Retail Workforce Planning for the 2019 Holiday Season

Shoppers continue to deliver strong holiday season sales since 2000, according to Statista

In 2018, holiday retail sales in the United States exceeded expectations — increasing 5.1% to $850 billion dollars — and it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. With healthy summer spending by consumers and estimates surpassing $1 trillion, proper planning for the busiest season of the year is critical for retailers. 

Black Friday & Cyber MondayThe winter season includes shopping days such as Thanksgiving weekend — made up of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, the last Saturday before Christmas, and Christmas itself. Thanksgiving weekend is also a popular time to shop, with over 116 million U.S. consumers shopping on Black Friday

In this article, we look at how you can better plan for a productive season, and achieve workforce management efficiencies from supply chain to storefront. 

Better scheduling across the supply chain

During big holiday events, there are certain products that’ll sell more than others. There are also certain expectations consumers have when they want something in your store, and they expect it to be there. 

Over 70% of U.S. consumers use Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store (BOPIS) services. As a retailer, you want to make sure a process is in place where associates can fulfill each order. Overworked and rushed employees mean small slip-ups like misplacing inventory in the backroom, and things showing up in stock online but not in store. 

Chris Brett, Senior Solutions Director at REPL Group, adds to this: 

“One of the most easily overlooked areas in retail is keeping a full stock room. Scheduling and preparation start beforehand as retailers calculate, forecast, and stock up for the season. It’s less about the right people, in the right place, at the right time — and more about giving associates the capacity and headspace to do their job right. If this type of preparation fails, it can have catastrophic effects.” 

Align internal teams to strategically position stock

Say it’s Super Bowl and you’re going to sell a lot of TVs. Your organization hopes the head of electronics has done their research, looked at the competition, and created a catchy reason for people to buy a TV from you. Incremental sales would include selling everything that goes along with the event as well, including chips, popcorn, and the like.

To create a campaign that grows sales across multiple segments, align departments with what’s coming up months in advance. If you want to sell 50,000 TVs, it’s important for electronics to talk to logistics and know:

  • Can you handle it?
  • Is there enough warehouse space for stock?
  • Will it be available for same or one-day delivery? 

The last bit is an important one — why? Because consumer expectations are quickly shifting retail logistics, especially around the holiday season. 

Rob Bate, Associate Partner at REPL Group, expands on this:

“There’s a new dynamic in the supply chain retailers need to account for — strategically placing stock for quick deployment. Teams need to ask themselves: where do I need to position this stock to make it accessible not only in-store, but for same or one-day delivery. Forecasting and inter-departmental communications are more important now than it was a couple of years ago to deliver on customer promise”. 

Another classic point retailers miss is the tie between marketing and labor team. “It seems like an obvious one,” Chris states, “but organizations who’s marketing initiatives are disconnected or don’t go through the proper channels don’t capitalize on sales or, end up spending too much. All because labor didn’t reflect volume levels.”

Your goal? Make sure every part of your organization knows what offer is happening on each day during the holiday season, and the impact it’s going to have on the workforce delivering it. 

Use data science to accurately plan for weather 

Poor weather can pose an issue during primetime shopping events like July 4th and the winter season. This can be anything from cold weather on Black Friday morning to heavy snow and storms on December 21st. 

Retailers typically react to what they think the weather forecast will be, roughly one or two days away from an event. But with the technology and data that are available today, Rob tells us, retailers can better predict consumer behavior in relation to weather:

“Planning for weather involves years of historical data exposing climate patterns and how an organization digests and implements the learnings. Then certain things get sold, others don’t. But with new innovations like machine learning and data science, there’s an opportunity to look at the interrelationships between weather patterns in a given time period and consumer behavior changes, and how that impacts in-store sales. Armed with this knowledge, retailers can better plan and get ahead on the season”.

From a labor perspective, retailers often miss the mark for deploying teams. More often than not, organizations silo their businesses so that managers can’t borrow employees from different locations. 

“Many retailers are losing out on a big advantage by not moving employees between stores. Those that plan their infrastructure to let people work on different sites help you react better on the day. For example, if it snows and some businesses lose footfall, but your base stores’ footfall increases significantly, you can accommodate that.”

Depending on the workforce management solution a retailer has, the ability to free share across sites is possible. “Borrowing between stores is more accessible than ever now,” Rob tells us, “not just because the retailer wants flexibility, but the employee does too. They can pick up extra shifts during holiday season without being restricted.”

It’s easy to get occupied with planning for the day itself and the expectation you have around it, then forget your plan when it doesn’t play out as expected. Letting employees move between stores can help overcome planning for unexpected weather events. 

Focus on realistic in-store productivity targets

Many retailers like to think training is a top priority to deliver on their customer promise. But the key to giving shoppers the attention they need isn’t in a training manual, it’s in fair productivity targets. 

Packed shelfChris explains: “Non-service-oriented retailers like supermarkets set extremely high productivity targets for hourly associates including shelf-restocking, cleaning, and more during the holiday season. Associates often struggle to balance a manager’s assigned tasks and customer needs, and it takes away from the shopping experience. Stores unintentionally set themselves up for failure by these overly aggressive productivity targets, it doesn’t matter the amount of training an employee has”.

Shift associate priorities from operational to customer-facing and service delivery tasks 

There’s a lot of focus on stores to keep the floor in tip-top shape and deliver the operational day-to-day throughout the holiday rush. But delivering your service proposition in a truncated timeline with 40% extra traffic is a big challenge for your employees. 

The holiday season is a chance to improve and change the perception of your organization and its service. Customers may be coming into your store for the first time in months because it’s convenient, or because you sell a particular product. If you miss the opportunity to deliver because associates are expected to execute the same day-to-day operational tasks, you miss making a difference to that customer.  

Rob explains:

“The holiday season doesn’t have to be chaotic. If you don’t want to bring more people onto the sales floor and keep temporary staff costs down, finding a way to maximize the effectiveness of your people is critical. The only way to do this is by stopping employees from doing non-customer facing tasks and the things that don’t impact their shopping experience and focusing on delivering the brand and service. When associates just focus on the customer experience and service delivery, they can deliver an impactful experience the customer really enjoys and remembers at a time where everyone else is getting it wrong. And that’s what’ll keep them coming back”.

How New Tech Can Improve Your Holiday Sales Season

Data science, machine learning and AI are quickly shaping the way retailers do business. At REPL, we’re integrating this technology to help retailers deliver accurate multi-factor forecasting and planning for the holiday season. 

This kind of workforce management power allows your organization to be prepared for the ups and downs of Q4. It also helps you scale and plan labour across stores to meet peak demands. 

The difference between successful retailers this season won’t be around the most lucrative deals, but trust. Your reputation depends on if you can deliver what shoppers need from covering the last mile to faster service times — you can achieve it all with REPL’s ADAPT

See how REPL can help transform your workforce management planning and make the very best of the Christmas period. Get in touch on +1 (479) 845 4634 or at info@replgroup.com.