Avoid a Mutiny: How to Prepare Your Retail Staff For Analytics

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Avoid a Mutiny: How to Prepare Your Retail Staff For Analytics

By Ed Higdon. Posted in Uncategorized

June 03, 2015

Early adopters of analytics have achieved a significant market advantage over their competitors. A recent Bain & Company survey of 400 companies across a variety of industries, including retail, concludes that the organizations with the most advanced analytics systems outpace their competitors and are twice as likely to land in the top quartile of their industry for financial performance. But for retailers who are convinced they should hop on the big data bandwagon, adopting analytics isn’t enough: insights are only valuable when they are acted upon, and an organization’s investment in analytics provides better return when retail staff are prepared and bought in to the value of data analytics.

The Inventible Pushback Against Change

One of the biggest roadblocks that slows the execution of big data analytics initiatives is not technical, nor budgetary. It’s people. In a retail environment where front-line jobs have been slowly shrinking for years, end-users have every reason to be wary of technology and skeptical of change – even though it can improve their jobs and the performance of the company.

Let’s say a retailer wants to optimize markdowns. They’ve invested in technology that will tell them the optimal time to cut the price of a specific item at a specific store. Clearly a system like this can help maximize sales, will have a positive impact on the customer experience, and will streamline workflow for employees. However, employees may have a different perspective.

For instance, examine the case of the staff at the retail chain Stage Stores. The employees believed that with their knowledge of the market, the store, and the customer base, they could do a better job than the computer at strategically marking down products. Six months of testing a control group of retailers versus the machine proved that data-driven decisions actually did increase margins. With this decisive evidence, Stage found its retailers getting on board.

Preparing Retail Staff To Embrace Analytics

Resistance to change is part of the cost of doing business; but not every organization can afford six months of testing to “sell” the idea to their staff. Retailers can win the change management battle more quickly when they are able to show employees what’s in it for them. In order to prepare retail staff and get their buy in for analytics, team leaders should map out a plan that includes:

  • Defining analytics: “Big data” has become synonymous with “Big Brother” in the media, and employees could be skeptical of the concept. Clearly define what analytics will mean in terms of improving the customer experience.
  • Eliminating the fears of human VS machine: Staff genuinely fear for their jobs when their organizations introduce new technology. Reassure staff that they are a vital component of the process and show them how data will make their jobs easier.
  • Introducing evidence: Retailers must back up their claims with real world evidence. In training sessions, provide case studies that show how solutions have positively impacted competitors or other companies in other industries. Showing always trumps telling when it comes to managing change.
  • Explaining “Why”: Employees feel more engaged and are more likely to buy in when they understand the bigger picture. Retailers should explain why this solution was chosen and the goals they intend to accomplish with it.
  • Training, training, training: Many times, companies put training off until a system or process is already implemented, or they conduct one or two training sessions long before a solution is in place; neither of these options supports staff optimally. Make ongoing training a priority before a solution is rolled out to build employee confidence.


Have more questions about successful data-focused transitions?

Transparent Communication: The Key To Employee Buy-In

When it comes to preparing retail staff for analytics, clear communication unlocks their buy-in. Leaders and managers should embrace transparency and open idea sharing. Allow employees to vent their frustrations and concerns, and take those concerns seriously. Be open and honest about the decision-making process that led to analytics, and keep teams updated on the progress of the rollout on a regular basis, and abate their fears with ongoing training. Analytics can positively impact the employee experience and deliver a serious competitive edge, but only if management lays the groundwork early and communicates often.