Reimagining retail: The future of retail and its workforce

These are five trends - which have been heightened by Covid-19 - that we expect to dominate the industry for the rest of the year and beyond.

Evolution and retail go hand in hand. It’s an industry where change is often the only constant. And as a result of Covid-19, retail’s latest evolution has been both magnified and accelerated.

We’ve seen a distinct split with some retailers thriving and others fighting for survival. Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, outlined in this webinar how discretionary spend (spending on goods we can live without) has plummeted while spend on non-discretionary goods (the things we can’t live without) has soared. 

In the US, spending on clothing fell by 50% from February to March while food and beverage purchases from grocery stores were up by 26%. With global lockdowns now beginning to be eased, the question on everyone’s lips is; what happens next for retail? And will there be a bounce back in discretionary spending?

These are five trends - which have been heightened by Covid-19 - that we expect to dominate the industry for the rest of the year and beyond:

1. Digital transformation

Meghann Martindale (Global Head of Retail Research at CBRE) echoed the thoughts of many retail experts in this webinar when saying; “Retail trends which we’ve seen over the past couple of years have accelerated overnight as a result of Covid-19. And digital enablement is top of the list.”

Already, we’re seeing brands who have made digitalization a foundation for the way they operate leaping ahead of the competition. As we move towards a new normal, retailers should be looking at how technology - for example a workforce management solution - can empower store associates and provide an enhanced experience to consumers.

2. Unified sales channels

“Unifying sales channels to create frictionless commerce across all channels was a big trend pre-Covid and now it’s becoming even more essential,” adds Meghann Martindale. 

Combining ecommerce with bricks and mortar has been a challenge retailers have struggled with for years. The need to have true ‘unified commerce’ - and a seamless experience across all sales channels - has been highlighted by the pandemic.

With a rise in ecommerce, mobile commerce, and social and live commerce, retailers need to ensure they have the tools in place to meet the customer in every scenario and create a seamless link between them all. In doing so, they meet customer expectations and deliver the kind of experience tech-savvy consumers expect.

3. Empowered associates

We’ve seen the roles of associates change with many stores closed or embracing radically different business models. For example, the rise of click and collect or curbside pick-up services has seen associates performing different roles yet still providing a crucial link between the business and the consumer.

Digital enablement is the secret to empowering associates. Tristan Rogers, CEO of Concrete Platform, said in this webinar: This situation 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. 

“There’s a window of opportunity over the next several weeks where a lot can be done but it's about starting off with some basic principles as to what's important, why we need store staff and what we need them to do.”

4. Changing consumer behaviours 

We’ve already seen big changes in consumer behaviour and this looks set to continue with retailers in the middle of the spectrum expected to feel the squeeze the most.

It’s what Meghann Martindale calls ‘the barbell effect.’

“There will be an economic impact with groups of consumers watching what they spend,” she says. “The value end of the market will be magnified as shoppers look for bargains but so will the high end of the market. In China, we’ve already seen the luxury shopper come out in force in what we’re calling ‘revenge spending’ against the virus. Retail is a highly competitive environment anyway and, with consumers either trading up or down, the middle market is going to be squeezed more.”

Alongside this, many consumers will be concerned for their safety once they are able to shop again. This means that retailers are going to have to rethink store layouts, as well as the roles stores play in the purchasing journey.

5. Resource pooling and flexible working 

Covid-19 has further highlighted the need for flexible working and for this to be built into the work lives of associates. There’s a relatively high chance staff will - at some point - be forced to isolate themselves either because they are sick or a member of their household is.

This, coupled with changing consumer behaviours and new times of peak demand, means flexibility has to be built into schedules, with the possibility to change shifts around and notify staff in an instant.

It’s why modern workforce management solutions have become invaluable to forward thinking retailers. 

Alongside flexible working - and with consumer demand currently so unpredictable - there’s also the opportunity for businesses to pool workforce resources. This is flexible working taken to the next level and something that will benefit businesses, employees and consumers. Collaboration - and working together for a common good - is going to be vital as retail moves forward. 

Here’s a resource pooling initiative designed to help businesses who have staff shortages, require greater flexibility, want to be more efficient, and need to become much more agile.

As Meghann Martindale says: “As an industry we have a social responsibility to our consumers. They are the foundation of our business. We need to help them feel safe and secure in our environments again and go above and beyond what we need to do to help attract them back into retail and be sensitive to what their financial position is coming out of COVID. The one positive by-product is how we can all come together to help the industry rebound and get consumers back into our environments.”


If you’d like to find out more about the trends shaping the workforce management industry and how they can benefit your business then you can download our free trend report.

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