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Rise of the Robo shopper could see retailers needing to reskill and create up to 2m jobs

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Retailers are having to up their game and provide both high levels of customer service and on the spot technical advice to keep up with tech-savvy Robo (research online buy offline) shoppers – and it could create up to 2million new retail related jobs in the next decade, a study suggests.

So called ‘bricks and clicks’ business models may soon be the norm, as firms of all sizes will need to have staff capable of merging digital, IT and web-related skills with traditional customer service. And a new study, published today by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), highlights that two million new roles are expected to be needed in retail, wholesale and automotive sectors over the coming decade – with almost a quarter of new staff dedicated to customer service.

Toby Peyton-Jones, Director of HR, Siemens UK & North West Europe, and a UKCES commissioner explains: “As technology has boomed shoppers have become more and more informed in their buying choices and demand a far higher standard of customer service as a result. Staff in Apple stores are expected to do far more than put products in bags for customers – they can set up your new device, demo products and features, provide a walk-in tech-support service and use the devices they are selling to process the sale.”

He continues: “Meanwhile those working in stores with less high tech products are not immune. They still need to use technology to do things like locate the nearest product for the customer, and resolve problems and issues to deliver a faster, slicker service. For retailers to keep pace with the expectations of their customers it is therefore vital staff are trained in the technical skills they need, and given continuous training to stay on top of developments and trends.”

The report also highlights the rise of ROBO-shoppers (Research Online, Buy Offline); with technology enabling customers to quickly compare prices and hunts out the best deals. This has led to a decline in brand loyalty, increasing the importance of good customer service for shoppers, as retailers are required to go to even greater lengths to encourage discerning shoppers to purchase from them over rival outlets.

Businesses are also having to adopt more flexible approaches of interacting with shoppers, as the face of customer service continues to evolve.

Social media, text message responses and online instant messaging are rapidly replacing telephone services for consumers looking to reach customer service teams, and businesses increasingly have to ensure staff have the knowledge and skills to manage such platforms effectively.

Chief executive of UKCES Michael Davis says: “Technology is evolving at an increasingly rapid rate, and although it may seem difficult to keep pace this report highlights the importance of businesses investing in the skills of their people to ensure they do not get left behind.

“Technology is continuing to sculpt and mould the way we live our lives, and is doing so in an increasingly wide variety of ways. To keep pace, employers must take an equally flexible and varied approach to training staff. Online courses, webinars and other digital platforms mean it is easier than ever to find ways of ensuring workers have as much knowledge as possible at their disposal – allowing businesses to remain competitive in such a rapidly changing landscape.”

Training provision amongst retailers has also been found to be lacking by the report, with almost half (45%) of employees in retail, wholesale and automotive sectors receiving no training at all.

The findings come ahead of the launch of a new competition under UKCES’ UK Futures Programme, which will allow employers to bid for a share of £2million dedicated to resolving problems with training, low pay and progression among retail and hospitality sectors.

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