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The Future of the Store Assistant

virtual-shop-assistant-218351-edited.jpgWith the advent of Omni-Channel retailing and the depth and breadth of supply chain and product data available to consumers the roll of the store assistant is set to change dramatically. As South African retailers move from pure bricks and mortar to full on multichannel retailers, the function of the bricks-and-mortar store will become more of a mini distribution centre than a pure outlet. The rise in alternative fulfilment options like click-and-collect and next day delivery means that the store now will have to work harder than ever before.

So what does that mean for the humble shop assistant? Increased information and choice means that that shoppers' expectations will skyrocket - they will expect a huge choice of products and to receive them quickly via their favoured fulfilment option. In order to do this, there has to be a more specialised worker in-store, armed with enhanced knowledge. The future of the store (and its resulting profitability levels) will be directly connected to the in-store assistant's skill set and access to information.

Store assistants will need to have a strong understanding of the retailer's supply chain (or access to information at their fingertips via a connected in-store device) so they can offer shoppers a superior customer experience. Within just a couple of clicks (or swipes) they could find out if a product is available in a nearby store in a different size or colour – and get it delivered to the store/office/home of the customer's choice – all of which will be a mandatory requirement of the Omni-Channel savvy South African customer of the future!

Store assistants wont' just need to have in-depth knowledge of the supply chain – but of a retailer's whole multi-channel operation. They need to be well versed in the retailer's available sales channels, and what fulfilment options it offers.


Based on overseas trends as Omni-Channel shopping takes hold in South Africa the competitive retail landscape will change dramatically and the store assistant can be a huge competitive differentiator, but only if they are armed with the right knowledge. Retailers need to have a single platform on which store assistants can view network wide stock, regardless of channel, readily in the store.

The retail industry is evolving rapidly, this will leave some retailers floundering to catch up and others to thrive. No one knows for certain how the future will look but one thing is for sure - the role of the shop assistant must evolve. The store assistant is going to become an even bigger competitive differentiator. But it needs a top-down approach and the retailer's leadership team needs to lead the change at a process, technological as well as people level. Without a single view of all stock and the enabling technological tools, retailers simply won't be able to pull the information needed to equip their biggest asset for the fight for competitive advantage.

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