Signet Jewelers, owner of Zales, Kay Jewelers and Jared chains, reported low holiday sales and suggested that it would accelerate store closings. In the nine weeks ending Jan. 5, sales at stores that have been open at least 12 months saw a drop of 1.3 percent. Signet cited “reduced traffic in key December gifting week weeks” as the reason. Its Jared chain, which operates out of malls and has its own stores, suffered similar sales drops of 8 percent. Virginia Drosos, Signet CEO, stated in a statement that the company would “move decisively” to increase profitability by aggressively optimizing its cost structure and continuing right-sizing our store base.
Total Retail’s View: At this time of the year, you will often see a rise in bankruptcies and store closings as retailers wait for important holiday sales figures to arrive before making any decisions about the next year. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have had a difficult start to 2019, with Gymboree, Shopko filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and Sears holding on for dear life. Signet is another case where the hits just keep coming. The company had earlier announced that it would pay $11,000,000 in penalties to federal regulators in order to resolve charges that it opened credit-card accounts at its stores without customers’ consent. Signet hopes to improve its profitability in 2019 by strategically reducing its stores.
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Next-Generation Store Associate: New Ideal Profile Emerges
Brick-and-mortar retail is evolving, as are the workers needed. The store is becoming a showroom, guide shop, meeting place, and entertainment destination. Retailers are developing more immersive experiences by digitizing in-store journeys, raising the level of service and asking employees to be more tech-savvy and add more value. This is changing the ideal job profile and driving the demand for higher skill sets. As store associates, they are expected to do more than simply fold clothes and register. They will also be asked to become style guides, brand ambassadors, personal shoppers, and product experts. To check stock, find customers, collect customer information and manage clientele, store associates will be required to use the new mobile apps.
The new flagship Mulberry luxury shop in London is a great example. It has enabled associates to use iPads to enhance the in-store experience. Workers have full access to the Tulip Customereling mobile app and can view all stock in the company. They also have access to mobile tools for clienteling, assisted selling, and mobile checkout. Mulberry’s passionate, tech-savvy store associates provide an exceptional in-store experience.
Credit: Tulip Retail
While finding talent to use the new digital tools is important, it is just one aspect of hiring employees. Retailers need workers who are passionate about providing exceptional service to customers in order to offer a better in-store experience. Retailers are realizing that store associates who feel part of the retailer’s vision and help in deploying the right strategies to make it a success will be the best. Management must take a new approach to employee engagement and alignment. Retailers need to be selective in hiring associates for their stores.
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Unfortunately, this new worker profile is needed in a time of labor shortage. It is more difficult than ever to hire and keep workers, given the low unemployment rate and small pool of job applicants. Retailers are being forced to do more with fewer people due to minimum wage increases. It is crucial to have efficient and effective associates, as there are fewer people who can interact with customers.
Another factor that drives the demand for store associates with higher skills is consumer expectation. Customers expect knowledgeable, skilled workers who have access to the latest technology to match their online shopping experience. Online shopping is all about convenience, price, and selection. These same elements are important in-store. Access to large product choices that are easy to find, rich information that helps them make recommendations, and tools that help them get the job done quicker and more efficiently for shoppers are all essential elements of store associates. These tools must be provided by retailers to their associates, or they will have to deal with frustrated customers and workers.
What’s the bottom line? The ideal profile for a store associate has changed drastically, and there is a fierce competition for this type of retail talent. It’s not the right time to make a quick buck in staffing and hiring. Instead, it’s time to understand exactly what profile is required and what applicants are looking for. This includes offering better wages, better schedules, and better treatment. This also means giving workers better tools, such as the right technology and mobile apps. The customer experience is the most important aspect of retail. However, it’s not the only thing that matters. The next generation of store associates will expect more from their employer. Your company’s success will depend on your ability to meet their expectations.
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