By Paul Wolf

Google gets it. So does Marriott. The wholesale retailer, Costco, also gets a high-five for a job well done.  All three benefit from a sort of economic karma, according to USA Today.

The article details how these companies focus on their employees and how it translates into success — as reflected in the company’s stock prices and the bottom line. The article proves its point as it shares how stocks have soared for such companies.

“Retailers who are winning emphasize how to make employees smarter, know more about products and reduce reaction time.” -- Paul Wolf, vice president of retail and consumer products for Xerox.

“Retailers who are winning emphasize how to make employees smarter, know more about products and reduce reaction time.” — Paul Wolf, vice president of retail and consumer products for Xerox.

So, do global companies, especially retailers, focus on their employees? Ask any frontline worker within a store and you may just find there’s a lot of room for improvement. A recent survey reveals a growing recognition, among retailers worldwide, that in-store employees are an unequivocal asset in long-term growth and customer loyalty. Here at Xerox, we asked Retail Systems Research (RSR) to conduct an independent study of global retail executives about their in-store business challenges, opportunities, priorities and plans of action. Here are some initial insights. More are available in the full research report.

Sharing Their In-Store Challenges

  • 64% say they need to improve customer service, yet they also manage payroll costs.
  • 59% say they need to improve employee productivity and be more consistent in their store execution.
  • More than half of the retailers (51%) surveyed say they need to be more adept at managing consumer price sensitivity. An example is training employees to be better at serving shoppers who are “showrooming,” which is the practice of using smartphones or tablets for real-time, in-store product comparisons of features and prices.

The executives shared many other challenges, yet the primary takeaway is this: Among retailers worldwide, a profound move to invest in in-store workers is underway, so that the workers can be more personal, productive and proficient.

Winning with Workers—and “The How”

Retailers recognize they must improve the in-store experience. They listed three primary needs:

  • Improve productivity of in-store employees .
  • Improve in-store workers’ personalized attention to shoppers.
  • Educate and empower in-store employees with technology.

It’s compelling to recognize that all three findings relate directly to the frontline worker.  There’s no chatter about in-store technologies, customer-centric programs or even cool gizmos such as kiosks and self-checkout. Even more compelling is the fact that this worker mentality actually does welcome “economic karma.”

RSR analyzed the retail respondents and designated two groups − Winners and Laggards. Retailers with 3% sales growth or more are considered Winners. When comparing Winners and Laggards, data show the Winners are engaged with employees to achieve the top three in-store needs. These Winners:

  • Educate and empower.
  • Emphasize the how, i.e., how to make employees smarter, know more about products and reduce reaction time. In contrast, Laggards say they want to “gain and retain customers” but do not consider the worker or the “how to.”
  • Prioritize in-store employee work schedules so they spend more time with customers instead of stocking shelves in the back room.

The answer to winning as a retailer is to invest in employees — give them tools, technology and training — that ensures every employee is personal, productive and proficient. Doing so yields winning results for retailers, their in-store employees and, yes, most certainly for the shopper.

Please share your comments and perspectives. Do retailers win when their frontline workers come first? You may download the full RSR report here.

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