The evolving retail model

In-store activity has become increasingly diverse and is driving change in the way retailers operate. The evolving retail model means that customers now expect stores to provide a wide variety of services, everything from click and collect to personal shopping and self-service kiosks.

However this model can be the undoing of customer service, as well as the making of it. The complexity lies in optimising staff numbers to ensure an excellent customer experience across so many different touch points. It is not only essential that retailers have the adequate staff numbers to support this new retail model, but that they have the right staff are in the right place at the right time.

Managing change

Efficient retail operations increasingly adopt a fluid approach to store associate activity, reallocating individuals on the fly in response to evolving needs – from responding to specific customer questions to restocking shelves, fulfilling a click and collect order or operating the check-outs. With this approach, managers can optimise staff numbers and minimise unproductive time, doing more with less.

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The challenge for traditional retailers, however, is twofold: determining how to overcome any resistance from employees used to working within one specific area throughout a shift, and finding a way to rapidly and efficiently communicate with employees throughout the day to ensure they are at the right place at the right time.

Certainly the limitations of traditional communication methods are well known, for example the intrusive and dated nature of tannoy announcements, costly telephone contracts and inefficient pagers. One alternative that is gaining increasing market presence is the use of lightweight, wireless, headsets to enable staff and managers to communicate immediately across the store.

Store associate experience

Using a single digital channel, the headsets ensure all staff are continually on message – unlike pagers or telephone systems that need to be answered. As a result, managers can efficiently reallocate store associates to specific areas as required – opening check-outs, restocking shelves, and so on.

In addition, staff can also communicate with each other – asking questions of product specialists to immediately answer a customer query, for example, or quickly getting someone on the shop floor to fulfil a two for one offer for a customer already at the check-out. The immediate and shared communication enables store associates to work together as a team to improve overall efficiency and productivity.

Improving communication can have a direct impact on the overall staff experience – and one that plays an important role in reducing store associate churn. In those stores that run a skeleton late night staff or are at risk of opportunist thefts, the ability to be in constant communication with every other store associate is a major asset and one that can play an important role in engaging staff into this way of working.

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In addition retailers can also use the headsets to undertake individual staff training, avoiding the need for out-of- hours group training sessions, and getting new recruits onto the shop floor sooner.

Indeed, the majority of store associates perceive headset based communication as an enabler – not only keeping them safe but also facilitating more efficient ways of working and faster customer response.

Embracing new approaches

When it comes to click & collect, it appears retailers still have a way to go in providing the optimal experience. According to recent research 43% of UK adults who used a click & collect service in the last 12 months experienced an issue, 26% cited long waiting times due to a lack of staff and 18% said staff had been unable to locate Click & Collect items in store.

There is less and less tolerance for waiting in line, especially for Generation Z and Millennials. Asking customers to join a queue, provide purchase details, then step to one side whilst the order is being fulfilled, does not deliver the fast, efficient experience expected.

Instead, retailers could look to a model that delivers the quickest turnaround on order to delivery: fast food. With a 90 second fulfilment process, drive thru’ is a tried and trusted experience familiar to the vast majority of customers; and this same model can be successfully deployed by retailers to achieve a frictionless click and collect service.
With a Quick Response (QR) code within a purchase receipt, a customer can simply drive up and scan the code at the drive thru’ entrance.

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Immediately, both the retailer’s order taker and warehouse operative will receive a notification via headset that a customer has arrived and see the order number and customer information displayed on a screen.

The order taker will respond by confirming the order details and asking the customer to drive to the collection window; while the order picker will find and deliver the item (s) to the collection point. The entire process should take no longer than 90 seconds – exceeding customer expectations.

The key to the quality of experience is the ability to provide an immediate customer interaction. During the time the order is confirmed and the customer is asked to drive to the collection bay, the warehouse operative can locate the items and fulfil the order.

There is no delay, no point at which the customer is left waiting. It is seamless, efficient and fast – the quick in-and-out experience without queuing that customers want from click and collect.


The retail model is changing and it is retailers’ duty to ensure that consumer expectations are met. Whilst offering dynamic multi-role in-store operations is important, those demanding customer expectations cannot be met by technology alone.

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Store associates still have an essential role to play in enabling good customer experience cross every touch point, be it click and collect or answering product questions.

Therefore, in order to provide the ultimate customer experience, retailers need to arm their staff with the tools that will enable them to work more fluidly than they would in the traditional store. This will then help retailers to create the speedy, seamless experience that the modern customer is looking for, and put themselves ahead of the competition.


Sourced by Tom Downes, CEO, Quail Digital

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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