Retail Workers Want to Feel Safe and Secure. These Two Technologies Help Do Just That.

Research shows that retailers must do more to show front-line associates they are valued as much as customers, particularly with the labor pool shrinking, the pandemic lingering and fulfillment demands still rising.

A retail store associate looks at her handheld mobile computer screen to pull up item info for two customers
by Guy Yehiav
February 26, 2021

Many retailers are working to beef up their workforces as customer demand for online shopping and omnichannel fulfillment continues to surge and adherence to pandemic cleanliness protocols demands more labor resources. New positions are opening daily at all levels. This hiring spree probably won’t be short lived, either, as some expect retail’s sustained growth to be the new normal.

That being said, retailers can’t afford to get lost in the excitement of staff expansion. Current associates need to remain engaged and fulfilled in their roles, or retailers risk losing them to competitors (or another sector altogether).

How can retailers keep employee satisfaction high and attrition rate low? Understanding this requires looking at two key root causes of attrition:

1.  Job insecurity

Retailers were deploying contactless shopping methods for years before COVID-19 accelerated that innovation by leaps and bounds. To help mitigate virus transmission, retailers quickly started deploying self-checkout kiosks, scan-and-go apps, online ordering systems for curbside pickup/home delivery, and more throughout their chains to put customers at ease. But it’s important to acknowledge the impact that such innovation can have on employees. When new technology is rolled out, people start getting nervous – I’ve seen it more times than I can count during my 25 years in the supply chain sector. They fear that this tech is meant to replace them, not empower them, and that anxiety may drive them to jump ship.

Of course, such a fear is completely unfounded for retail workers today. Retailers across the board need all hands on deck as they grow their workforces to accommodate the increased demand brought about by the pandemic. As their employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure your people feel safe, secure and, perhaps most importantly, valued in their positions, regardless of the innovation happening around them.

How, you ask?

Certain types of technology can help make workers feel empowered and valued as part of your organization. Consider prescriptive analytics, the software methodology that analyzes data and tells you:

  • What is happening in your stores, warehouses and at other supply chain touchpoints (depending on how you’ve deployed and integrated it into your processes)
  • Why it is happening
  • How much it is costing you
  • What to do about it
  • Who should take action to correct it or prevent further occurrences

Prescriptive analytics, by design, prevents employees from feeling like second banana to technology. A solution like the one we offer here at Zebra sends targeted tasks to employees’ mobile devices. Each task includes:

  • a detailed description of the issue (“no sales for Hood 1% Milk in 3 hours even though there is enough in stock”),
  • the financial impact of the issue (“estimated lost sales equals $80 and customer satisfaction is at risk), and
  • simple, easy-to-follow prescriptive actions dictating an action for the employee to take (“verify on-shelf availability, then refill from cooler #2 if necessary”).

In most retail organizations without prescriptive analytics, that same employee would need to identify if the item is out of stock and then research that potential issue in a lengthy report (assuming it wasn’t noticed during a routine shelf inventory inspection). By the time the associate confirms that it is indeed out of stock in one shelf location but available elsewhere in the store, lost sales could balloon into the hundreds of dollars. More importantly, customer satisfaction will be at risk. On the contrary, prescriptive analytics leads employees directly to the root cause of any detected issues, empowering them to make meaningful change in the moment. For example, is it a supply chain or store issue? And, because prescriptive analytics automatically calculates the issue’s value, associates can see how much money they helped their employer save by completing each task and resolving identified issues. Everyone wins.

No matter what technology retailers ultimately implement to improve the execution of their operations, it is important that workers see exactly how it makes their lives easier. (You can’t just tell them.) An intelligent workforce management solution, for example, provides immediate and noticeable benefits to your front-line associates. By automatically accounting for key variables that impact the precision of your labor schedules, such as labor laws, customer traffic, product demand, in-store workload, and employee preferences, this software enables you to generate accurate schedules much farther in advance than would be possible with manual workforce management methods. In turn, it’s easier for employees to line up care for their children or parents or better plan their own healthcare appointments and schooling schedules.

Mobile employee self-service solutions also provide immediate benefits to front-line associates by enabling them to view and manage schedules directly on their smartphones from anywhere, anytime. They can receive instant notifications if their schedules are changed or updated, and they can easily swap shifts, call in sick, or adjust their availability. If daycare isn’t available or an employee needs to take care of a parent, he or she need only open the employee self-service application to resolve work conflicts. This is an innovation that both helps your employees and provides them with a constant reminder of how technology can work to make their lives better.

2. Concerns about on-the-job safety

Retailers have implemented countless safety and security protocols to keep both customers and employees safe and healthy amidst the danger of COVID-19. Of those two groups, employees are likely to feel less safe, even with the protocols in place. While approximately 90% of retail decision makers think shoppers and associates trust them to make health and safety a priority, only 65% of shoppers and 77% of associates agree, according to feedback received during Zebra’s latest Global Shopper Study.

Why?

Because customers have a choice. They can choose whether they want to brave COVID-19 and go to the store. Employees don’t have that luxury – if they skip work, they may face disciplinary action. Even reducing their hours is rarely an option, as they are paid by the hour and can’t afford to work less.

The key to keeping your employees feeling safe at work lies in consistent reminders about your commitment to workplace safety. They need to know that even though you can’t control the spread of the virus, you are actively working to minimize it.

Real-time mobile communication solutions make it easy to send critical safety information to all levels of your organization. Using precise, pre-built distribution groups and custom templates for recurring messages, you can easily send out targeted updates about cleaning procedures, social distancing guidelines, and other safety-related processes.

Streamlining these procedures ensures that managers and front-line associates are always receiving the latest safety guidelines. They understand that their employer is committed to transparency and to utilizing the most recent safety information to keep employees safe. And the auditing functionality included in today’s intelligent workforce management, task management and prescriptive analytics software empower you to assess whether there are certain associates who haven’t viewed or responded to critical safety communications. If a violation is confirmed, these software solutions will prompt and help facilitate further action, such as training. And if associates  don’t feel their employer is committed to a safe workplace, a quick check of their viewing activity will verify if they have seen all of the information that has been sent their way.

In addition to communication about COVID-19 and other public health and safety protocols, your employees need to actually see that you’re enforcing the rules you set forth. We have seen “COVID fatigue” across all retailers, and prescriptive analytics helps you follow through by flagging telltale signs of non-compliance within your data.  For example, one of our retail customers deployed a pattern (an algorithm that looks for specific data behaviors) that monitored the time elapsed between checkout transactions.

The pattern calculated the average time between transactions across all cashiers in the organization during a specific time of the day and within each store, segmenting them into groups based on similar characteristics (i.e., experience, typical customer traffic, days on duty, etc.). It then compared cashiers’ real-time gaps between transactions to their clusters’ benchmark.

This made it easy for the retailer’s store operations team to identify cashiers who were not cleaning their register belts and payment pin pads between customers as required. The data clearly showed that time between transactions was far too short for them to be doing so (think five or six seconds – definitely not enough time to clean a slow-moving register belt). The solution also sent the store operations team the CCTV footage taken at the time of each suspected violation, making it easy to verify the cashiers’ actions. Corrective actions ranging from education and retraining to termination were executed, and, thanks to this show of commitment to employee health and safety, employee compliance and satisfaction greatly improved.

If you’d like to learn more about how Zebra’s retail software solutions can help improve on-the-job safety and build associates’ confidence in their job security, you can contact our team here. There is also additional information online about the role that prescriptive analytics and workforce management solutions can play in these two areas.

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Guy Yehiav
Guy Yehiav is a 25-year veteran of the supply chain industry and the General Manager of Zebra Analytics.