How retailers can Optimize work force to drive profitability?

Employee Engagement driven by technology in turn drives differentiated customer experience and galloping revenues
How retailers can Optimize work force to drive profitability?

With the looming holiday season, retailers are approaching the crucial Christmas - New Year shopping period with a strong sense of optimism and some worries too. As a countdown from Christmas to New Years, we experience a flood of festive advertising and promotions across all media. The holiday season ushers in a surge in footfalls, packed with customers picking out decorations and gifts for their loved ones. However, from the perspective of the customer, holiday sales can easily become a struggle to find the right products when not monitored by store staff. If one were to imagine the packed crowd navigating through shops without any floor help, it would result in disgruntled consumers, thereby impacting sales. It’s the last mile workforce that makes the difference be the service quality, overall experience to delight and also actually drives the revenue.

In peak seasons like these, it is critical for retailers, to actively engage in finding the optimum number of employees with the right skill being placed at the right time at the stores to drive this experience ultimately resulting in higher revenues. With internal sourcing falling short of the peak loads its important for retail companies to fill in the gaps with part time/contract employees to drive desired outcomes. However, despite fresh hires and an inflated workforce, unplanned absences are a common occurrence. Global research suggests that Retailers are understaffed 25 percent of the time due to last-minute absenteeism. In fact, retailers in the UK and US have recorded unprecedented levels of absenteeism at 44 percent and 41 percent respectively on weekends India these percentages are equally staggering. Retailers are given on an average just one to three hours notice when an employee is not going to show up for work, which makes it stressful for their managers.  Organizations spend precious time in correcting staffing misalignments and shortages, which impacts productivity and finally lowers revenue. Hence, absenteeism has a deep rooted corrosive impact on retailers. Replacements employees too are unable to drive the outcomes as a replacement employee is also only up to 80% effective from a productivity standpoint.  A Workforce Management solution is the right answer to tackling this problem. It is the only scientific, analytical & data driven approach to deliver sustainable success by strategically building a staffing and operating model that takes into collective consideration the needs of the workforce, the customers, and the business.

Absenteeism affects productivity, overtime, morale and business growth monetarily. In an effort to counter instances of unplanned absenteeism a vast majority of retail organizations (88 percent) proactively over-schedule additional labour to cover for probable absences. This practice is most common in France (95 percent) followed by U.S. (89 percent) and then Germany (88 percent). Therefore, 56 percent of global retailers highlight scheduling based on customer, business, and employee demands to be a major concern. Similar trends are being observed in the Indian retail market, which comprises of dynamic and fast-paced industries with an inflated workforce growing constantly. Only 55% of retailers worldwide have the technology in place to manage unplanned absences, India being one of them. It’s Workforce Management technology that can help troubleshoot such issues.

In sectors where workforce is the biggest asset and also the biggest operating cost, it is imperative to manage your workforce even more efficiently and effectively. Retailers are more concerned about finding and retaining the right person in the right place at the right time. This is where workforce analytics can play a critical role in identifying the optimal workload plan and suggest workforce schedules that match these workloads optimally and cost effectively. Workforce Management solutions help empowers managers with accurate demand forecasts using historical data and known events, and in building schedules that optimize the deployment of workforces. An interesting trend that is catching up with Global retail chains is their interest in using Workforce Management tools in order to retain their competitive advantage by achieving operational efficiency, improved productivity, flexibility and agility while still being compliant to the law of land, both on statutory and social compliance front.

In most Countries, retailers are looking at technology as an emancipator of productivity related issues by facilitating effective employee scheduling. However, simple automation of critical workforce processes such as timekeeping, scheduling, and leave management can cater to the needs of permanent employees and gig workers also drives big benefits and acts as the first step on the right path. One needs to consider the adoption of smarter tools that give equal power to employers and employees and serve the purpose of productivity and monitor the workforce but not necessarily control the workforce. Hence, self-scheduling saves time and efforts and empowers employees to manage their absences better through shift swaps with co-workers, and help in improving work quality and productivity. A Workforce Management system not only helps in the efficient allocation of work, it also  provides visibility on the status, progress, and performance, while initiating notifications and alerts in real-time to enable critical business decision within moments.

Technology that is agile and cloud based can address the needs of a highly mobile and remote functioning workforce. Workforce Management solutions embedded with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning functionality that are equipped with data analytics can provide the best recommendations for improved forecasting accuracy, labour analytics, shift recommendations, and employee self-service. The solution is to create a beneficial end-to-end cloud suite for retailers powered by machine learning to streamline store execution and effectively manage work-life balance.  This in fact can help organisations step into the next evolutionary stage in transforming how they are mobilizing their workforce. The conversation needs to move to assessing productivity levels and better deployment of talent, that will align employee skills with operational requirements. This is the step one must take in the direction of human capital optimisation, moving further beyond just management.

The article has been penned down by James Thomas, Country Manager, India, Kronos Incorporated







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