Embracing the Retail Revolution - Step #5: Creating resiliency through a talented and flexible workforce

FB food service grocery delivery Covid retail

September 22, 2020By Michael Dale

Shifting responsibilities of the retail workforce

The resiliency of the retail employees on the front-line and their ongoing willingness to help consumers by all means necessary has truly remained truly inspirational as they year has gone on. Putting aside business financials, the priority of companies has clearly revolved around employee and customer safety.

Many stores have created one-way aisles while others have painted designated floor spots for waiting in cashier lines. Many, if not most, now utilize protection shields and require face masks for associates and customers as safety, health, and well-being remain top priority.

During the different stages of shutdown, predicting demand and corresponding staffing has been difficult. In many cases, retailers are forced to make tough decisions, leading to staffing reductions, with US unemployment at one point hitting 14.7% in April 2020, the worst since The Great Depression. While some retail verticals have laid workers off, others like grocery stores or mass merchants are still hiring.

In-store labor roles are changing, as consumers require contact-less new fulfillment options like curbside pickup and home delivery. Leading into 2020, more than 50% of retailers in larger markets offered same-day delivery, but now that number is anticipated to spike dramatically as larger retailers want better control of the supply chain and last mile delivery. Retailers that only recently embraced these contact-less fulfillment options now need personal shoppers, a staff position which previously didn’t exist for most stores.

Ensuring inventory is available on shelves ready for in-store shopping, curbside pickup or delivery requires associates to not only restock in a timely manner but also maintain accurate perpetual inventory levels correcting for any discrepancies. Automated allocation and replenishment, as well as online shopping carts, require accurate stock positions to perform optimally.

Additional teams now focused on cleaning the store and restocking the store after hours, changing the entire make-up of hiring, labor planning, and scheduling. Current store associates should be trained across multiple positions, allowing for greater flexibility to fulfill the various roles needed within any given day.

Retailers benefit by having a diversified and skilled talent pool. By reallocating associates regularly, employees gain additional skills for upward mobility within the company or additional marketability to others.

Upstream at the warehouse, managers are looking to expand the labor roles. As e-commerce grows and warehouse activities move past just receiving, put-away, and shipping to stores, the need to pick individual customer orders grows.

During peak times, warehouses may extend working hours and shifts. With profitability of the cost center and overtime being a big concern, warehouse managers are looking to supplement with part-timers. The complexities of cross-training, hiring, and scheduling are now expanding.

Utilizing science-based talent technology to manage new workforce needs

As the economy recovers and people re-enter the workforce, businesses will compete to find and hire talented individuals that fit their needs. Hiring people with the skills and attitudes needed, who fit the culture, and perform at the right levels, are ongoing challenges for retailers.

Companies now must identify the behaviors essential for success. By utilizing behavioral assessments of both existing associates as well as prospective ones, retailers can recruit the right people for the role.

Attributes like good communication, flexibility, handling stress well, thriving in unstructured settings, dealing with the public, and many more may be the skills retailers are looking for. A data driven approach should significantly improve retention and performance.

With new roles, changing shopping behaviors, and retailers offering many promotions and events to lure customers to stores, machine learning models are needed to align everything and help predict staffing needs throughout the day and week.

These future-looking ML models outperform traditional time-series models or simple averaging over history, providing a much more accurate view of staffing needs leading to less gaps and overtime. Labor scheduling processes use demand signals and assign the right person by matching skills, scheduling preference, rules, and more.

In the age of the smartphone, both associates and managers should be able to manage schedules, swap times with others, request time off, and more—all from their mobile device. An employee’s technological work life can mirror that of their personal life.

By using talent science applications, companies can hire the right people with the right skills and talent to learn new roles, benefiting both company and employee. Marrying that with prioritization of safety, health and well-being of customers and employees will set a retailer apart from competition to not only gain the best talent but also develop a culture that employees want to be associated with.

For additional strategies for building the resilient supply chain needed for the Retail Revolution, download the complete Supply Chain Resiliency Best Practices Guide.

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