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May 13, 2020

How will Corona impact the future of work in retail?

Now that consumers have been forced to embrace e-commerce as their sole shopping channel, how will the role of the store associate adapt to this new behavior?

By Leigh Sevin, Co-Founder @ Endear

It seems like we're getting closer to the day when we can safely roam free once more.  But with all this time not only working from home, but also exercising from home, shopping from home, and eating from home, a new normal will take hold, and every industry will have to reckon with how to adapt.

Corona's Impact on Retail

Different retail verticals are being impacted very differently by the crisis: while grocery stores are overwhelmed with traffic, high-end shops are pretty much catatonic, with omnichannel brands have fared slightly better. But on some level, did Coronavirus just speed up the inevitable? And for those who have the means and the strategy to fight through the crisis, what will retail look like post-Corona?

Before the crisis, the split between online and offline purchasing (let's ignore all the cross-over steps in between for now) was somewhere between 80-90% on the store side, and 10-20% on the e-commerce side. But with most of apparel retail still closed, customers who may have previously resisted shopping online have likely found their groove, and the gap will likely shrink even more rapidly than it was before (my 70-year-old father is the ultimate testament to this).

As a CRM platform for retail sales teams, Endear has had front row seat to retailers' thoughts and conversations around how to repurpose their store associates, once only available to the customers who could make it to the store. What was particularly exciting about these conversations is that the online world presents a whole new way to think about sales and what the role of an online sales associate should look like, especially in the higher-end market. While online traffic is inherently easier to track, those browsing online are getting less attention from sales teams. While Livechat has provided a temporary band-aid for customers' sales inquiries, what we at Endear always believed was missing from the e-commerce landscape was the capacity to proactively reach out to online shoppers, the digital equivalent of "is there something I can help you with?" or, "Would you like to try that on?"

How Will Associates' Jobs Change?

So the question on our minds (and hopefully on the minds of retailers) is how the role of the "omnichannel associate" will develop. Will retailers start offering WFH opportunities in conjunction with in-store positions?

The role of the associate was already starting to evolve even before the crisis hit, and stores will still play a crucial role in any brand's growth and expansion - if we've learned anything from being cooped up inside, it's that we should never underestimate the value of human contact - But as my team and I know first-hand, the lines between a brand's retail associates, digital marketing team, and customer service reps are blurring more and more as we all navigate how best to engage and support consumers.

Most of us remember a world without e-commerce, and now we've experienced a world without brick-and-mortar. If there's a silver lining to what we're currently enduring, it's that brands should have more insight now than ever before around how consumers respond to these channels in isolation, and therefore should also now know how to create an even better shopping experience when putting them together.