My customers are coming into stores armed with more information than my staff. How can I make sure my store staff still add value to the shopping experience?

Retailers must accept that staff cannot always know more than customers, says Roger Mitchell, vice-president of ecommerce, EMEA, at software supplier RedPrairie. But, he adds, equipping employees with technology is important.

Increasingly, shoppers might simply be looking at a product with a view to buying it later, for less, online. The 50% of mobile users predicted to own a smartphone in 2012 might even scan the barcode, read reviews, compare prices and buy online while still in the store, effectively bringing your rivals on to the shopfloor.

Mitchell says: “To make your stores more than just showrooms for online merchants, as a minimum, you need to achieve parity of access to information between employee and shopper by providing mobile technology-enabled touchpoints for staff.”

However, mobile devices can also give store employees access to information that customers do not have. By allowing store staff real-time visibility of inventory and, in a real leap of faith, to hold inventory or outright sell inventory in other channels, there is an enormous opportunity. Emerging ‘client­eling’ technologies can also give knowledge of customer preferences.

Mitchell says: “Your staff are not there just to stock the store and process transactions. By connecting them with the online space and information about the customer, you can return them to their role as sales people whose superior knowledge is the most powerful tool they have.”