Think back to the early days of the pandemic. Retailers were dramatically shifting their focus toward curbside pickup to try and capture sales from customers who were worried that entering a store would expose them to a deadly illness. And it worked! By the end of April 2020, curbside pickup at stores surged by over 200%. The vast majority of shoppers greatly increased how often they used curbside pickup. Retailers met this demand head on, either ramping up existing curbside pickup efforts or building them from scratch. It’s amazing what retailers were able to do under such incredible pressure.
Looking at the state of the industry today, it’s clear that constant change is the new normal. With inflation running rampant, customers are changing their shopping habits to ensure that they can adhere to a tightening budget. Retailers are having to come up with new ways to engage and retain employees during today’s labor shortage to preserve sales, the customer experience, and customer loyalty. And both retailers and consumers are shifting their brand preferences and purchase quantities day-to-day based on supply availability.
If we look at what retailers are capable of under incredible pressure, it’s certain that they are capable of adapting. But with some sort of potentially disruptive event always placing pressure on stores, it’s important that we don’t get complacent. Past success doesn’t mean future success, so retailers should not wait until operations start failing to modify how people are managed, processes are structured, and technology systems are applied. It’s so critical to act now to ensure that new initiatives can be launched or scaled up quickly when needed – that it’s easy to handle fluctuations in customer traffic and demand as well as supply chain stock, whether they rise or fall from day to day.
If you’re not sure what must be done to get your retail store operations ready for a very uncertain future, here are three key strategies to get you started:
1. Focus on Becoming an Employer of Choice
What are you capable of offering to make people want to work for you? Everyone’s pay expectations will be different, and many people won’t choose an employer based on pay alone. Workers also want an employer who is supportive – someone who ensures that they always have access to resources and expertise while on the sales floor. In fact, in Zebra’s 14th Annual Global Shopper Study, 70% of retail associates said they view their employers more positively when they are provided with technology, and over 80% say they could provide a better customer experience if they had mobile computers and barcode scanners in hand. Associates also believe analytics will help them have better daily experiences, and they prefer to manage their tasks and schedules using mobile apps and devices.
Beyond the measures taken to improve the front-line work experience, retail associates want their employer to offer flexible scheduling options so they can better achieve a stable work-life balance. And they want a retailer who can meet their scheduling preferences without any issues.
These things aren’t out of reach, nor are they unreasonable. With the right technology investments, retailers can offer employees a better work environment and more flexible scheduling options – and set themselves apart from the competition. Here are a few ways to make that happen:
Automate the scheduling process: With an intelligent workforce management solution, you don’t have to worry about manually accounting for every employee’s specific and changing work preferences. Once they’re added into the system, the solution can automatically account for employee skillsets, availability, and more without you – or any store manager – having to lift a finger.
Give employees more control over their schedules: An employee self-service solution is an outstanding tool for employees who want to tailor their schedules to their specific needs. Once they login to the mobile app, they can swap shifts, submit time-off requests, change availability, and add shifts. And with all requests routed immediately to store managers, nothing is lost, forgotten, or delayed. Managers can run through requests on their mobile devices in real time, no matter where they are in the store, and accept or decline them with the push of a button.
Create a supportive work environment: Being a new employee is always tough, but even veteran employees need support and guidance every now and then. With real-time peer-to-peer messaging apps, you can give employees the power to create group chats and open other lines of communication with managers and colleagues. Each group or channel can be specifically tailored to support new employees, employees learning new skills, or employees handling new initiatives. This ensures that everybody has the assistance they need to handle anything that comes their way.
2. Optimize, Optimize, Optimize
So many retail challenges can be traced back to outdated or convoluted store operations processes. Maybe labor schedules aren’t accurate, and stores are understaffed. Maybe stores are unable to adapt in real time to changing conditions or unexpected events on the sales floor. Maybe it takes too long for managers to create labor schedules, so they aren’t able to assist employees with their own tasks and questions.
All this happens because of outdated operational processes, and all can be easily rectified by optimizing labor, optimizing execution, and optimizing communication. By continually auditing and refining key operational procedures, it’s easy for your stores and your employees to be prepared for anything that comes their way. Here are a few things you can do with very little effort and a huge return on investment (ROI):
Eliminate manual labor scheduling: Too many store managers say they spend hours and hours each week going through schedules and making sure that they’re aligned correctly to demand and employee availability. And even if they get things “right” most of the time, managers are bound to make mistakes. They’re human. With an intelligent workforce management solution, you can eliminate manual labor scheduling in stores and automatically create schedules that account for customer traffic, product demand, employee preferences, and other key variables, essentially taking the pressure off store managers to make sure the stars – or staff – align perfectly.
Enable employees to react in real time: Late truck arrivals or broken refrigerators don’t need to cause major disruption to stores and their employees. Real-time task management solutions such as the one now offered via the Reflexis and FourKites integration can alert the proper employees when these unexpected events do happen, redirecting them from their current work to handle new high-priority issues. This eliminates any confusion about who should handle these events and when they should be handled.
3. Empower a Next-Gen Workforce
There is so much pressure on retail employees today. Customers are equipped with smartphones, desperate to get the most out of their budgets, asking for the right information as quickly as they can get it. There are always more tasks and responsibilities for retail employees to handle, whether it’s buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) or curbside pickup orders, online returns, or ship-from-store orders. And, as we have learned throughout the pandemic, any demand surge, shipping delay, production issue or labor shortage can turn retail upside down at any moment, pushing retail employees to get more done, all while dealing with confused customers and a flood of changing information.
So, you need to make sure that your employees are prepared for any challenge that could come up in the future. You must equip them now with tools that enable them to take fast, directed action without needing a lot of direction from other busy colleagues. Here are just a few things you can do to empower the workforce of the future:
Make it easy for them to communicate in real time: Provide them with a real-time messaging solution that gives them the ability to reach out to any of their co-workers or their managers if they’re uncertain about what’s happening, what needs to be done or how to do it. This way, an employee won’t have to track their manager or a veteran employee down if they don’t understand where to place curbside pickup orders. They can simply send a message and get a quick response.
Ensure they always know what they need to do: With a real-time task management solution on a mobile device, retail employees can see all the tasks they need to accomplish, ranked by priority level so they know what needs to be done when – even if those priorities shift throughout the day. And with this list updated in real time by feeds from corporate, other information-gathering Internet of Things (IoT) devices, predictive and prescriptive analytics systems and more, there’s never misalignment between what employees think they need to do and what actually needs to be done.
Provide opportunities for in-the-moment training: In a real-time task management solution, store managers are immediately notified when a task is completed. They can review to see if that task is done properly and provide in-the-moment coaching if there’s any additional information an employee needs to do the task better next time. This ensures that employees are constantly improving, learning with every task they do.
While there’s no such thing as futureproofing (we simply don’t know what the future holds), you can get your store operations ready for volatility and “worst case scenarios.” In fact, doing so is critical to protecting your retail organization from everyday changes that could be disruptive if not properly handled, as well as major weather, public health, political, or economic events that are certain to occur in the future. By cementing your organization as an employer of choice, continually optimizing your store operations processes, and empowering a next-gen workforce, you can leap ahead of the competition and handle whatever challenges the world will throw at your retail operations next.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to make your store operations more agile and future-ready, visit our website or contact our team. We would be glad to discuss the challenges your employees are facing and what we can do to help empower your staff.