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The trends retailers need to know

The world of work is being transformed by technology and increasing demands from employees for more flexibility and improved work-life balance. Advances in tech are allowing retailers to innovate and change the way they structure their workforce to enhance the employee experience and boost staff loyalty.

The world of work is being transformed by technology and increasing demands from employees for more flexibility and improved work-life balance. Advances in tech are allowing retailers to innovate and change the way they structure their workforce to enhance the employee experience and boost staff loyalty.

Against that backdrop, some retailers are recalibrating their employee mix to open up more full-time positions that will enable them to invest more in their workforce by training and developing staff across a range of positions, as well as helping managers optimise store resourcing by sharing staff across multiple locations.

Meanwhile, the rise of the gig economy is providing retailers with an opportunity to access workers on-demand to better respond to unexpected changes in staffing levels or other resourcing issues. Finding ways to access this more flexible workforce can help retailers manage their stores more efficiently and ensure they are never short on staff.

As well as using gig workers, the way organisations recruit permanent staff is changing. Technology and AI tools are making the hiring process easier and more cost-effective to find the right employees. A different approach to recruitment where retailers proactively target certain workers can also help broaden the range of candidates and ensure previously hidden pools of talent are given an opportunity.

Technology is also supporting the in-store experience both for employees and customers. Digital tools can lighten the load for workers so they can spend more time interacting with customers, while data analytics can unlock deeper customer insights that will provide a more personalised shopping experience.

Full time hiring is on the rise
Traditional workforce models for retailers typically relied on an employee mix that favoured more part-time staff than full-time workers (usually tending towards a 70/30 split, with the 30% of full-time workers mostly comprising the management layer). Yet some retailers are starting to rejig their strategies by hiring more staff on a full-time basis, in part because it can create better employee experiences due to work schedules being more predictable.

Adjusting the employee mix to a more full-time, less part-time model also enables employers to upskill their workforce to handle multiple tasks and roles so they can work across different positions throughout their shift. By providing training on a wider range of skills and offering more predictable work, employees are likely to be happier and more productive. Full-time workers are also more likely to consider a long-term career with that organisation because they can see their employer is investing in their professional development, helping to reduce staff turnover.

Some retailers are using that transition to more full-time workers to boost their employee-to-store ratios. Traditionally, retailers would hire employees to work in one store in one role—a 1:1 model. That results in more total employees and store-specific expertise, but it also means fewer work hours for each employee. Now retailers are increasingly adopting a 1:Many model where employees are hired to work across multiple stores and roles as business needs dictate.

This trend is being driven by two main factors. First, it allows organisations to offer employees who want full-time work the ability to pick up additional hours across different stores, reducing the likelihood of them seeking employment elsewhere. Second, it helps ease hiring pressures at individual stores as new recruits can be shared across different store locations.

For this strategy to work effectively, organisations need to invest in the right technology platforms and tools to enable employees to work seamlessly across different stores, such as being able to log-on to store operation systems without hassle.

Organisations will also need to provide necessary training for employees to move across locations or brands so they better understand the nuances of different stores, such as product availability and in-store culture.

The gig economy offers workers flexibility
The emergence of the gig economy has given people more control and flexibility over how often, when and who they work for, better matching their working hours to their lifestyles and improving their work-life balance. The gig economy is expected to grow to $455 billion by 2023, according to a report by Mastercard—up from $204 billion in 2018. Gig workers are also expected to make up around 35% to 40% of the workforce by 2025, compared to between 15% and 25% today, according to Gartner.

Gig work can appeal to younger workers such as Millennials and Generation Z (anybody born after 1995), often because the flexibility enables them to earn income on the side while pursuing other personal interests or passions, such as travelling or developing creative skills. Yet it is Baby Boomers (those aged 57 to 75) and Generation X (those aged 41 to 56) that do the most work in the gig economy, with the latter cohort generating the most income from such opportunities.

Retailers can tap into this flexible workforce to help smooth fluctuations in staff availability or more efficiently manage resourcing at busier times (the run up to Christmas, say) and during unexpected spikes in demand by adopting digital tools and forging partnerships with other retailers. For instance, by creating a digital app or online platform, retailers can enable gig workers to pick up shifts, check schedules or access training videos or guides for the role (those could involve tasks such as keeping shelves stocked, unloading deliveries or other one-off in-store activities). Partnering with other retailers can also give existing employees greater opportunities for additional work, allowing them to take on extra shifts from a partner company while also maintaining their in-store hours. That can help prevent staff seeking alternative employment when employers can’t offer the desired amount of hours workers are looking for.

Retail companies could also apply surge pricing models popularised by ride-hailing apps such as Uber by raising hourly rates for shifts that are typically harder to staff. Retailers can incentivise gig workers to accept those shifts by gradually increasing the rate as the start-time approaches.

