Hospitality aside, it’s hard to think of another industry that’s been hit harder by the events of 2020 than retail. The high street was in crisis before COVID-19 struck.
A potent mix of changing shopping behaviours, spiralling overheads and increased competition meant many retailers were already being squeezed hard before the pandemic. Now, after large swathes of non-essential retailers were forced to close their doors during two nationwide lockdowns, the fight for physical retail’s future is well and truly on.
1. Staff spark success
Speak to the retail experts and they’ll tell you three things that are crucial for the future of physical retail: bridging the gap between online and physical stores, increased innovation and the use of smart tech, and turning store staff into brand champions in order to deliver on customer expectations.
It’s this final point - the role of store staff - that’s pivotal. 2020 has been rife with uncertainty and unknowns for retail employees. From not knowing when they’re working next through to their job roles evolving (for example, the rise of click and collect and curbside pick-up services have seen retail staff performing different roles yet still providing a crucial link between the business and the consumer), they’ve had to adapt and overcome, often learning as they go with limited support from their employer.
As Tristan Rogers, CEO of Concrete Platform, told us earlier this year: “2020 has demonstrated how critical associates are to retail. If you can't work on an individual level with all of your employees and if you can't educate them, and engage them, and take them on a journey, you’ll always be dealing with a constant churn problem.
“Physical retail will only be brought to life by great store staff. So, now is about making sure you really understand what the value of your associates is. “
Yet it’s here - in how valued associates feel - where a huge number of retailers are failing.
2. Retail’s hidden challenge
When we talk about the challenges retailers face, we tend to look at external factors or focus on productivity and efficiency. Rarely do we stop to consider the state of retail’s workforce.
We took the time to do so earlier this year and the results from our report The State of the Deskless Workforce 2020 were startling.
Of the retail employees we surveyed:
- More than a third said they don’t feel valued or loved by their employer
- 62% have considered leaving their job because of a negative work environment
- 64% think employers aren’t helping them progress
- 41% said they won’t receive additional training and educational resources from their employer (the highest number out of all industries we surveyed)
- 62% of women in retail say their job has negatively impacted their mental health
The numbers paint a bleak picture especially when we consider how important engaged and happy employees are for retail - a positive employee experience creates a better customer experience with increased sales, more repeat visits, more loyalty, and bigger basket sizes.
3. Enhance the employee experience
The good news is, creating a best-in-class employee experience isn’t hard. It might not happen overnight but, by investing in your most precious resource, and supplementing it with a smart use of tech, you’ll be laying the groundwork for short and long term success.
You can improve your employee experience by:
- Flexible schedules. COVID-19 has further highlighted the need for flexible working and for this to be built into the work lives of your associates. This, coupled with changing consumer behaviours and new times of peak demand, means flexibility has to be built into your schedules and you have to have the ability to be able to change your schedules (and notify your staff) in an instant.
- Better communication. Retailers who invest in digital tools for communication and task management, can respond, react, and communicate instantly. It means they are perfectly positioned to adapt and evolve as the needs of the business demands. And it gives employees one point of contact, through one app, meaning they are far less likely to be contacted by traditional methods when they aren’t working.
- Investing in technology. Whether it’s tech that allows your employees to deliver better customer experience in-store (like ways to easily view enhanced product information or an integrated loyalty system) or admin-busting tech which frees up employee time so they can spend more time with your customers, better technology and a better employee experience go hand in hand.
If you improve the employee experience, you’ll have happier employees who are more productive, take less sick days, provide better customer service and are more engaged.
Download our report on the state of the deskless workforce in 2020 for more insight and analysis.