People are the Heart of Retail

April 30, 2021

As a Vice President of Stores at INTERMIX, board member, and best-selling author, Ron Thurston is incredibly passionate about retail. Ron’s retail career spans over 25 years including various roles with the world’s leading retail brands and authoring a book, Retail Pride, published last year.  At NG Digital Retail Summit last week, Ron called for industry leaders to display empathy as we shift and grow. “Whether it’s the empathy you show to your customers who walk through the door, the empathy that you show your team, or the empathy you have when you think about the challenges people everywhere faced in the last year.” We love how passionate Ron is about creating customer-centric retail experiences by starting first with the employees. 

Everyone has Unique Value

“Anyone that has spent time leading stores knows,” says Ron. “It truly is the most dynamic, inspiring, challenging industry to work in.” So, when years ago,  thought leaders began to forecast the “death” of retail, Ron knew that there needed to be a shift in the conversation.  For Ron, his experience in retail has pushed him to the conclusion that the future of retail is people. “The future of what we do is centered around how we inspire each other, and our customers, through the work that we do.” He found that when he spoke to retail professionals across the country, industry leaders would confess that they fell into their career by accident, unintentionally. But the work they do is so much bigger than we realize. “Let’s say you are a store manager in an average US  store. Well, you run a multi-million dollar business. You have to be an expert in store operations, visual merchandising, product knowledge, human resources, and probably loss prevention. You have to be an expert in so many different things. So take pride in what you do, and celebrate the fact that you learned this on your own, even if you may have come into this accidentally. The way we speak about this industry has never been more important.” But Ron points out that “this is not just a conversation about those of us that have the honor & responsibility to lead, but those that are doing the work on the front lines.” We completely agree. The retail demographic is quintessential. And now, every unique role in retail is more stretched than ever before. It is important to remember that “everyone has value. Everyone contributes.”

Three Components to Retail Success

According to Ron, there are three important skills that retailers can adopt in order to be exceptional.


“Whether it’s the empathy you show to your customers who walk through the door, the empathy that you show your team, or the empathy you have when you think about the challenges people everywhere faced in the last year.”


“Asking great questions… that’s how we get better.” says Ron. He urges retail professionals to be curious about their customer, why the customer is there, how we can make their experience even better, understand what product they are looking for, and  to explore what we can learn together. 


“For all of us who have worked in stores, we know that every day is different, every day when you open the door, you don’t know what’s going to happen.” It comes down to setting clear objectives for each day, no matter what obstacles we’re facing “Focus on delivering exceptional experience for your team and your customer every day.” “If I can do these, I can win the day,” says Ron. “And tomorrow it starts all over again.”

Uniting People Through Technology

“The best version of the client experience should happen in store,” says Ron. “That client is most loyal, and likely spends the most. And we know if she shops both platforms (online and offline) she’s the most valuable client we have.” In today’s retail environment, the role of physical stores has changed. “Brands are really understanding the value of brick-and-mortar retail.” We have never had so much technology available. “We are all trying to figure out the best technology resources to make this seamless, says Ron. He believes that we have never been so technology-focused, and also that we’ve never been more people-centric. Frontline workers are the heart of how we move quickly, engage with customers, and build loyalty. 
“How we continue to unify these worlds is about people.”
The people doing the work in stores today have to have a skillset that has never been broader. “Their responsibility is to be an expert in product, web fulfillment, support, clienteling. The best people that do the best work in our industry should be proud of what they do and we should recognize them for it.” At Zipline, we completely agree. Our philosophy is people-first, and we work best with retailers like INTERMIX who are dedicated to aligning their organizations to provide exceptional experiences for both their employees and their customers.  We’ve finally arrived at the future we always envisioned, and it’s this people-centric reality that we built our product to serve. We know (first-hand) how strong communication is crucial for organizations to quickly align their teams so they can pivot (and pivot. And pivot again).  Zipline was built to solve the unique challenges of communication in retail organizations. Reach out to learn more about how you can leverage technology to align the people in your organization, today.
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