Great Technology Is Little Help If Employees Dont Know

Opinion: Best Buy is a great example of a company that brilliantly deploys technology-but then drops the ball in communicating.

As the holiday season approaches, we have good news and bad news on the major retail multichannel front. The good news is that some retailers are getting a lot better at handling the technology. The bad news is that their employees often dont know about it, making the advantages moot.

Retail executives are optimistically projecting a $220 billion holiday shopping season this year, with an average consumer spending of $702.03, which is a 4.5 percent increase from last year, according to a survey released last week from the National Retail Federation.

But will retailers be able to leverage their technology to capture as many of those dollars as they can? The answer may lie not just in what they do, but in how well they communicate it.

The last week saw an ideal example of this with Best Buy. Best Buy has cultivated a reputation within the retail community as being among the most sophisticated when dealing with multichannel issues.

Specifically, Best Buy execs are one of the few groups that seem to have taken to heart the inherent differences between virtual and physical storefronts and used technology to bridge that gap. For that, they deserve unrestrained applause.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read the Aberdeen Groups take on why retail e-commerce is having problems, click here.

But they made the common big-company mistake of thinking that deploying the technology and making it work is the end of the battle. Before they can persuade millions of consumers to buy, they need to persuade some 90,000 employees to understand what the company can do. (The $25 billion retailer announced this month that it will hire 25,000 seasonal employees beyond that number this season. I never said this "keeping everybody on the same page" thing would be easy.)

What kind of mixed messages are we talking about? Last week, for example, was preparing to do a story about how Best Buy cleverly handles its purchase-online-and-pickup-in-store effort. The technology execution is wonderful, but its precisely because the company didnt use technology to replace staff; it used staff to supplement the technology.

Best Buy started off doing what was needed: It focused on what people like about online (depth of details, range of options, convenience, easy comparisons and other research), what they dont like about online (cost of shipping, delay of shipping, inability to see and touch product before final purchase decision), what they like about in-store (touch, atmosphere, a person to talk with, can get the product immediately) and what they dont like about in-store (long lines and crowds, arriving to discover that the product that someone on the phone said was there is actually not there).

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read more about Best Buys efforts to integrate online and in-store shopping, click here.

They then tried to craft a way to integrate online and offline that would preserve and leverage the good traits of each channel and minimize the bad traits. They came remarkably close with their plan to purchase online and pick up in-store.

Their twist was adding an employee to run to the aisles to absolutely verify that the product is actually there and then put it away for the customer before the customer is told to come and pick it up. The key? Moving so quickly that the customer has to wait less than 30 minutes for the human confirmation.

Next Page: Heres where employee communication starts to break down.