We’ve seen increased focus on experiential retail, the intersection of the online and offline world, and much more. These innovations are continuing to evolve, and so too are the skills needed to work with these technologies. When it comes to the employee experience, leading retailers are applying AI and ML in creative ways for onboarding, coverage heat mapping with prescriptive recommendations, voice assistants, identifying employee flight risk, benefits enrollment, team engagement and dynamics, and people intelligence to name a few.
Before the pandemic, retail and hospitality organizations were reinventing themselves to meet customers’ needs. Today, meeting those needs looks a lot different as demand for certain products and services continues to shift. McKinsey states that successful organizations are recognizing the shifts in consumer behavior, adjusting their offerings, and rebuilding their businesses to address the new world of retail.
However, while retailers are focusing on meeting their customers’ needs, they must not overlook the needs of their workforce. To thrive in the future, retailers need to better support their people as they adapt and evolve their skill sets, help drive a service culture, and build long-lasting customer relationships to ultimately drive revenue.
To accomplish this, retailers can focus on transforming the associate experience to become more harmonized and interconnected. From the moment an associate engages with the organization during recruitment, to onboarding, learning and development, and beyond – employers will need to tune into what their associates need and deliver an intuitive and seamless experience – similar to the consumer experience.
Here, I detail three focus areas for retailers to consider as they build a more engaged and productive workforce that is better prepared to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
Compliance can help organizations reduce risk and avoid costly penalties – but it’s also table stakes for building a great associate experience. However, keeping on top of the evolving regulatory landscape is becoming increasingly difficult. Prior to COVID-19, 55% of organizations surveyed in Ceridian’s 2020 Future of Work report said that ‘increasing compliance and regulatory complexity’ is a challenge that their organization is facing today. Adding to the complexity, retail and hospitality organizations are likely to have disparate stores and locations across municipalities, provinces, and borders. For retailers that are reshaping their in-store and online customer experiences, the workforce is more dispersed than ever, which makes tracking and managing compliance even more onerous.
In the retail and hospitality industry, employers must manage compliance for a very diverse workforce consisting of part-time, full-time, seasonal, contract, and student workers. Compliance also spans multiple areas of the business, including fiscal governance, operational policies, labour laws, hours and wage, fairness and predictability, and more.
The pandemic has put even greater pressure on organizations to comply with various legislation all differing from city to city and state to state. We’ll continue to see extended, expanded, and brand new federal and regional COVID-19 response legislation, including further tax benefits and leave entitlements specifically for associate needs related to COVID-19.
A single solution across workforce management, pay, and HR admin can help retailers stay on top of changing legislation so they can schedule their workforce in adherence to jurisdictional legislation, while also paying them accurately and on time. This type of technology can also help retailers lessen reliance on hard-to-understand customized processes at the country level so they can focus on building a better experience for both their people and their customers.
Happy associates equal happy customers. Research shows that a five percent increase in employee engagement leads to a three percent jump in sales growth. However, with the on-going health crisis, the workforce is facing constant change and uncertainty, which can put additional strain on associates both mentally and physically. During times of disruption, the workforce is likely experiencing a wide range of emotions, including concerns about their health, the pressure to care for family members, anxiety over job and financial security, and stress due to an upheaval of normalcy. Both personal and work lives are changing as everyday routines are uprooted, which directly impacts associates’ ability to bring the best version of themselves to work.
Retail and hospitality organizations can address workforce needs by investing in innovative technologies to better care for their associates. For example, providing the workforce with self-service access that focuses on what their people need such as: visibility and access to additional hours from other locations and brands, real-time communication with managers and co-workers, and greater pay clarity. Some are also providing AI and ML assistance during the benefits enrollment process, to detect shift coverage opportunities, and to identify core value and communication style preferences across their teams.
Leading organizations are also supporting their associates beyond the status-quo by giving them same-day access to their wages with on-demand pay software. With 80% of U.S. workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the nature of the retail industry including gig-workers and hourly workers, technology can help support associates’ financial freedom.
Additionally, employers can provide their workforce with virtual assistant technology to provide a more seamless experience when associates are on-the-go. This technology can help associates swap shifts to take care of a family emergency, for example, right from their mobile phone. These solutions can help associates better manage their work life, promoting better well-being.
Technology needs are consistently emerging as retailers pivot to the changes in market conditions and customer needs. The COVID-19 pandemic is an indicator of how retailers are leveraging technology to survive and adjust strategies in response to the ever-evolving circumstances. With the pace of change, associates may find it difficult to keep up.
As well, retailers will also need to address a common misconception within the sector that high turnover rates are inevitable. Because of this, associates often enter the workforce with the mindset that it’s a temporary gig, and they won’t be able to build a career out of it. Breaking through this common misconception is critical, especially during uncertain times when the workforce is looking for more security. Employers will need to double down on investing in their people – and that starts with providing meaningful learning opportunities.
If we’ve learned anything from the most recent disruption, talent can be redeployed quickly and effectively with the right systems in place. Learning platforms can help support that shift, providing relevant training and bite-sized learning as employees develop new skills. The next wave of workforce learning tech will focus in on helping associates discover materials that are personalized and relevant – similar to the consumer shopping experience. Additionally, when retailers invest in training their workforce on digital and e-commerce skills, it will not only help build associates’ expertise but also boost confidence so they can deliver the best customer experience.
Employers can also define clear career paths for associates by tying skills development with succession planning and task management. Creating career paths will also help managers better understand how they can support their team in reaching their goals, and provides them with a roadmap so they can see opportunity to grow within the organization.
Moving forward, employers must focus on investing in their people, starting with having the right systems and culture in place to address associate needs. Staying on top of changes in compliance and legislation, supporting associate well-being, and providing learning and development opportunities will help build true advocates for the employer brand today so retailers can thrive in the future.