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The shop assistant of the future is a supply chain expert

Thursday October 27 2011

Often when we talk about shop assistants, many of us envisage “here to help” badges or people sat behind a till. Alex MacPherson, supply chain solutions consultant, discusses how that’s set to change in a big way

Often when we talk about shop assistants, many of us envisage “here to help” badges or people sat behind a till. Alex MacPherson, supply chain solutions consultant, discusses how that’s set to change in a big way

 

Walk into most shops and you’ll find that shop assistants who either add value by helping with product selection and upselling, or simply taking money and bagging goods. In the future, Alex MacPherson, solutions consulting manager at Manhattan Associates, said assistants will require very different skills because customers already have comprehensive information on their smartphones about competitive pricing, product availability and alternative products.

 

“To maximise sales the assistant has to be a ‘supply chain’ expert, able to offer convenient service at a competitive price, knowing how to get the goods to the customer in the way they want,” he said. “This service requires stock visibility on the shop floor and the flexibility to reserve or deliver stock instantly.”

 

New skills, new approach

 

To deliver their new supply chain and IT skills – for example scheduling deliveries from supplier or arranging a pick-up in-store – MacPherson said shop assistants can use tablet computers or smartphones to obtain instant supply chain visibility, as well as process payments and trigger a series of events to get the customer their goods.

 

“This sort of mobile distributed selling enables the shop assistant to take the customer the entire way through the process: checking stock levels, identifying available items, processing payments and fulfilling the delivery,” he continued.

 

“This approach is an important factor in achieving what’s becoming known as ‘zero-disappointment retail’. This increases customer satisfaction with a greater chance of repeat business, and boosts order take by several percent and – cumulatively over a period of time and across all channels – literally millions of pounds.

 

The future of EPoS

 

As shop assistants use tablets and customers increasingly use their own handheld devices to scan QR codes or barcodes, he also pointed out that a lot of activity circumvents the traditional electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) system. “However many retailers currently do not adapt their EPoS systems to include mobile distributed selling (MDS); they add it on top,” he said.

 

“The information available through mobile devices often far outweighs that available through EPoS. However, the traditional till still has a place for many retailers. Those with large average basket size will keep till-points, perhaps only using MDS to break up queues and stop customers dropping out.

 

“Those who typically sell single items will likely scale EPoS down because they can be more flexible operating through mobile distributed selling models. As an example, Apple’s retail stores have few, if any, till points.”

 

Real estate benefits

 

Lowering EPoS presence and increasing mobile distributed selling means High Street real estate can become more of a product showroom. “One of the primary reasons for customers going instore is to touch and test items that they’re interested in buying – something they cannot do online,” he added. “More demonstrations mean more reason to go instore, then the flexibility to get the product to the customer’s preferred collection point, at any time, will revolutionise the way that we shop.”

 

To do this MacPherson stated that retailers must have agile, responsive supply chains. “Customers must be able to go into a shop and have their purchased goods on that same day – even if that item is not on the premises,” he stated. “The constant increase in customer expectation forces retailers to anticipate the on-going change and development in consumer behaviour.

 

“This level of agility requires several parts of the supply chain to work in unison. The warehouse needs to be optimised to get instant, accurate stock levels and identify a rapid route to customer. Then monitoring goods in transit and any location across the supply chain helps pinpoint exactly where the customer’s product is. Finally, the flexibility to orchestrate delivery options means fulfilling the customer’s preference and minimising delivery cost goals.”