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Retail technology: the future is here to blow your mind

Retail technology has changed dramatically in the last decade alone, giving retailers of all sizes more useful insight into what their consumers do and want.

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Retail technology tackles big data

It is well known that retailers of all sizes have relied on data on their consumers, and in a recent study1 by The Control Group, new details about how retail technology has evolved brings to bear new details, including uses of infrared beams, infrared retina tracking, and even embedded chips. It all sounds futuristic, and it is, but the future is here.

Retail technology is redefining the retail experience which the Control Group (CG) says “will drive significant change in the retail experience by providing more immersive, personalized and cohesive brand experiences as well as new mechanisms for capturing, measuring, and understanding consumer behavior.”

The study notes, “Brick-and-mortar retail hasn’t changed drastically since the early days of the shopkeeper. It’s long been an experience based around tangible goods on shelves and a clerk behind a counter. Even if wooden boxes and coins have been replaced by cash registers and credit cards, the basic process of a retail purchase has looked pretty much the same for thousands of years.”

Further, “things are changing. We are experiencing a shift in retail that moves us from predominantly human transactions to technology-enhanced interactions. A few things have happened that will ensure a wholly different retail experience moving forward.”

First, technology now automates the customer experience wayfinding, comparison shopping and point-of-sale transactions. Additionally, the study asserts that consumers have changed their attitudes towards privacy and expect more from the stores they patronize. Also, over half of all American shoppers shop with a smartphone on hand, and the online shopping experience has become more personalized and engaging than the offline experience, “but people still want to try on pants.”

Shopping has changed, people counting has evolved

Jonathan Spooner writes on the Control Group blog, “People counting technology got its start in the 1970s when one engineer in Montreal, Canada deployed a refrigerator-sized box with an infrared beam that counted every time the beam was broken as 1 person entering a store. Since then, the state of the art in people counting has evolved into an incredibly precise science of visual data interpretation.”

How has technology changed the tracking process? CG explains that systems today count people as they enter and exit retail stores, which can determine sex and age range by reading a person’s facial shadows and wrinkles. Other systems are said to use infrared retina tracking to determine a person’s emotional state based on comparing their image to a library of emotional facial reactions.

Because the technology has changed, as with any industry, there is a challenge in what to do with the massive volume of data being collected, so big data analytics tools have emerged to tackle the challenge and translate endless data into useful information. For example, CG notes that retailers can record the length of time between a customer entering a store and their being greeted, and other tools message the store manager when more than four people are standing in a checkout line.

“Future video/scanner systems will not only track people counts and movement but also capture their interactions with the merchandise via embedded UHF/UH RFID chips that can pinpoint the location of products and analyze this compared to the customer’s final purchase total,” CG notes.

1 “Retail Technology 2013: The State of People Counting in Retail”

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

Business News

Removing remote work options creates a new caste system

(BUSINESS) Remote work has created a democratization of sorts in the workforce, and companies desperate to nix the options could take a hit.

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Many companies are mandating a return to the office after over a year of allowing employees to work remotely, and, according to a recent study, over half of workers surveyed say they won’t stand for it. As remote work becomes more normalized for all levels of employment, it is crucial that employers retain the option for employees to work in this capacity wherever possible – even if it means employing nontraditional methods.

Harvard Business Review references something called “the democratizing effect of remote work” – the great equalizing that took place during stay-at-home orders nationwide.

In short, this philosophy entails workers having their needs met while continuing to fulfill their contracts of employment. Theoretically, this is a win-win situation.

But employers have their own predilections toward in-house operations, with remote flexibility often being reserved for the highest-ranking officials while “lower” employees are expected to commute. It’s a business model with which we’re exceptionally familiar; why change?

The answer to that question may be employee-driven, as many employees cite a preference for hybrid or remote work environments post-pandemic. “Employees are leaving workplaces that don’t suit their needs anymore,” cites HBR.

Many of those needs are emotional, too. Non-white employees and female employees face a higher level of discrimination in the workplace than their white and/or male counterparts; Black employees, in particular, reported stressful work conditions, with HBR citing that only three percent of Black employees demonstrated an interest in returning to an in-office environment (as opposed to 21 percent of white employees).

Allowing stressed and oppressed employees to work from home can improve their mental health, stress levels, and even their “feelings of belonging at their organization” in the case of Black employees.

Outside of race and gender, the publication also stresses the negative effects that mandating a return after allowing for remote work will have: “Creating a new caste system where elites have anywhere jobs and non-elites are shackled to the office full time is a recipe for high attrition among employees who often have a lot of firm-specific knowledge that is valuable to their employers.”

The less-subtle breakdown is this: If companies that are capable of offering remote work want to retain employees, they need to offer some remote options.

We saw the effects of employees in frontline occupations refusing to show up to work because of poor wages and working conditions earlier this year. It isn’t outside of the realm of feasibility to expect the next major workforce shortage to impact corporations as well.

If the solution is as simple as letting employees work from home a few days per week or permanently (especially if their productivity doesn’t suffer), that’s a pretty small price to pay for continued prosperity.

