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Develop synergy between your store employees and new technologies

Published September 21, 2022

Consider the humble checkout area. It’s been a key part of our lives ever since people began selling stuff. From the earliest days of retail, checkout staff have been a fundamental part of the store – helping people pay for their goods, and even giving a little chat from time to time. Today, though, times are changing. Technology is transforming the retail landscape, giving customers more ways to pay than ever before. Throughout all this, though, the checkout and the staff who attend to it will still be vital. However, with the rising tide of digitization, their role is likely to evolve. 

“The grocery store has always had a checkout in the front. What else in history has never changed over 100 something years?” says NCR VOYIX Retail President David Wilkinson. “We build stores, we put checkouts in the front. That’s the way we do it. We always have felt like we have to have this physical barrier in the front-end. And I think technology will help break us free of that.”

We are moving into a world of consumer-led checkout. What this will look like can be seen very much through the lens of technology. Indeed, the two go hand in hand. Customers want speed and convenience; technology evolves to offer it. In turn, customers’ expectations grow and so do the range of things they hope it can achieve for them.

Change is coming fast. New technologies are bursting onto the scene, including:

● Mobile scanning: Self scanning is projected to triple by 2027. Customers can either use a handset given to them or scan using their mobile device as they shop. Once they get to the checkout, all they have to do is scan their device and pay for their goods. It cuts out a huge amount of manual scanning which makes queues run faster and lightens the load on checkout staff. 

Self-service checkouts: According to data from Pymnts, unattended self-checkouts in which customers manually scan each item themselves before paying are popular with people who like to shop at their own pace. 49.4% of customers said they liked it because it was faster while 34.7% preferred shorter lines.

● Computer vision at checkout: One of the more advanced options uses cutting-edge computer vision technology which can visually recognise your items and let you pay for them without having to laboriously scan them one by one. 

This new technology is transforming the experience for customers. It’s leading to faster services, greater convenience, and a much more personalised customer experience. For example, stores can use these technologies to capture loads more information about buying habits in general as well as individual purchases. It helps them generate insights which help to inform business decisions and offer more personalized promotions.

The question, though, is what impact will this have on staff? With automation replacing many manual operations, the role of your store staff is changing. They have fewer manual inputs to consider and are increasingly finding themselves less tied to registers in order to process payment.

It’s a completely different way of working which will have considerable implications on their training. Their role is no longer just about learning to scan items efficiently – it’s about so much more.

At the same time, these technological innovations are coming at a time when staffing levels and labor shortages are becoming an increasingly difficult problem for businesses. According to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resources Management, nearly 90% of businesses said they were struggling to fill open positions.

The pandemic saw many retailers cut back on staff. As things opened up, it became increasingly apparent that many of them would not be coming back. People have been finding new work in other sectors. For retailers, the question of how to attract staff and retain them is becoming a growing source of angst.

Related: Using self-service technologies to address labor issues

Keeping staff satisfied in place will of course be in part about pay, but it’s also about wider issues including the quality of the work on offer. Research found that one in three people left a job last year because they were not given the opportunity to learn new skills or improve their performance.

The role of store staff is changing and so too is what they want and expect from positions. The way they are trained will have an important say in whether they stick around – so let’s dive in and see how this can be done.

Three things to train your employees on today

To fit people out for this new digital age, there are three key things you could consider training employees on.

● Remote attendants: Consumer-led checkout options may have a high element of self-service, but they still need input from staff. Technology can have glitches and customers will feel comfortable knowing there is someone on hand to help them overcome any problems or provide help with certain age-restricted items. This requires a certain set of skills and businesses will need to train staff to interact with customers at these points and make full use of technologies such as wearables, mobiles and tablet devices which allow them to move freely around the store

● Computer vision: Training will involve a non-technical understanding of how the technology works, but the most important skill is to understand how customers interact with it. Its goal is to be fast, convenient, and frictionless, but it’s an evolving and unfamiliar technology, and people may need customer support to make sure it remains frictionless. 

● Providing help and reassurance: Technology can be great in terms of the speed and convenience it offers, but these technologies are still new. Things such as computer vision and mobile scanning will be unfamiliar to people. Having someone on hand who is clearly visible and can offer help will combat any reluctance to give these technologies a go. Training staff to communicate freely and easily with customers ensures they still have the personalized customer service that many still value as part of the traditional retail experience. Moreover, it will help to reassure them about any security concerns they may have such as the privacy of their personal data or payment information.

From checkout staff to brand ambassadors

Technology is driving the instore retail experience into a multi-channel future, but wherever this technology leads us, the checkout remains a key element of the physical store. Even with the emergence of online retail, physical stores remain a strong preference for customers, especially in sectors like grocery.

However, the skills your store staff will need are evolving. They are much more than just “checkout staff”; they are brand ambassadors with all the advanced communication and technical skills that requires.

“Train your associates to be brand ambassadors; with amplified soft skills to interact well with customers,” David Wilkinson added. “Training will be on processes and how to leverage the outcome and outputs of the technology instead of the tech itself.”

Giving your staff this training will position them less as traditional staff members and more as the personal face of your brand. Doing so will improve engagement with customers, but it can also boost staff retention. It generates a sense of loyalty to the customer and gives them more of a stake in the business and the way it is perceived.

In a world in which almost everything focuses on technological transformation, then, the store is still very much a personal experience. Technology simply means it’s a slightly different and more interactive experience than it used to be

LISTEN NOW: As published
on The Voice of Retail podcast:

David Wilkinson, President, NCR VOYIX Commerce on the Future of Self-Checkout, POS & more

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