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GUEST COMMENT Managing your retail workforce is the secret to great customer experience both on and offline

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The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted every industry, with retail hit particularly hard recording the worst sales in 25 years. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the retailers, who have adapted, overcome, and evolved around the pressures of the pandemic. One of the most positive outcomes being the industry’s rapid digital transformation.

With most people confined to their homes for almost 18 months, consumers have relied heavily on online retail – whether that’s established ecommerce giants like Amazon and ASOS, or smaller businesses such as pandemic start ups or boutiques pivoting to an online business model. With restrictions now lifted in the UK, there is greater pressure on the in-store retail experience to provide something unique. If brick and mortar shopping is to stay relevant, customer service must be flawless meaning employee retention and attraction needs to be improved and maintained. 

So how can retailers digitally transform both front and back of house to ensure they stay relevant, competitive, and attractive to new talent and in-turn grow their business? 

Finding tech solutions for retail businesses

As it stands there’s nothing stopping the growing digital reliance of retail businesses. Fourth’s research shows almost two thirds (64%) of retail leaders are exploring new technology solutions, while eight in ten retailers (79%) plan to implement more tech before the end of 2021. Digital transformation is happening, but that doesn’t mean in-store retail can’t ride this wave or use this trend to its advantage.

Studies show that consumers are likely to maintain behaviours they have been forced to adopt throughout the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, such as more online shopping and greater expectation of next-day shipping. It’s likely that with this greater consumer focus online, there will be less necessity for shop floor workers but even more expectation of high-quality customer-service. If retailers want to remain competitive with the ever growing ecommerce-only sector, they need to reinvent and align the customer experiences they provide both in-store and online.

Finding a balance isn’t easy, but this is where digital transformation can help both brick and mortar and ecommerce businesses. In fact, our data shows retail leaders believe both ecommerce (38%) and HR and workforce management technology (38%) are the most critical tech solutions for their business in 2021.

Prioritising your retail workforce 

Looking at the current workforce, both the pandemic and Brexit have severely damaged retail’s ability to attract and retain staff, whether that is from the seemingly endless months of furlough and visa worries or the new issue of the so-called “Pingdemic”. Retail staff now have every right to expect more substantial measures to protect both their mental and physical health. 

It’s now in the hands of retail employers to take the initiative and guarantee progressive work policies that make their employees feel safe and secure at work. Efforts to retain existing employees and attract news ones could include: 

  • Earned Wage Access (EWA). Retail payroll is extremely complex with various types of staffing requirements from shift workers to seasonal support, and whether they are then paid hourly, weekly or monthly. Manual processes or disparate systems make this harder and more time consuming than it needs to be, while staff wait patiently for payday. Unexpected expenses can make this difficult for employees, who end up resorting to predatory payday loans or high interest credit cards to cover the gap. However, allowing access to the wages your employees have already earnt alleviates this burden, providing financial wellbeing and removing the undue stress that has a knock on effect for the resulting customer service from those employees. At any given time employees can see how much they’ve earned and instantly access a percentage of those wages. Automating this process helps businesses simplify payroll, while improving retention.
  • Smarter scheduling. Two in five (43%) small retail businesses cite implementing and managing flexible furlough practices and capacity planning as one of their top operational challenges this year. As the retail world continues to battle pandemic-influenced scheduling and self-isolation, implementing a modern scheduling system that allows workers to flag their availability instantly means managers can prepare for potential staff shortages – and be flexible when they do happen – as well as being able to make better staffing decisions that allows retailers to accomodate for flux in demand during peak times. Tech platforms now offer employers a single source of truth via access to historical data, recent employee trends, weather forecasts, and notable public and national events, on which managers can overlay their local knowledge to create a highly accurate schedule. Getting this balance right means employees are less likely to have a bad shift, helping build engagement within your team while improving customer service.
  • Seamless team communication. Instant messaging and free-flowing communication have transformed the way teams stay in touch, are updated on goings-on within the business, and keep pace with the pandemic. By using an integrated platform that enables instant messaging between employee and employee, as well as news alerts that can inform the entire workforce, regional teams or individual stores, retailers can guarantee that staff are aware of new policies, work incentives or rewards, and otherwise urgent in-house communication. Secondly, given that collating an entire team in one room for a staff meeting might not be permissible for the foreseeable future for Covid-safety reasons, the ability to stay in touch regardless of time and location will prove extremely valuable. In addition, these applications can even help retailers track and report on who has seen what communications, with access revoked at the click of a button to protect sensitive or private information if an employee leaves the business.

These are only a few ways that retailers utilise technology to provide better communication channels for quicker business growth. By investing in back end technology, retail leaders benefit from a system that simplifies workforce management, resulting in happier employees who provide better customer service in store or more engaged employees ready to facilitate the ecommerce elements of your business.

An enhanced consumer journey – both on and offline

The larger retailers (88%) are more likely to revert to their old technology practices – indicating that bigger brands may have already made technology investments before the pandemic. There can be no greater signal to small to medium sized retailers up and down the country to invest in technology than knowing that competitors are already offering and benefitting from the positive effects of greater digitisation.  

The retail industry has an opportunity post-lockdown to define itself on the positive changes it implements for employee experience, as well as preserving their wellbeing and future-proofing the overall business. 

Uprooting your businesses’ previous methods of workforce management can be a daunting process, however when done correctly, businesses can thrive from the benefits that digitalisation in retail can offer. Having less stress surrounding key aspects of work such as communication, scheduling and payroll as well as those all important employee incentives, means retailers have a strong team in place, which can be flexible around ongoing challenges – which ultimately leads to much sustainable growth for the business both in-store and online.


Sebastien Sepierre, MD EMEA, Fourth

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