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Business News

The case for nixing your company happy hour forever

(BUSINESS) Happy hour is designed to bond teams and offer a perk, but the design is outdated to benefit few workers – let’s just get rid of the practice.

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happy hour person drinking

The world of work has forever changed from the pandemic. Melinda Gates hopes that COVID-19 makes society get serious about gender equality. Some people are wondering how many people really want to return to the office at all. There are questions about providing customer service, not to reduce costs to the business, but because shoppers don’t want help in the store.

Let’s tackle another tradition in the office – the happy hour. Wondering if employees really want happy hours? Do they even help?

Why do we even have happy hour?

Happy hour is a tradition that dates back to the early 20th century and the United States Navy. It was originally a weekly entertainment created to alleviate boredom on the U.S.S. Arkansas when sailors were at sea. The practice became popular in the Navy, but over time, the emphasis changed from entertainment to drinking. As drinking became less stigmatized after prohibition, employees began drinking at work and after work. Although happy hours declined in the 1970s and beyond, there was a resurgence in the 2000s.

Why do offices hold happy hour?

Hosting a happy hour is thought to help a team develop positive relationships and encourage employee engagement and productivity. Drink o’clock can be a time of celebration to help employees feel good about the work they’re doing.

Employees can interact with each other outside of the stress of work. It sounds pretty innocent, just getting together at the end of the workday at a local pub or bar, but it comes with a lot of issues.

Is it time to nix the work happy hour?

Happy hour can come with a lot of pressure for employees. Some people believe they have to attend in order to keep moving up in the job, because skipping out can be seen as not being a team player, and many who don’t show up to the “optional” happy hours are also the ones who didn’t get to schmooze with the bosses and thereby are not the ones who get promotions.

This disproportionately hurts women, who typically still have the majority of caregiving tasks in the family and can’t stay out drinking on weeknights.

Transportation issues or flexible schedules don’t lend themselves well to the traditional happy hour after work. And don’t forget the drinking atmosphere doesn’t appeal to everyone. There are many religious, cultural, and personal reasons for people to avoid alcohol, bars, and happy hour functions.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of liability issues for employers. Can your business risk an accident by an employee who went to happy hour and was a little buzzed when they left?

While we’re rethinking workplace traditions in the post-pandemic era, let’s think about how to get employees engaged. Maybe this outdated practice isn’t the best way to build your team anymore.

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Business News

You absolutely don’t need to be a 100% match for a job to apply

(CAREER) Most people believe they should only apply for their dream job if they’re a perfect match, but studies say that’s the wrong approach.

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You don’t need to be a 100 percent match for a job to apply. You just don’t.

We’ve all seen the crazy job postings:

-Must be fluent in Mandarin
-Must be be full-stack coder
-Must also have real estate license
-Must be a rockstar ninja (uuugh)

After seeing endless open positions with specific requirements, it’s no wonder that so many job seekers become discouraged. How can anyone fit 100 percent of the requirements on the job listing? And actually, most people don’t. According to a recent study, you only need to meet ~70 percent of the job requirements to be a good fit for a job.

So you’re telling me a requirement isn’t actually a requirement?!

The study analyzed job postings and resumes for over 6,000 positions across 118 industries, and they found that applicants are just as likely to get an interview whether you meet 50 percent or 90 percent of the requirements.

Crazy, I know. That law of diminishing returns will eff you up.

But what about women? I wondered the same thing. Surprisingly, the interview data was in favor of women that meet less of the requirements. In fact, the study shows that as a female, the likelihood of getting an interview increases if you simply meet 30 percent of the requirements. Also, female applicants are just as likely to get an interview if they meet 40 percent versus 90 percent of the job requirements.

Before you start complaining that women have it better in the job search process, correlation doesn’t equal causation.

Interestingly enough, 64 percent of the female users rejected at least one job where they matched 50 – 60 percent of the requirements, while only 37 percent of male users did. This leads us to believe there more implicit factors to take into consideration, like imposter syndrome throughout the interview process.

If you’re a recruiter or employer, this may seem like more work. But in an increasingly competitive job market for both employers and applicants, this presents an opportunity to get to know people for who they actually are, not just on paper. And resumes often do a poor job of reflecting that — especially the ever-important soft skills.

Key takeaways:

As we’ve gone through this study, here are a few practical action items for job seekers:

1. Apply for a lot of jobs to increase your number of interviews.

The study shows that increased interviews are a direct result of increased applications, not just picking and choosing what you think you’re a good fit for. Which brings us to our next point:

2. Go for those “stretch” roles — you never know what may come of it!

Send in a lot of applications, but don’t let that stop you from approaching the process thoughtfully. Recruiters can tell if you’ve skimped on the cover letter or your resume, and a thoughtful approach to the application process will be noticed and appreciated by recruiters, especially for those reach roles.

3. Don’t second-guess yourself.

We’re always our own worst critics, and according to this, we don’t need to be — especially throughout the job application process. Job hunting is stressful enough, so put on your most upbeat playlist (or Beyonce), say your affirmations, and go on with your bad self and start applying!

This story was first published here in December 2018.

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