#Lift #empower #associates
“Our employees are our most valuable asset”, we’ve heard that a lot over the years, but rarely do retail associates get the same level of attention that the retail consumers do. That, in part, has contributed to the challenging retail labor market, where acquisition and retention of staff is now taking center stage.
The post-pandemic labor challenges have left retailers unable to appropriately staff locations across many retail segments, with the exception of a few select brands who always attract a lot of potential employees. The others have experienced an uphill struggle particularly in areas like QSR who appear to be frequently running drive-thru only with no counter service, with 2 or 3 team members running the window and the kitchen.
So how did we end up here and what can we do about it? If we dial back the clock a decade or more, in fact even 5 years ago, retailers were reluctant to discuss automation in stores and DCs, because that translated to, “we want to operate with fewer staff” and as a result retailers didn’t invest in automation, including areas which could impact, not only associate efficiency, but also associate experience. My son, who is now a high school senior has been working part-time in the front-end of a regional grocery chain (owned by a multi-national) for the last couple of years. He is squarely in the Gen-Z space where they are never without a device in their hands, and it seems like unless something is digital, they can’t figure it out. Yet, all his HR processes are on paper – a schedule is pinned to the notice board in the breakroom weekly; time off and shift change requests are on paper and need to be signed and handed to a manager; if he forgets to take of photo of the schedule or isn’t in the store that week, he has to call the store and pull a manager away from their duties to check the schedule… these are the associates of the future that retailers need to attract and retain, and this is a competitive market.
Empower your associates
We need to elevate the associates and engage with them, as we would a consumer. Allow them to interact with corporate systems, like workforce management, using natural language through their channel of choice, because those are the only channels they want to use, whether SMS (unlikely), WhatsApp, SnapChat, or whatever they like to use – send a message asking, “when am I working next?” and receive a message back with their next couple of shifts, or make it easy for them to switch or pick-up shifts by providing tools that allow for simple group interactions rather than self-administered message groups with their buddies. When it comes to automation, we can lift the weight of repetitive, automatable tasks off their shoulders – performing manual temperature probing for food safety, for example – instead, use sensors that will constantly monitor temperatures, and alert for any that are out of the normal range, to ensure that an associate is only engaged when they are needed. The same is true for “Loss Prevention”, which is realistically, passive loss recording. It would be better to move to targeted active loss detection to ensure appropriate use of the limited staffing available. Imagine the amount of labor required, particularly in times of inflation, to perform shelf edge price updates. Electronic shelf labels can automatically update based on price changes in the POS, but also provide a point of engagement in the aisle for consumers and the ability to dynamically change prices based on current promotions or to clear slow movers. These are only a few of the area’s automation can assist with – it’s no longer a taboo subject, automation has become a necessity.
All these areas can be addressed with the right technologies, to elevate the associate and make it easier to be an employee, while making their jobs easier and more productive.