RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • Customers can now buy from anywhere. They expect retailers to have a clear purpose and deliver convenience and differentiated experiences.
  • Technologies like artificial intelligence can help to increase personalization and responsiveness to help retailers deliver against their purpose.
  • To grow, retailers must rethink the future workforce and plan how to give employees the tools, training and support they need to use new technology.


How the workforce can elevate customer experiences and drive growth

Retail has become an integrated marketplace where customers can shop across channels at any time and buy on impulse from whomever they want. They expect retailers and brands to not only have a clear purpose, but also deliver convenience and differentiated experiences.

New uses of technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, have tremendous power to increase personalization and responsiveness to help retailers deliver against their purpose. But as machines take on more tasks, customer-facing labor becomes even more important. Store associates become brand ambassadors. Sales associates can share a depth of product and service knowledge while using technology to enhance customer interactions.

To grow in the future, retailers must rethink the future workforce and plan how to give employees the tools, training and support they need to use new technology to deliver seamless customer experiences and drive growth. However, Accenture research shows that there are large gaps between executives’ aspirations and how they are preparing their workers.

Intelligent technologies can differentiate the business

Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of the retail C-suite (CXOs) agree that adopting intelligent technologies will be critical to the organization’s ability to differentiate in the market. Emerging technologies can help both the corporate and customer-facing workforces to be more effective in their jobs. Intelligent technologies can automate execution work that requires minimal human judgment. Automating routine, transactional jobs reduces human error and frees up workers to focus on thinking, problem solving and doing creative work they are passionate about.



Those in customer-facing roles can improve interactions and deliver more personalized services because technology provides an end-to-end view of customer purchases and preferences. Machines perform advanced analytics, and workers with domain expertise can act on those insights, adding a new level of precision to their work. For instance, merchants are equipped to readily sense the needs of customers so they can respond in meaningful and innovative ways—giving people what they want, when they want it, from someone they trust.

Retailers can use algorithms to identify gaps in talent. And where there are skills gaps, the business can use AI to upskill and reskill people through rapid online learning. Work that occurs at the strategic layer requires higher-level thinking, and it allows people to unleash their human inspiration to create differentiation and achieve outcomes.

Retailers can use algorithms to identify gaps in talent. And where there are skills gaps, the business can use AI to upskill and reskill people.

Work differently: Power of people and technology

56%

of CXOs believe AI will improve workforce productivity and half believe it will transform the workplace

63%

CXOs ranked “growing skills gap” as the top trend influencing their workforce strategy

12%

are conducting advanced workforce planning, taking into account future skills needs

4%

plan to significantly increase investment in employee reskilling programs

Gaps between plans and preparedness

Retail leaders want intelligent technologies. Employees (54 percent) are ready and willing to adapt to AI and 59 percent feel AI will encourage creativity and innovation. However, only 32 percent of employers believe the workforce is ready to work with AI.

Leaders must lead the evolution, yet only 5 percent of CXOs are establishing a new leadership role to manage and promote human-machine collaboration. Retail C-suite leaders—not just HR—should champion change and demonstrate how technology can make work easier, more efficient and more meaningful. Just 9 percent of companies are undergoing an organizational realignment and change management program. Retailers must step out of their comfort zone and be proactive in creating new structures, roles, measures and skills to compete. To plan for the future, CXOs must upskill and reskill employees, helping them deliver on the retailer’s purpose and to remain relevant in the evolving workforce. CXOs recognize that workers need new skills and, in fact, the top skills they cited as important are resource management (51 percent), communication skills (38 percent) and judgment/decision making skills (32 percent).

Head offices will require new skill sets around data, analytics and AI, but these skills are also needed in the field and stores. Delivery staff need to be service-focused and highly customer-centric. Investment in HR analytics can help predict where to invest and how to better attract and retain core retailing and other talent.

Making the change

Retail CXOs can lead with people to differentiate customer experiences and drive growth. These four steps will guide your decisions about the future workforce, and they will help with recruitment and retention.

Embrace the power of technology

AI and other new technologies are tools for growth. They connect disparate functions making it easier for workers to do their jobs well, and the human-AI collaboration can also help boost revenue.

Rethink the workforce model

Prioritize skills needed to deliver your company’s purpose and differentiated customer experiences. Help employees add skills to remain relevant. Rethink structure, teams, performance and measurement.

Power up with people

Retailers need the right people with the right skills. Whether internal or external, technology along with ecosystem collaboration makes acquiring on-demand talent and skills easier than ever.

Cultivate diverse talent

Retailers should have a mature approach to inclusion and diversity, including top leaders’ accountability as well as a recruitment and retention strategy that targets diverse populations.

Rebecca Tully

Managing Director – Accenture Consulting, Retail

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