Retailers are searching for ‘hidden’ talent
Retailers need to take a more active approach to talent recruitment compared to past practices of passively waiting for people to respond to job advertisements placed in-store or elsewhere. That means taking a strategic stance on outreach by going to meet potential talent where they are rather than waiting for them to submit an application. By changing the way they source talent, organisations can uncover previously hidden talent pools, such as employees with disabilities or criminal records, who are eager to work and possess or have the ability and attitude to develop the skills needed for the job.

Organisations also need to better promote retail as a profession rather than just being seen as a service industry job, encouraging potential employees to view long-term careers with retail companies as an attractive and fulfilling prospect rather than as something temporary or menial.

Stiffer competition for talent means managers responsible for hiring staff need to make use of their sales experience by championing the organisation as if they were selling a product. With jobseekers being more discerning about who they work for, managers also need to hone their negotiating skills to secure the best workers.

Hiring processes have been made easier and more efficient by using technology that automates talent recruitment. But this tech has limitations, so when employers include extensive lists of requirements on job postings, that will narrow the potential pool of applicants who can tick all the boxes. Employers that focus on negative attributes to filter out applications can also lead to certain candidates that would otherwise be suited to the role being overlooked, adding to the cache of hidden workers. To counter this problem, instead of focusing on negative filters or overly prescriptive requirements, employers should focus on six to eight minimum skills that effectively filter more applicants in and broaden the pool of potential candidates. Research shows that companies that take proactive steps to hire hidden workers were 36% less likely to face talent and skills shortages than companies that focused on filtering out applicants.

While being wary of the potential wrinkles that could accidentally screen out viable candidates, organisations should be utilising technology to support the recruitment process. By intelligently applying this tech, retailers can improve the efficiency of the hiring process and reduce the costs associated with taking on new staff.

Human and machine can work together
Technology can help retailers modernise their businesses, not by replacing staff with robots but by playing a supporting role where routine tasks are automated to free up employees’ time to spend on more value-added customer-focused activities.

For example, almost half of retail store managers say that if their administrative burden was reduced they would spend their time training and developing their team (49%) and interacting with customers (27%).

Investing in intelligent workforce management platforms and digital communication tools can help improve internal comms and keep employees connected at all times, fostering team building and collaboration.

Technology is also essential for creating a true omnichannel experience that is consistent for consumers no matter how they are shopping, whether that is in-store, home delivery or making use of a click-and-collect service. That means customer data should be used to personalise the shopping experience across channels so that online recommendations reflect what has been purchased in-store and vice versa.

Many organisations are already using technology to enable flexible work arrangements and better manage scheduling by forecasting the staffing levels needed to meet expected customer demand. Retailers should also be investing in technology to streamline operational processes and to enable greater human and machine collaboration that can then allow them to innovate and create new roles for in-store staff that are more engaging and fulfilling. Research shows that 40% of retail executives expect that most of their workforces will change roles in the future due to technological advances.

That means retailers need to ensure their tech platforms are tailored to evolving customer needs and workforce expectations as economies more broadly accelerate their digital transformation efforts. In this new world of automation and in-store tech, traditional shop employees are increasingly transitioning from checkout assistants to brand ambassadors who are central to providing an enhanced customer experience that combines tech-powered insights with a personal human touch. To achieve that, employees need to be passionate product experts, not just by knowing logistical details such as colours, sizes and stock availability but having an in-depth understanding of where products originate from and how their sustainability credentials stack up across the entire supply chain.

Key takeaways

  1. More full-time roles
    Some retailers are increasingly shifting their employee mix to a more full-time model as a way to improve the employee experience by investing in talent and advancing their careers. This strategy is enabling retailers to share employees across different stores to meet demand and also to ensure hourly-paid workers are getting the amount of shifts they want.
  1. Attracting gig workers
    The rise of the gig economy is enabling people to work in a more flexible way—sometimes working for multiple employers at a time that suits each individual. Retailers can tap into the growing army of gig workers by creating an app that allows users to pick up shifts and partnering with other retailers so that existing employees can take extra shifts at partner companies if they are seeking more hours.
  1. Finding the right talent
    Retailers need to adopt a more proactive recruitment strategy that targets talent rather than passively waiting for applicants to respond to job postings. Retailers should use new technology that can automate the hiring process and make it more efficient, but organisations need to ensure they are not inadvertently screening out hidden talent pools, such as employees with disabilities or criminal records.
  1. Supporting humans with tech
    Technology is not replacing retail staff. Instead, by automating routine tasks, it is empowering employees to spend more time acting as brand ambassadors and interacting with customers. By investing in workforce management platforms and smarter digital communication tools, retailers can improve the overall working experience for employees while also creating a better in-store experience for customers.

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