Walmart is testing an updated dress code which allows employees greater freedom when it comes to what they wear to work. The pilot program has been extended to less than 100 stores and allows workers to wear solid-colored blue jeans instead of khaki or black denim pants. Workers can also wear solid-colored shirts instead of white or solid blue shirts. Justin Rushing, Corporate Communications Director at Walmart, says that Walmart listens to its associates and uses their feedback to help test new ideas. The test has no expiration date.
Total Retail’s View: Walmart wants to be more than a traditional, rigid brand that exerts control over its workers. Instead of looking like a company that is strict and controlling, it wants to become more open-minded and approachable. Walmart has implemented a relaxed dress code, higher wages and bonuses and new employee benefits (e.g. expanded maternity leave and parental leave benefits) to attract and retain workers in this tight labor market. The dress code is not the only thing that matters. Store associates are the face and voice of the retail brand. It’s important to have a policy to help them present themselves to customers. Good first impressions can make a big difference in gaining the trust of shoppers. Walmart could make a common-sense concession and allow employees to wear blue jeans. This would help it earn valuable goodwill from its employees.
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The Retail Store Experience Will Be Reborn by Technology
Online shopping has many benefits. Q2 2017 ecommerce sales reached $111.5 billion. This is a 16.2 percentage increase over the previous year. However, 64 per cent online shoppers would prefer to shop in physical stores if they had the choice. This number is surprising because it increases with younger shoppers. Millennials, and even Gen Z , prefer to shop at stores.
It is clear that aspects like tactile satisfaction, instant pleasure, and social dynamics are driving a revival of retail stores. This was evident by the well-documented opening of physical shops by formerly-online-only retailers.
However, brick-and-mortar 2.0 is not enough to make it profitable, especially for younger generations. The key to retail’s success is technology. A “brick-and-tech” omnichannel model that combines the best of both the online and offline worlds creates concierge shopping experiences for customers and opens up new opportunities for brands to radically reinvent the way they engage and understand consumers.
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The future stores will appeal to the desire for educational and entertaining experiences. Virtual reality content (VR) will be used by retailers to create immersive and interactive experiences that allow customers to become part of the story. A sporting goods store may offer a gym for customers to use; a grocery store might have cooking classes or an outdoor equipment shop that organizes outdoor activities. Customers can enjoy a basketball court with digital video screens and an enclosed soccer trial area. There is also a touchscreen embedded in the walls of the store. In Nike’s SoHo store, dedicated coaches are available to help customers test new sneakers. This is true “experience-driven retail.”
Brands are increasingly turning to pop-up shops for curated retail experiences as a way to combat the overwhelming online shopping options. Revolving stores are ideal for temporary support such as product launches, seasonal merchandise, and try-me opportunities. They offer customers an endless menu and allow retailers to deliver physical options at a lower cost and risk.
Technology will make shopping in-store more interactive by using touchscreen panels that allow customers to combine merchandise and virtual fitting rooms. Customers can also use augmented reality to view themselves in different situations. The technology will allow retailers to duplicate the benefits of online shopping by allowing customers to walk into stores and have their information, such as who they are, how much they shop, and what they’ve seen online. This will keep the engagement going rather than starting from scratch.
Social media and peer recommendation are a major influence on millennials, who are hungry for social interaction. While they will shop online for products, they want to feel, touch and explore them before making a purchase. They also want to share that experience with their friends and families. You can even exchange online discounts for group experiences, such as those at Books-A-Million. This is where the bookstore has become a social destination. Retailers will use social shopping technology to place digital screens in key areas such as parking lots, shopping districts junctions, shop windows, and eateries. This helps customers to find products, read reviews, and navigate to the right store. Interactive online galleries showcase user-generated content.
Nordstrom Local is another example. It offers manicures and a bar that sells alcohol and coffee. Online orders can also be picked up in store.
Even though smartphones don’t have the same computing power as computers, this still has a significant impact on consumers’ expectations of what the in-store experience should look like. Ninety percent said that they use the phone to shop in stores. They’ll be using these devices more often in the future, particularly to make it easier, like click-and-collect and mobile checkout. In-store pickup is another convenience that is growing in popularity. Nearly 8/10 respondents said they would consider purchasing digitally and picking it up if they could get it three days before.
Technology-enabled, click and brick parking will allow shoppers to find parking spots. Other options include shared economy parking, e-hailing pickup areas, and fast-charging electric vehicle stations. As autonomous vehicles decrease the need for private-car parking, parking garages could be converted to retail space.
Online shopping offers a huge advantage: the ability to track customer information. Online data can be merged with in-store data to help retailers better understand their customers and create new digital communication channels with them in-store. Shelf-edge technology allows shoppers to search product information, review and receive recommendations directly from their device. Digital signage that is IoT enabled can send location-specific content directly to consumers. The digital signage will allow store associates to view customer preferences and behavior data and interact with customers from anywhere on the floor.
The operational efficiencies offered by connected technologies include improved inventory management and operational efficiency. The internet-enabled smart tags will allow you to instantly adjust shelf-edge prices to lower promotional and low-turnover products.
While physical retail shopping is still very popular, it is important that the way that they are delivered changes to meet consumers’ changing expectations. Technology, like many other industries has the potential to transform in-store experiences and provide new and surprising ways to connect with customers.