Battling Retail Labor Constraints with Prescriptive Analytics


With advanced technology becoming increasingly prevalent in the retail industry, many retailers are concerned about a growing skills gap. Their concern is that new technology is too complex for all but the most tech-savvy candidates — further reducing the size of their available labor pool. 

The truth is that retailers can continue to innovate without adding to the skills gap by simply investing in simple, easy-to-use technology, rather than complex solutions requiring specialized knowledge.

An example of such technology is a prescriptive analytics platform. This particular analytics methodology provides retailers with the financial and operational improvements they need to stay competitive, without overwhelming or confusing current or prospective employees (part-time or full-time). 

Bridging generational gaps

With the national unemployment rate sitting between 3-4%, retailers are having a hard time filling open positions with tech-savvy millennials and Gen-Zers. Older generations, such as baby boomers, are a great additional source of labor. Unfortunately, retailers tend to overlook them, often out of concern that this less-technologically inclined generation will be overwhelmed or confused by the amount of technology they will encounter on the job.

This is where prescriptive analytics comes into play as a generation-bridging solution. Prescriptive analytics is designed to be intuitive and simple-to-use by all — not just the tech-savvy — and on any mobile device or desktop computer, including laptops. In simplest terms, prescriptive analytics automatically analyzes data with AI and machine learning and tells the user, in simple language:

  • What happened
  • Why it happened
  • How much it will cost if it is not resolved
  • What to do about it (may include forms, guidance, images, videos, or training materials)
  • Who should do it

Workers new to technology can leverage prescriptive analytics, since all technical and analytical complexity is handled by the system. The end user at the edge only sees what they need to know via their mobile device without any complicated operation. This simplicity makes the solution accessible to all, ensuring that anyone, regardless of age, can leverage technology as part of the retail workforce.

Keeping staff “in the know”

Given retail’s high turnover, it is imperative to keep everyone aligned and in the know on compliance. Every employee must know how to count inventory, log damages and waste, perform “donations,” properly scan UPCs, etc. Typically part- and full-time employees alike must refer to lengthy compliance documents and other training materials to learn best practices — but they will inevitably still have questions on the job.

Confusion and poor communication is a major contributor to frustration highlighting the retail skills gap. With a prescriptive analytics solution that looks at real-time activities, employees are notified exactly when they need to perform tasks, with directives taken straight from company standard operating procedures. Rather than rely on memories (which often leads to guessing), people can watch a short video or read precise materials and get additional training on the job.

In addition to making their existing jobs simpler, prescriptive analytics can create new jobs for retail employees who want to advance their careers. Entry-level employees can learn how to perform administrative tasks within the solution, such as building patterns of behavior, user dashboards, or prescriptive actions, and managing users, among other key tasks. The most innovative prescriptive analytics solution vendors often provide this training free of charge. 

Employees who may have felt stagnant at the register or in the stock room suddenly have more upward mobility. By extension, they are incentivized to stay with their current employers as they develop their brand-new career paths.

Boosting workplace morale 

Retailers with prescriptive analytics provide store associates with opportunities to upskill and advance their careers. The prospect of advancement alone improves morale in the workplace — but that’s only one source of happiness. 

Prescriptive analytics points employees to improvements that reduce expenses and increase profits and margins. These cost savings and added revenue can be passed on to employees in the form of bonuses, raises, new benefits, equipment upgrades and more. These have a tangible effect on employee happiness, in that they are physical proof of the benefits of prescriptive analytics. This further incentivizes retail workers to remain with their current employer and enjoy the benefits of prescriptive analytics. 

Investing in the future

When retailers invest in prescriptive analytics, it is an investment in their success. The simple solution combats the retail skills gap by expanding retail candidate pools, incentivizing current employees to stay through new career and skill-development opportunities, and boosting morale. These benefits empower retailers to hire new talent and retain and develop their existing workforce to deliver stellar results. 

Guy Yehiav is general manager and vice president of Zebra Analytics at Zebra Technologies.  

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