When it comes to retail, maintaining the status quo is a death sentence. Survival depends on agility. For many retailers, that means experimenting with new technology (or, in some cases, updating five-year-old POS systems).
But even the most innovative retailers don’t take changes in technology lightly. They do it to make something better, be it a process, a service, or the overall customer experience. By the time a company has committed to implementing a new technology, they’ve already sunk significant money into countless hours of research, selection, vetting, and selling it to the C-suite.
But there’s one more piece to the puzzle — the “last mile” piece — that’s as important as all the other steps combined: rolling the new technology out to the stores. All new technology requires store teams to do something, whether it’s learning how to use a new hand-held device or physically setting up new cash registers. If they don’t properly execute those tasks, the new technology won’t reach its full potential and could even cause problems that detract from the customer experience.
How do you ensure proper execution? By mapping out every step of the process and thinking about what the store teams need to know or do at each step. Then, you work with store comms to develop a communication campaign that will make it happen.
Always start with the “why”
Retail environments are highly susceptible to the “us vs. them” mentality. Most corporate headquarters are geographically removed from their sales outlets, and that distance is often a metaphor for a psychological divide, where top-down edicts can evoke defensiveness and lead to the belief that “corporate” doesn’t know anything about working in a store. Headquarters, meanwhile, fears lack of adoption, decreased productivity, and any number of other less-than-stellar outcomes that would prevent leaders’ techno-dreams from being realized in-store.
The best way to avoid that problem is to start by simply communicating the vision for the technology and the impact its meant to have. At the corporate level, teams identify the benefits of any proposed technology (why it’s good for the company, store employees, and the customer experience) long before making an actual purchase.
Sometimes, however, corporate forgets to tell all that to stores. And that sets the scene for store employees to see the new technology as just another disruption to getting things done. That, in turn, leaves the folks at headquarters scratching their heads and wondering why the stores don’t understand what a game-changer this amazing new technology will be!
Providing the history and context behind the selection of new technology not only keeps its imminent arrival top-of-mind for employees, but also builds a case for buy-in and helps create a feeling of collaboration rather than dictation. It’s even better if HQ gives store operators a chance to communicate their thoughts and questions back to headquarters before the date of the rollout. Two-way communication soothes fears, creates a sense of ownership, and allows for fewer hiccups when launch day arrives.
Effectively rolling out new retail technology
While communicating the vision and purpose for new technology is the first step, HQ then needs to do meticulous planning: laying out each step of the process, anticipating any complications, and then creating a communications campaign accordingly.
When planning a technology rollout, make sure you know the answers to the questions below. Then decide how and when to send that information to the stores:
- Delivery: When will the technology land in stores? Will it arrive in one box or multiple shipments? Where will it be stored until installation? Does it need to be secured, or can it sit in the stockroom with backstock? Keeping store teams in the loop on logistics like these will help them identify any missing pieces and know what they’re supposed to do with everything once they get it. And keep in mind that, if the rollout will hit different stores at different times, your messaging will have to be timed accordingly, so that each store gets the right message at the right time.
- Timing: When is the implementation set to happen, and how can it go forward in the least disruptive way possible? Giving operators as much advance notice as possible allows them to accommodate the rollout without an interruption of store services.
- Execution: Who will be in charge of getting the new tech online? Will it be store staff, or technical experts deployed expressly for the implementation? Do you have a help center or other troubleshooting plan in place to mitigate issues on installation day? Knowing who will be executing the process is critical to providing the correct level of instruction and support for the go-live date.
- Closeout: If your new technology is a replacement or an upgrade, what should stores do with their old equipment? Does it need to be shipped somewhere? If so, provide packaging and a label for each store. Can it be donated or recycled, or does it need to be destroyed? Provide the name and address of acceptable facilities where secure donation or destruction can happen. However you choose to deal with your old tech, communicating your expectations and removing barriers for store staff is key. Decide on your closeout plan ahead of time, and provide stores with detailed instructions about how to help close out the project.
Expect the unexpected
No matter how carefully you plan, it’s always possible that things may go awry. Shipments can be delayed, or stores can experience unexpectedly busy weekends that delay installation. Even digitally savvy retailers can expect a learning curve when it comes to rollouts, but open communication and continued training turn bumps in the road into opportunities for improvement.
Store surveys can help headquarters keep up with who’s on track with the rollout and who’s lagging behind. That’s important information, because it gives the experts at headquarters an opportunity to call stores that are lagging, find out what’s causing the delay, and provide working solutions. That kind of initiative and accountability will help avoid reinforcing the notion that “corporate doesn't know what they're doing.”
When an “update” is really a radical leap forward
Making minor updates to existing technology or adding technology similar to what employees already own (like tablets to use on the sales floor) might not require much more communication than letting employees know when new devices arrive and what to do with them.
Radical leaps across the digital horizon, however, require a lot more work. When the new technology you’re rolling out will drastically change the way store teams do their jobs, ongoing training and support is essential. According to TrainingIndustry.com, effective training includes “coaching, job shadowing, role-play, game-based learning, classroom training or e-learning,” allowing employees to navigate complex new technologies in multiple ways before integrating them into the day-to-day workings of a brick-and-mortar store. At the very least, employees should have access to a beta version to play around with before things go live.
If your budget doesn’t have room for that kind of “best practice” training, make the most of your communications campaign. Include “chunked” training modules in a searchable resource library so employees can find answers to questions.
What to expect when you’re expecting new technology
You’ve spent countless hours researching technology options, vetting your favorites, and making your case to the C-suite. But the job isn’t done until the new tech is in the stores and employees are using it with only minor hitches. The best way to accomplish that is to break things down step-by-step and create clear messaging for each one (plus a place to go for help).
But, no matter how thoroughly you prepare, you won’t think of everything. Making it simple for store teams to find answers, to learn from each others’ struggles, and to stay connected with those who can troubleshoot or provide coaching is critical to success.
Cloud-based communication platforms like Retail Zipline offer an effective platform for communication between IT teams and in-store teams, ensuring expectations and timelines for implementation, training, and full integration are clearly communicated and understood. Schedule your demo today.