Jan 14, 2016

Why Workforce Management Should Be One of Retailers Biggest Concerns at NRF 2016

NRF’s annual convention is always a major event for retailers, one that sets the tone for boardroom strategy meetings, IT investments and in-store marketing campaigns over the months to come.

A lot has changed in the retail world since last year’s conference. The perfect storm of social, political and economic trends that enveloped the hourly labor force throughout 2015 have pushed workforce management (WFM) into the spotlight, and rising public attention has made employee engagement impossible to ignore. Last year alone, local California governments passed multiple pieces of legislation to protect hourly workers’ rights, and household names like Gap, Urban Outfitters and J. Crew were pressed to eliminate their on-call scheduling tactics. What goes on behind retailers’ back-office doors no longer stays there – it’s open for national scrutiny.

In recent years, the explosion of e-commerce and omnichannel selling have been
at the forefront of NRF keynotes and expo floor discussions, but heading into
NRF 2016, retailers need to think about how to best respond to the public and political backlash arising from outdated HR practices and how to ensure compliance moving forward.

Here are three reasons why retailers can’t afford not to pay attention to HR technology at this year’s Big Show:

  • Traditional scheduling tactics are at the root of labor turmoil: When retailers ventured out to build or buy a WFM solution two or three years ago, their main focus was ensuring that the underlying algorithms could optimize store schedules down to the 15-minute block. Hindsight being 20/20, this overblown focus on formulas fueled some of the scheduling practices that so many retailers are taking the heat for now, such as on-call scheduling and the curtailing of employee hours. Rather than perpetuate point-of-sale-based scheduling, retailers need supplemental tools that account for more than store traffic. Factors including store occupancy, conversion and hourly employees’ own availability should each have an influence over retail schedules.
  • The industry’s retention rates and reputation are tanking: Unfair scheduling isn’t the only issue retailers are under fire for. Over the last few months, employers of all sizes have been embroiled in nationwide protests to improve wages and benefits for hourly workers as well. This negative attention has done little to bolster retailers’ reputations as socially responsible corporate citizens – and everything to hinder the industry’s retention efforts. Across service businesses, managers are experiencing turnover rates that are creeping upwards. Retailers must take steps to transform their companies into places where employees can (and want to) build lasting careers in order to attract and keep great talent.
  • Retailers’ internal communication is fractured: In most major retail chains, head office staff has no way of directly communicating with front line associates. This divide leads to notable service quality inconsistencies between different store locations, not to mention perpetuates the belief that corporate headquarters are untouchable, faceless entities. Even within individual stores, hourly workers have few channels they can use to share feedback with their managers. By making it easier for employees to communicate with colleagues up the chain, retailers can make them feel like valuable members of a community – hopefully turning their public scrutiny into brand advocacy.

To retain customers and front line workers, retailers have to refocus their technology investments on supplemental solutions that address not only the scheduling component of employee management, but the communication and ongoing engagement aspects as well. Employers should look for solutions to integrate with their existing WFM systems that perpetuate a more collaborative, employee-centric store experience through effective interactions, consistent feedback loops and transparent processes.

Retailers can’t afford to stick with processes or technology that isolate scheduling from merchandising, communications, marketing or any other component of their in-store operations. In 2016, businesses should look for new solutions that provide a more holistic approach to associate management and encourage happier, more engaged employees so that they can become the solution to today’s retail labor crisis.

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