Why flexibility is the key to the future of retail

This blog will discuss the future of retail and why finding the right technology to empower your employees and facilitate flexible working is essential.

Employing over 3 million people, the retail industry is the UK’s largest private sector employer. And for those 3 million workers, ‘flexibility in working hours’ is the second-most important factor in choosing to work in retail, after the need to ‘work in close proximity’ of where they live.

With around half of retail employees working part-time, you might think flexible working in retail is already apparent. But it’s important to distinguish the difference between part-time and flexible work: while part-time employees simply work less hours in a week, flexible working grants employees more freedom in not just when they work, but how.

More than just working from home, flexible working makes the best use of technology to strengthen collaboration and communication between colleagues. In retail, that might look like:

  • Mobile devices used by sales assistants instore
  • Document sharing between the store and head office
  • Video conferencing for global executive meetings
  • Collated data streams for holistic reporting

The challenge thus far has been providing end-users with all these benefits at once at the right cost point. An instore retail employee may use a device or software for tracking stock, for example. But this may be solely designed for this purpose alone, and does not let the employee quickly tell their colleagues they need a certain item to be re-stocked, talk to head office, or lookup other data. For that, they often need another mobile or custom application.

The Microsoft Surface family is a range of devices that combine portability and ease-of-use with enterprise-grade performance. This is combined with the Microsoft productivity suite; software like the Office suite, Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams that aid workers in their communication and collaboration. Each Surface device is designed to help your business, in retail and any other industry, improve flexibility and productivity in the workplace, in turn boosting the overall profitability of the business.

How can you support flexible working in your organisation?

How might flexibility in retail take shape?

Connected devices

Provide store staff with more powerful devices in their pocket to better connect with both colleagues and customers. A tablet device, for example, can connect to company data for more visibility into areas like stock and sales, and allow colleagues to keep each other updated at all times. But they also give workers the freedom to approach customers with helpful advice (like information regarding stock) rather than the customer going to a desk for help.

Remote working

Not all employees work instore. ‘Virtual’ retail specialists deal with most of the behind-the-scenes in retail—answering product questions, investigating billing issues, processing orders and issuing returns. Providing they have the means to make and receive inbound and outbound phone calls, this can easily be done remotely.
Skype for Business is dedicated to keep remote workers communicating, from crystal clear voice calls to video conferencing and instant chat.

Working together

If employees are in different locations, it’s imperative to keep them digitally connected. But this goes beyond instant chat, audio calls or video conferencing. With sales, stock, inventory, and consumer data all residing in different locations (sometimes overseas if businesses operate on a global scale) it needs to be brought together. Using a unified set of devices—mobile, tablet, laptop or PC—otherwise disparate data can be amalgamated for things like reporting and analytics.
Microsoft Teams creates a dedicated sharing space for teams of any shape or size, and is the perfect place to enable productivity in remote teams.

Flexibility that goes beneath the Surface

Whether using mobile devices to help customers within the walls of the store or helping them over the phone to solve invoicing issues, retail workers need the hardware to support flexible working.

The Microsoft Surface family is a set of devices designed to replace the traditional laptop with a more mobile alternative, while maintaining the power and sustainability of the Windows 10 operating system. Surface devices offer the same functionality as a laptop or PC, with added portability and flexibility—perfect for the on-the-go needs of workers in the retail sector.

Not every business will want or need the same mix of devices, configurations, and software. With a range of devices available, there is a Surface model for every business and its requirements.

Store staff may benefit from the Surface Pro, a highly-portable tablet with detachable keyboard. While the Surface Book may better serve the back office, who typically need more processing power for their work.

Knowing which implementation is right for your business therefore requires insight in to how your business operates, the benefits and limitations of Surface devices, and the logistics of a flexible working initiative.

Centrality can help you with each of these important steps. We’ll work closely with you to understand the inner-workings of your business, so we can judge which implementation will allow you to get the most out of flexible working. We’ll ensure a smooth roll-out of devices, and help you with user adoption after roll-out. We’ll also keep everything ticking over with continued security support.