Why Retailers Should Adopt the Millennial Mindset, Especially When It Comes to Managing Employees – and Inventory Counts

Trusting associates to manage your valuable merchandise can go a long way to showing them how much they’re also valued.

A retail associate takes inventory
by Ken Hausman
March 24, 2021

Store associates are a retailer’s greatest resource, and merchandise the most valuable financial asset. So, why are retailers quick to outsource inventory counts to third parties, even though employees are more than capable (and very willing) to take on the task? Why not employ the greatest resource to quantify the most valuable asset?

Corporate executives might feel store associates want to avoid counting inventory. This past year has been particularly difficult, as associates have been pulled in a dozen different directions. The last thing store leaders want to do is add another task to their teams’ to-do lists. However, certain tasks – meaningful tasks – are not seen as burdensome to associates, despite what decision-makers might think. In fact, it can be more detrimental to take the job away from your team.

The Mental Toll That Outsourcing Inventory Takes on Your In-House Team

Shoppers aren’t the only ones who want to feel valued by retailers. Associates want to know they are appreciated, too. One of the best ways to show your employees just how important they are is to trust them with one of the most important annual requirements: inventory counts.

A detailed count of your greatest financial asset is paramount to closing your books each year. However, conducting more frequent cycle counts could become imperative to overall supply chain planning. In the newly-released Volume 2 of Zebra’s 2021 Global Shopper Study, both retail executives and associates agreed that better inventory management tools are needed to improve accuracy and availability of goods. By giving your in-house team the technology tools needed to conduct inventory counts, you’re empowering them to add more value to your business in a very tangible way.

There was a young retail store associate who recently told my colleague just how excited he was to have been handed a mobile computer and told to start taking inventory on his first day at work. The task, though so important, was also so simple. There was very little training needed and no learning curve. He was able to start contributing right away, and he was able to clearly see the positive impact those contributions had on both his store and the shoppers it served. He actually said it was one of the best days of his life!

That’s incredible. It also proves just how critical it is to understand and adopt a millennial mindset across your entire workforce. People of all generations take pride in their work, and they are eager to do whatever it takes to improve business outcomes and customer experiences. By allowing associates to drive the whole inventory management process from start to finish, you are showing them just how much you trust them and how much you value their knowledge and skill sets. And the more they are invited to be a part of “the action,” the more emotionally invested in their jobs they become, even if it technically means more work. In fact, one of the top reasons why millennials change jobs so often is because they feel underutilized at work.

If associates see you outsourcing inventory counts to a third-party team after expressing interest in picking up more hours or taking on more responsibility, they may become discouraged or disengaged. Morale takes even more of a hit when associates are ultimately asked to either supervise or clean up after outside inventory takers. According to an analysis conducted by Deloitte, “millennials are more likely than other generations to read more deeply into issues and situations, versus simply taking them at face value.” In this case, they may not appreciate that you are simply trying to lighten their workload. They may feel that you’re taking away their jobs or only leaving them to manage the mundane tasks. And I’m sure the last thing you want is to inadvertently deplete the self-worth of your most valued resource.

The Hidden Business Benefits of Enlisting Employees’ Help with Inventory Counts

This has been mentioned in a past blog post, but handing over inventory counts to an outside party means that you lose a lot of control over your business plans. If anything at all prevents the contracted team from coming into your store at the scheduled time – perhaps a labor shortage or rare winter storm – then it could be a very long time before the count is rescheduled. This means that your store’s operations (and team’s schedule) are going to be disrupted twice and you may be left in limbo for a long period of time without a clear understanding of current inventory. That alone has multiple potential consequences.

However, conducting your inventory counts with your in-house team allows you to set the schedule and dictate the process. You can time it between peak periods when you know labor will be available and workers won’t be overwhelmed by the additional task. And you can control the timeline. If you need a few extra days to minimize the burden on your team, no problem. If you want to schedule additional people to speed up the process, you can do that, too. Of course, you’ll likely have the results much faster, which means you’ll be able to report inventory by corporate’s deadline and resolve issues that impact customer satisfaction almost immediately.  

The Bottom Line

Associates want a more balanced workload. But they also want more meaningful work. Who would you rather see benefit from the annual inventory spend: your people or someone else’s? Very few things add more value to your business than your people and your inventory. So, let your team take ownership of the entire inventory management process, to include inventory counts. You already trust them to manage every other aspect of your operation. Why not this?

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Editor’s Note:

You can learn more about the technology tools available to support in-house inventory on our website or read one of these related blog posts:

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Ken Hausman
Kenneth (Ken) Hausman is currently the Director of Sales for Zebra’s Retail Solutions group. In this role, he oversees all sales activities for the self-scan physical inventory solution that Zebra provides to retailers.