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four ways retailers are supporting the workforce post-pandemic.

four ways retailers are supporting the workforce post-pandemic.

Melissa Sutton
Melissa Sutton

The Covid-19 pandemic and its resultant lockdowns have led to the rapid acceleration of a number of digital transformation trends in retail workforce management that have been going on for some years now.

The most obvious driver of these trends was the almost overnight shift to online. As physical stores not selling ‘essential’ goods and services were forced to close in the interests of public safety, consumers found themselves with no choice but to purchase what they needed over the internet - and many found they actually liked doing so more than expected and plan to continue post-lockdown, for commodity products at least. But the situation has proved no less difficult for retailers with key workers that have had to identify how best to respond to the crisis too.

The experience has changed expectations and requirements for shoppers and retail workers forever.

Here we explore four areas that smart retailers are now focusing their immediate digital transformation efforts on in order to keep their operations running smoothly and efficiently while ensuring their workforce remains productive, engaged and safe:

1. online training facilities to help staff adapt to a changing retail landscape.

The role of retail stores and their staff has changed markedly over the last year. Many outlets are no longer acting as shopping destinations in their own right but have become places to pick up ‘click-and-collect’ purchases originally made online, not only from the retailer itself but from third party partner organisations too.

To make the environment safe for customers, meanwhile, employees are being asked to undertake cleaning tasks in-store and marshalling duties on the door to ensure social distancing guidelines are adhered to. Others are being redeployed to work on ecommerce, digital marketing and social media activities.

So in order to make such significant change possible, training has become a key requirement. Because it can no longer occur in a classroom setting, there has been a clear business case - and user acceptance of the need - for moving learning online. There have also been considerable benefits in doing so, which include lower costs, at least partially as staff need to spend less time away from the store.

2. labour management systems to support real-time scheduling.

Forecasting labour requirements to ensure people are in the right place at the right time and undertaking accurate and timely staff scheduling activity is testing in a pandemic situation, where employees can go off sick quickly or take leave at short notice due to caring responsibilities.

This situation inevitably leads to absence levels unlike anything previously experienced, resulting in some staff being asked to undertake more roles than was the case in the past, broadening their skills base in the process. While positive for both the business and the individual, this kind of multi-tasking also has a knock-on effect on setting scheduling parameters.

Because it is vital that scheduling in such a volatile scenario is managed daily to ensure employees are notified and can respond to any changes in real-time, automated labour forecasting and management systems are an imperative here. Manual approaches are simply no longer fit-for-purpose when handling such complexity.

image showing a retailer's team of retail workforce behind a till

3. employee self-service applications to enable greater flexibility.

Enabling staff to access and update information using mobile, self-service applications not only boosts engagement by giving them more control over their working lives, but also saves time and money for their employers.

For example, if employees are given the means not only of requesting things like annual leave but of booking, or swapping, available shifts to work at a nearby store where they may not already know the manager, it means they can work at a time and place that is convenient for them. It also helps managers to address potential resourcing challenges and focus on revenue-generating activities rather than becoming bogged down in admin tasks.

4. people analytics and forecasting tools to boost business performance.

Gaining as much visibility into how individual stores and the overall business are performing and understanding just how they have been affected by the pandemic, is imperative if retailers are to survive and thrive. But basing such analysis on long-term, historical data is not necessarily the most accurate means of forecasting future trends in today’s unpredictable world.

As a result, the value of people, analytics and forecasting tools that are able to take anomalies into account cannot be underestimated, particularly if they are connected to stock systems. This link makes it possible to understand such equations as the number of hours worked versus the amount of money generated, in order to see which variables it makes the most sense to adjust.

Put another way, out-dated systems and manual approaches will no longer cut it. In a time of great flux, technology that enables the business and its people to develop and grow is the true secret to success, both now and into the future.

Get in touch with Chris Love to discuss retail workforce digital transformation

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