Technology is driving monumental change in global retail, but the industry still needs people. Retailers are re-discovering the critical role front-line employees play as providers of customer experience and service, even if technology is being implemented to assist the way they work.
People power has been flagged by the likes of John Lewis, Jessops, Rituals, Nike, Harvey Nichols and Morrisons as driving success in stores, offering human interaction and experiences that the online world simply can’t replicate. For bricks-and-mortar retailers in particular, a first-class customer-facing workforce can be a key differentiator in the battle against both traditional competitors and online disruptors.
How happy are your retail employees?
But teams of great people need to be attracted to the job in the first place, nurtured, encouraged and expertly managed. Failing to do so will lead to high levels of turnover, poor customer service and high recruitment and training costs for the retailer. News of bad customer service experience spreads like wild fire on social media where digitally-connected consumers are concerned, so investing in your people is a great way to protect the brand, and make sure your values come through loud and clear at every shopper touchpoint.
A retail workforce empowered and supported
With UK retail industry profitability falling to around 8% of retail sales, online sales increasing to 16.4% of the total market, and around an 8% increase in business rates, many retailers are reviewing every aspect of their operation, looking for competitive advantage. Employee costs are considerable, so the workforce is an obvious place to look for efficiencies and savings.
One option is to invest in workforce management technology that can use data to guide store managers on how to resource stores in line with shopper demand, and the specific tasks required. The Access Group has produced a report exploring the capabilities of a new wave of data-led automation. It shows how retailers can take the guesswork out of retail, accurately predicting and tracking customer flows in real time, and then matching employee schedules to expected footfall.
This of course cuts out cost as it’s easy to pinpoint when stores can operate with fewer employees. But it also introduces the possibility of increasing conversions and customer satisfaction because enough staff will be on hand just when shoppers need help – with buying decisions, finding products and paying quickly and easily. This data-led approach can enable managers to pinpoint their crucial top-20 store trading hours, when the vast majority of retailers’ profits are made, and ensure their best salespeople are front and centre, up-selling, cross-selling, converting customers and maximising sales.
Freeing up managers’ time means better team building
With modern workforce management systems, this can be achieved quickly and automatically, freeing managers’ time for more value-added activities such as mentoring, motivating and team building. It’s also possible to use these systems to streamline and optimise large swathes of the recruitment process, fully integrating both vacancy and candidate management to ensure retailers can compete for the very best people for the job.
Better jobs, more job satisfaction
As a result of economic pressures and increased automation, analysis by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggests there could be up to 900,000 fewer jobs in retail by 2025, from a current total of 2.8m. But the BRC says the remaining jobs must be more skilled, higher paid, more meritocratic and more productive to ensure the future of the industry. The BRC’s recent ‘Better Jobs’ report states: “Productivity improvements will enable sustained pay rises, while clear progression routes will create routes to higher-skilled jobs that support current and future retail colleagues to reach their full potential.”
This is good news for the retail sector, but success is dependent on employers taking care with the future of their store teams. As the Access report points out: “Effective, modern workforce management, which nurtures individual employees through the full cycle of their retail career, has an essential role to play in creating a retail workforce fit for the future and capable of achieving these ambitious goals set by the BRC.”
Access have brought together best-of-breed technologies to create a solution which enables retailers to drive better efficiencies, and have the freedom to focus on delivering excellent customer service and employee engagement.
Find out more about the benefits of labour management software in The Access Group’s new market report: