It is that time of the year yet again when spirits are high with the new year just around the corner. The season to be jolly and merry is a big revenue opportunity for the retail sector which is just beginning to show signs of recovery. Even as we anticipate another lockdown, the festive fervor has presented an opportunity for retailers to make the most of what they can, creating demand for seasonal employees too.
The retail industry no doubt has been impacted severely by the pandemic with several chains closing down and many more reinventing their business model. Yet the past few months have provided a ray of hope with the industry slowly opening up and recently even reporting growth over pre-pandemic levels. Retail hiring and staffing are on the rise again as organizations gear up to welcome their workforce at full strength, however certain fundamentals of managing the workforce have irrevocably changed which retailers need to take cognizance of.
In the retail world, customer traffic is not always predictable and can fluctuate by the time of day, as well as weekly and monthly, which makes it a challenge to match staff schedules with customer footfalls and sales. When retailers struggle to accurately predict scheduling requirements, it can result in last-minute scheduling tactics which run the risk of overstaffing or understaffing, leading to reduced sales per labor hour, unhappy customers not to mention employee burnout, and disengagement when they are unable to balance their work-life commitments adequately.
According to a study by SHRM in 2019, even before the pandemic, the topmost emerging trend in the workforce was the need for greater flexibility at the workplace. Post pandemic, with many juggling multiple responsibilities over and above their work, demands like child care, elder care, classes, and appointments this need for flexibility has only increased. Having little control of their schedules or a last-minute request to fill a shift can leave people feeling stressed and off-balance and a clear fall out of that would be seen in a lower engagement of the workforce and possible increased attrition rates. The global ‘great resignation’ phenomenon that we are seeing today is clearly a reflection of this reality.
In recent research by the Workforce Institute by UKG, 88 percent of the respondents felt that organizations are more likely to perform well financially when their employees feel heard, engaged, and have a sense of belonging. The key to that is considering their needs and preferences while scheduling the workforce.
Workforce management technology can help retailers bridge the gap between meeting organization requirements and the expectations of their people. For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning-based forecasting can play a valuable role in helping retailers predict workforce requirements better. This in turn can help align employee schedules better with customer traffic, thereby improving customer experience and making employees' lives easier. Key in point is during the festive season when customer traffic is high and more people are required at one place, automated forecasting technology uses historical point-of-sale data — customer traffic, sales, transactions, and units sold — to predict sales and labor needs. Using a retailer’s point-of-sale data and workforce data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies gain an understanding of customer patterns and employee schedule preferences, so retail associates can be scheduled according to their preferences and in alignment with customer demand.
Moreover, each employee’s particular skill set, for e.g. store opening and closing capabilities, can be included in the integrated forecasting and scheduling solution to determine which associates have the right skills to fill a position and when. Moving to a more scientific and automated scheduling process that considers employee preferences while scheduling can help retailers provide the predictable schedules that workers desire. Once retail associates receive their schedules one to two weeks in advance, they can schedule childcare as needed, make appointments around their work schedule, take up another job, and otherwise plan their lives, improving their work/ life balance.
Predictable schedules also allow associates to have predictable earnings, enabling them to demonstrate anticipated income during a financial emergency. Additionally, if a retailer has multiple locations in the same geographic area, managers can use an automated scheduling solution to easily alert associates from local area stores about open shifts. Retail associates enjoy having this opportunity to pick up extra shifts at different locations — if their schedules allow — to earn extra pay. Thus, financial stability and work flexibility provided by predictable schedules can improve employee satisfaction and job engagement, thereby helping to reduce turnover.
Retailers can also invest in an advanced scheduling solution that offers mobile functionality that can further increase employee satisfaction and engagement as they can check their schedules while on the go, at any time, and from any place. Also, they can enjoy the flexibility of using a mobile app to makeshift swaps if they encounter some unexpected family responsibilities that interfere with a scheduled shift.
To summarise, the key to success in retail is through happy customers getting served by happy employees. Due to the changing nature of working hours in retail stores, putting employees in control of their time through predictable schedules using forecasting technology is an easy, cost-effective workforce management solution to the challenges that retailers face in attracting and retaining associates and filling shifts during a tight labor market. It is a surefire way for retailers to enhance employee engagement and therefore deliver what retail employees really want in the post-pandemic era.