Technology isn’t enough – retailers need the best talent to succeed.

In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that about 15.4 million people worked in retail trade. The agency predicted this number would rise to 16.1 million by 2024. But for an industry that plays such an important role in the economy and employs so many workers, retail is often misunderstood.

It’s a common misconception that most retail workers are high school students working part-time jobs after class. However, in 2014 the BLS found that the median age of a retail salesperson was 35. More often than not, these are careers, and should be treated as such – including by business owners.

As technology changes the face of retail, it is likely the industry will come to rely on its workforce more than ever. But it will need to think of new ways to retain its best employees and utilize their talents to help improve the business.

The future of retail demands investments in workers

Much has been written about the ways in which physical retailers can entice shoppers to visit stores, rather than buy everything online from the comfort of their own home. One proposal is to invest in in-store technology to improve the experience.

“Make sure technology is actually solving a problem,” Parham Aarabi, co-founder and CEO at beauty-focused augmented reality company ModiFace, told the news source. “Avoid things that are gimmicky, and aim for things that feel authentic and real.” An article posted on the National Retail Federation website suggested that physical stores are great places to experiment with technology that customers don’t often see, such as virtual reality or even 3D printing. But there are limits to how far this should be taken.

Another obstacle is that too much technology can be overwhelming and actually detract from the experience that retailers are seeking to provide.

A better solution might be to outfit retail workers with new technology that can help them be more efficient – and thus more helpful to the customer. Smartwatches and smartphones can be augmented to accept payments, which may reduce or even eliminate the need for long checkout lines.

This will, in turn, create new demand for employees who can engage with customers and help them have the best shopping experience possible. As pointed out in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, it is no longer enough to simply offer the lowest prices, since Amazon will probably match them. But friendly, knowledgeable employees who can maintain an attractive store will be much more inviting. This may depend on a business model that emphasizes better wages and retention bonuses in exchange for higher productivity and better performance.

Want information on more retail trends? Visit the Visual Retail Plus blog.