How growth retailers build store value via unmanning & self-assistance

Article by Martyn Jones | 24th February 2020

It’s revealing of the current state of retail that we even talk about ‘growth retailers’. Not too long ago, ‘growth retailers’ were just… ‘retailers’.

What happened?

To say the ‘bricks and mortar is dead’ mindset caused knee-jerk panic, probably wouldn’t be far off.

As ‘e-tail’ boomed, regular high street retailers looked on hypnotised, scrambling to roll out e-tail models of their own—neglecting to adapt to and capture the bricks and mortar retail opportunities—and hey presto, we find ourselves in a moment where we differentiate those that are still growing, from those that are being left behind, or are playing catchup.

‘Customer Experience is the New Brand’

‘Customer experience’—as the centre of gravity from which brands now shape store strategy—has been around for some time now. We all know customers will more readily take to the high street if the experience goes beyond simply box-ticking and admin.

What most may not be aware of, however, is the magnitude of the possible consequences of delivering bad customer experience. In 2017, United Airlines hit crisis when $1.4 billion was wiped from its value virtually overnight when a passenger’s experience gained viral traction online—so it’s clear that there’s a direct ‘value-add’ correlation with ‘positive experience’ and a direct ‘value-drop’ with negative ones.

Creating Store Value Through ‘Unmanning’ & ‘Self-assistance’

Walk into a Pets at Home store and you’ll see service kiosks completely unmanned. You could assume they’d suffered staff shortages, or that inert customers just stopped making the trips in-store. Both would be be untrue by some distance.

While others fall behind with inert stores and ill-equipped teams delivering underwhelming experiences, Pets at Home posted 11 consecutive quarters of growth to the end of 2019 and early indications hint at 2020 continuing the upward trend.

PAH comments that it has managed to stay on the up by “receiving a record number of consumer transactions” driven in part by diversification of more ‘experience’ oriented service offerings like dog grooming and even pet village’ store concept including a dog-washing station, and a cat adoption lounge run in partnership with the RSPCA, the leading UK animal rescue shelter.


What Pets at Home are doing isn’t revolutionary. It’s simply a high-tech version of an age old-idea. The concept it simple—you automate ‘kiosk manning’ with customer-facing retail technology—the positive effects are many.

Kiosk service bells are still in use today in small convenience stores and post offices. Pets at Home take the humble service bell concept and elevate it to a VoCoVo CallPoints that sits at kiosks ready to be found by customers seeking assistance. Because PAH stores tend to be quite spacious, with mezzanine floors and built up isles, alerts of customers seeking assistance need to carry through the space.

A combination of CallPoints and VoCoVo’s smart retail headsets mean customers are able to reach assistants wherever they are in the floor space with a simple button push that notifies colleagues through an in-ear voice message. Store colleagues are even able to respond to the customer with a push-to-talk message that’s broadcast back through the CallPoints itself, to let them know they’re on their way, or even to answer a question from across the store.


In many ways, ‘self-assistance’ can be seen as ‘the new customer service’.

Similarly to the CallPoints + Headset setup, PAH customers are enjoying self-assisted retail enabled by the other VoCoVo hardware, such a CallPoints placed alongside product ranges that require consultation or access—for example, the complex range of dog leads, medicines and high-value items sometimes secured in cabinets that require unlocking.

Customers are able to walk into PAH stores with the confidence that one way or another, they’ll get competent, expert service… fast, without meandering through isles searching for uniformed assistants.

Meanwhile, store colleagues are liberated to un-anchor themselves from the drudgery of standing at kiosks—’in case customers arrive’—and can instead develop their knowledge and skills in other store areas while collaborating and forging closer team bonds that strengthen efficiency and agility further in the long term.

The Net Impact of ‘Unmanning’ & ‘Self assistance’?

It’s not ‘Online vs Offline—it’s All Retail

READ MORE: Forget ‘online vs offline’: ‘Future of Retail’ will be more about ‘collaboration’ than ‘competition’.

There’s a lot of market speculation pulling retail industry perspectives in multiple directions at once.

Whichever side of the ‘online vs offline’ debate you land on, it’s clear that a breakaway pack of growth retailers are setting the example in the market of how the right store adaptations really can keep those feet falling.

The online vs offline argument leaves no room for market solutions that land squarely between the two. My money is on a dawning retail reality that will come through well fostered vendor/vendor and retail/vendor relationships. It’s those kinds of collaborations that will merge the ‘online/offline’ into single store concepts that combine the ‘up close’ benefits of physical retail with the convenience of online.

Look around at some of the store concepts being unveiled right now and it’s clear that the high street’s savviest are creating a little magic and excitement that consumers are responding to.

Those that haven’t set up strategies to achieve the same need to think hard about what their store futures should look like to keep pace and stay relevant.

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