor) Store Operations Wed, 06 Feb 2019 09:47:04 -0500
Absenteeism Impact: 31% Of Retailers Are Understaffed For Half Of Peak Sales Periods Absenteeism Impact: 31% Of Retailers Are Understaffed For Half Of Peak Sales Periods

Absenteeism is running rampant in retail: 31% of global retailers said they are understaffed during periods of peak workload at least half the time, and 67% are understaffed at least 25% of the time, according to a survey by Kronos. Additionally, 58% of retailers are challenged by the negative impact that unplanned absences have on staff productivity, 55% feel its effects on manager stress and 46% report taking a hit to team morale.

Managing these issues can seriously hurt the bottom line: 88% of global retailers overschedule or add additional labor rather than risk being understaffed. While staffing at higher levels is a costly remedy, the alternative — not enough associates to help customers — often directly alienates shoppers.

“We had 47% of employers say unplanned absenteeism affects customer satisfaction, and another 42% believe it impacts store revenue,” said Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “The impact of absenteeism goes beyond just a budget issue — it’s also an issue to the top-line revenue and the morale in the store.”

One of the driving forces behind absenteeism is a lack of employee engagement: 52% of global retailers feel poor engagement leads to increased staff turnover, rising to 61% among retailers in the U.S. Improving associates’ engagement can both cut absenteeism and boost morale: 78% of global retailers say employee engagement is important to organizational success.

Flexibility, Work-Life Balance Focus Promotes Employee Responsibility

While managing schedules is a difficult task, 62% of retailers recognize that a greater focus on associates’ work-life balance can improve employee engagement. Associates who feel their employer cares about them are less likely to call in sick at the last minute or spend time searching for other job prospects. One simple yet effective way to generate a positive culture is to make sure associates’ work schedules match the needs of their home lives.

“People who are working in retail environments need work-life balance and flexibility, just like people who can stay home and do their jobs on a laptop,” said Maroney. “However, retail jobs, like a lot of other jobs, require that the person be present. That doesn’t mean that you can’t give people flexibility, which will make it less likely that they will call in sick because something has come up.”

If an associate has a standing engagement, such as picking up their children at a certain time on weekdays or attending church on weekends, retailers should make a note of this and avoid scheduling them during these times except when absolutely necessary. Cultivating these employee relationships will build trust, making them more rigorous about showing up when they are scheduled.

Shift-Swapping Empowers Employees And Relieves Managers

Technology is the other key to efficient, associate-empowering schedules. Shift-swapping is an important tool that can both improve employee morale and reduce workloads — 34% of retailers say managing shift-swap requests is one of the biggest workforce management challenges, and the industry believes the technology will enable a variety of specific benefits:

  • Boosts to employee (67%) and store (65%) productivity;
  • Improvements to work-life balance (64%), staff motivation (58%), morale (55%), and turnover (53%); and
  • A better customer experience (50%).

Shift-swapping solutions are particularly effective with software that lets associates request time off well in advance, giving them more control over their schedules and helping retailers find replacements without waiting for the last minute.

“A great many people are calling in one to three hours before the shift, which leaves very little time for the manager to find a replacement,” said Maroney. “A better solution is to allow the employee to signal their unavailability much earlier in time so that the manager can react. That includes strategies like giving employees the ability to swap shifts with each other through a self-service solution that a manager may or may not even have to weigh in on.”

Technology also enables retailers to understand when more associates will actually be needed, letting them schedule accordingly. Traffic analytics and other tools can track the ebbs and flows of day-to-day traffic, helping retailers understand which hours require more staffing so they can plan accordingly, working with employees’ needs to create a schedule that works for all parties.

“You’re always going to need to leave some wiggle room there for human judgement,” said Maroney. “I’m not suggesting we turn scheduling over to robots. Rather, it’s that the right scheduling tools, backed by or integrated with real data on how the store behaves over time, is going to give you the best shot at creating a schedule that will work for that store. To staff to that schedule, you need to be involving employees in the discussion so you don’t set them up for failure.”

]]> (Bryan Wassel) Store Operations Tue, 05 Feb 2019 09:04:50 -0500
Visa Empowers Female Entrepreneurs With She’s Next Campaign Visa Empowers Female Entrepreneurs With She’s Next Campaign

Visa has launched a global initiative — dubbed She’s Next, Empowered by Visa — designed to support the advancement of women-owned SMBs around the world.

The program is part of Visa’s ongoing commitment to support female entrepreneurs and encourage women SMB owners to build, sustain and advance their businesses. As part of the program, Visa will create pop-up events offering tools, resources, insights and networking for female entrepreneurs, which include:

  • Interactive workshops: Beginning with an inaugural event in Atlanta on January 30, alongside Super Bowl LIII, Visa will host a series of interactive workshops to tackle business challenges specific to each community. Future events also are planned for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019, among others.
  • Access to experts: Workshops will host experts from Visa, local and national subject matter experts and partners to maximize benefits to female business owners.
  • New research: Initial insights from a forthcoming survey, commissioned by Visa, of U.S.-based female small business owners will help to inform the issues that matter most to women entrepreneurs.
  • Advertising campaign: In 2019, Visa will launch phase two of its “Money is Changing” marketing campaign in the U.S., building on its Millennial women focus and featuring real-life female business owners. Visa will feature a diverse spectrum of women in the campaign, who will highlight the practical steps they have personally taken to change the game and challenge existing taboos when it comes to money.


“Starting and growing a business can be both incredibly rewarding and daunting. That is why Visa is committed to empowering women business owners through a year-long program of education, cutting-edge digital payment technology and a powerful peer network,” said Suzan Kereere, Global Head of Merchant Sales and Acquiring at Visa in a statement. “There is never enough time or enough resources, but when we work together to support each other, amazing things can happen.”

She’s Next is supported by the Female Founder Collective (FFC), a network of businesses led by women to support women that launched in 2018 and now has more than 3,000 members. Visa and FFC will work together to build awareness of women-owned businesses, provide more opportunities and invest in women across the socioeconomic spectrum.

“For me, other than my day-to-day job as a designer, female-founded companies are really important,” said Rebecca Minkoff, Founder of Rebecca Minkoff and the Female Founder Collective, in a statement provided to Retail TouchPoints. “Knowing that there are between 1,100 and 2,000 female-owned businesses started every day and they all have different challenges and struggles — struggles that I had. Working with Visa, I can tap into their wealth of knowledge and give that to my Female Founder Collective, and just be able to sync together and have their capacity to power businesses forward with financial help and loans.”

]]> (Klaudia Tirico) News Briefs Tue, 29 Jan 2019 09:57:14 -0500