Why Gartner Attributes an Associate-First Strategy With Lowe’s Covid-19 Success

April 27, 2021

For retailers, the pandemic produced either a feast or famine response. On one end of the spectrum, we saw specialty retail brands like Ascena Retail, Brooks Brothers and GNC file for bankruptcy. They couldn’t pivot quickly enough to meet customers where they were. However, grocery stores, DIY stores, and pharmacies saw explosive revenue over the past year. These retailers not only remained open to provide essential products to consumers, but most were able to quickly adapt to changing customer needs and introduced new services for product fulfillment, including delivery, dark stores, BOPIS, curbside pickup, and more. 

During a recent Gartner webinar, The Post-COVID-19 Playbook for Retail Store Associates, Senior Director Analyst Kelsie Marian examined how the pandemic both exposed the weaknesses in many retailers’ strategies and also revealed the strength of many retailers to pivot and adapt. 

(Note: Our Big Ideas session at NRF 2021 also delved into this topic. Watch it here.)

But the pandemic’s retail winners did more than simply offer new ways to get product into customers’ hands. Rather, one of the most important characteristics of ‘winners’ during the pandemic, according to Gartner, is that they paid attention to the employee experience, especially store associates. 

It’s no surprise that the pandemic impacted a large percentage of the associate population: In the U.S. alone, close to 1.5M workers lost their jobs, and many more lost wages during furloughs. For anyone in retail, the pandemic caused tremendous anxiety around health and safety and job security. The way employers treat employees during this time will long be remembered by both staff and customers. As a result, it has never been more important for retailers to lean in and ensure that associates have what they need to be successful in their roles.

One retailer that Gartner highlighted in the webinar for its associate-first strategy is Lowe’s, an American retail company specializing in home improvement. Kelsie described Lowe’s as “a leader in fostering employee well-being and trust.” With 80% online growth in Q1 and 11% same store sales growth, the company clearly benefited from the DIY craze of the pandemic. But, Kelsie also attributes their success to adapting and meeting customer needs. New initiatives, like curbside pick-up, were rolled out ahead of schedule. This was only possible because of Lowe’s investment in both technology and associates: The company raised associate pay to $15/hr and paid out an additional $450M to associates during the pandemic; And, Lowe’s responded quickly to prioritize safety, assigning social distancing ambassadors to help maintain space in areas of the store where people gather.

To safeguard associate well-being and trust, retailers, like Lowe’s, are turning to technology. They are investing in microlearning tools to provide associates with nuggets of information in quick, digestible bites. They are arming their employees with mobile task management and compliance tools so they understand the work that needs to be done and how to prioritize it. They are also investing in mobile health verification to ensure that employees are healthy enough to work. Kelsey says, “Trust is established through transparency and enabled through technology.”

At Zipline, we believe that associates are the “unlock” to delivering the best customer experience in store. We know they are also the most difficult to reach and engage. Fortunately, Zipline is built to address specific needs of this part-time audience, with a product called the Associate Experience.

The Associate Experience brings a focused and actionable view of Zipline to frontline employees (who may or may not work a few short shifts a week, and who may or may not have access to store email!). The Associate Experience helps engage and inform Associates while continuing to streamline communication and improve store execution.  It brings together the needs of HQ to share the brand voice/vision to teams, with the needs of Store Managers to have a better way to work with their team. 

If you’d like to see a demo of this product to learn how you can unlock the power of your frontline workforce, please reach out

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