The Problem With The Modern Workforce
Anyone who has shopped lately – particularly in stores – knows that retailers are feeling the pain of a labor shortage and record-low unemployment rates. As a result, we changed up our annual research into the retail workforce quite a bit this year.
We’ve been steadily conducting a workforce management for over 15 years now. In the past, those reports have tended to read something like this: “retailers say their workforce matters, but they sure don’t treat them like they do. This is going to come back and haunt them some day”.
Lots of older folks used to work in retail as a way to keep busy and make a few extra bucks – but the pandemic has dramatically shifted their priorities, and a great number of these people have joined the great resignation. They just aren’t coming back. And many young folks – the yutes – are more interested in generating income as social influencers than they are in working for minimum wage and the scorn of their peers at the local mall. In the TikTok era, it’s hard to find kids willing to fold sweaters. Turns out people don’t like being underpaid, undertrained, underappreciated, and seen as eminently replaceable.
Indeed, both sides of the spectrum – the young and the old – have ceased to serve as an endless resource from which retailers can draw. This is a problem. As a result, this year’s WFM report set out to 1) identify these (and myriad other) challenges all retailers are facing and find lessons that can be learned from the best performers, 2) examine the impact of new customer expectations on what and how work needs to be performed, 3) explore a whole new generation of technology-driven capabilities, and 4) know what internal challenges retailers are facing and which technologies they think will best help them move forward. It’s a lot to tackle. The results are quite compelling. Key findings include:
- A litany of challenges piggyback on having fewer qualified people to solve problems: customer service has taken a significant hit, and retailers know it. New shopping behaviors require more complexity, not less, in stores, fulfillment centers – all kinds of places where retailers don’t have enough help. And to only make matters worse, all the new omni-channel shopping behaviors that consumers have adopted in recent years create enormous pressure on brands to not only increase the productivity from the resources they do have, but also decrease labor costs at the same time. Retailers are in an impossibly difficult position right now.
- As a result, the best performers (Retail Winners) are nearly three times as likely to be folding consumer-grade technologies into their stores to help give associates a fighting chance of being relevant. Shoppers use their smartphones intuitively – almost unconsciously – to solve their lifestyle challenges. Arming store-based associates with those same tools that level the playing field, and don’t require intensive training to understand is the absolute least a retailer can do to stay in the game. Winners know this, and it’s why they are also twice as likely to consider themselves an employer of choice.
- Almost one-half of retailers agree that “more top-level commitment to excellent customer service” is key to moving forward. Over-performers want to be guided by customer satisfaction metrics, whereas average and under-performers just don’t see that as a way forward. What the majority of non-winners want is strong leadership – and almost all of them presume that the result will be “increased investments in customer-facing labor”. That’s an important difference: Winners want to use business intelligence to prioritize next-steps; non-Winners want a strong leader to force the company spend its way out of the box it is in. The Winners’ approach promises the best, most targeted, action plan.
- When it comes to investment plans, a tech-enabled retail workforce is not a question of if, but when. Winners’ investment so far has been pragmatic and starts with getting the schedule correct. Nearly 7 out of 10 of the best performers have invested here and consider this money well spent, compared to less than half of their average and underperforming peers. Winners consistently show an investment plan designed in the fundamentals: a) keep customers from abandoning ship b) help find and bring on new talent and c) optimize the schedules of the folks they are lucky enough to have on staff. That might just help keep workers happy, which in turn would make shoppers happy, and the whole cycle becomes virtuous.
Based on our data, we also offer several in-depth and pragmatic suggestions on how retailers should proceed at the end of the report – which is nearly 30 pages long and features 24 detailed charts. All of this is available for free to registered users, and anyone in the business of selling should absolutely check it out.