An Employee’s Role in an All-Tech World

February 26, 2018

Shopping today looks nothing like what I remember 20 years ago. Back then, my wife and I would haul the kids to the supermarket where we would spend what felt like hours going from one aisle to another, trying to find a staff member, and attempting to keep my son and daughter away from the toy section. Our cumbersome experience would finally end when we made our way through the mile-long checkout line and schlepped our groceries home. Today, it’s an entirely different story.

Modern consumers are looking for a shopping experience that makes their lives easier and satisfies their needs beyond products. As is well documented, they seek experiences, not “stuff.” Despite a heightened focus on leveraging technology to replace people, progressive companies are seeing the workforce as a competitive advantage. More importantly, these employees are the folks that are going to be responsible for pushing your Private Brands in the future as we continue to personalize retail. Here’s how I see employee roles shaping up…

Upskilling the Workforce
The proliferation of automation doesn’t mean employees are irrelevant, it means they will need to move into new roles to complement technology. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study on the labor force in 46 countries, less than 5% of occupations could be fully automated using today’s technology, but almost a third of tasks involved in 60% of occupations could be. Therefore, to make the most of employees, private brands and retailers would be well served by upskilling their staff to fill open positions. Amazon Go, the checkout-free store, is upskilling its employees by transitioning its staff’s tasks away from checkout lines to focus on restocking shelves, helping customers troubleshoot technical problems and cooking food for fresher in-store meals. These efforts can be duplicated with a private brand bent.

Making it Personal
According to Gallup, customers who are fully engaged represent an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared to the average customer. In other words, employees are the new loyalty and ensuring their interactions are more personable can boost the bottom line. I know this tactic has worked for me in the past. Every time I go to Trader Joes an employee at checkout suggests something new based on what I picked up that day, and I often try those foods because their recommendations feel sincere. Costco does the same thing but in a more strategic way by offering private brand samples, which help make customers loyal to the store and boost sales.

Digitizing Private Brands
Our shopping has become “smarter” with newer online, voice-enabled and delivery options. With this shift has come less face-to-face interaction and a need for online Private Brand investment as we look to make these brands standout. My wife recently used Instacart, a service that allows shoppers to buy local groceries online with the help of a personal shopper, and what we discovered is that the private brand strategy was nil. Although there were stores that highlighted private brands with a category called “Exclusively at” most stores didn’t have this and were being overshadowed by the coupons and sales at the top of the page that showcased national brands only. As services like Instacart grow, it’s time to consider how to highlight private brands online, by at least making them a separate category, since Daymon’s Private Brand study found 53% of shoppers say they shop at a store for its Private Brands specifically.

Employees will continue to play a role in the digital world by adding a human element the same way our Instacart personal shopper did. By the end, she felt like a friend and joined us for a cup of coffee at my house. That’s exactly what the employee’s new role is all about.

How do you anticipate employee roles will change with the retail tech revolution? Shoot me a note at