Ongoing disruption throughout retail has forever altered the associate’s role. Workers are expected to handle a magnitude of new tasks while continuing to provide a memorable and differentiated shopping experience.
Retailers must navigate this new reality while continuing to innovate and push the experimental envelope. To get the most out of their staffs while simultaneously providing a safe and engaging work environment, leading retailers are investing heavily in next-gen workforce management solutions.
RIS sat down with Zebra Technologies’ senior vice president and general manager, software solutions Suresh Menon to discuss the changing retail workforce and how retailers can better equip their teams for success.
RIS: What can retailers do to ensure they have the flexibility to quickly adapt their workforce strategies in response to marketplace disruptions?
Menon: As we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers had to account for shifts in workforce behavior while optimizing their omnichannel experience for customers. Coupled with ever-changing compliance mandates, which varied by state and municipality, retailers had to deal with unpredictable foot traffic and sales. Forward-thinking retailers could solve these issues by utilizing more accurate forecasting solutions and appointment setting applications to create customized in-person and virtual shopping experiences for the customer based on their risk tolerance. Real-time scheduling and disruption planning modules can enable retailers to automate and optimize actions in response to marketplace disruptions across multiple locations.
RIS: What role can workforce solutions play in maintaining and ensuring employee safety and health?
Menon: Appointment setting solutions ensure that the right staff is available to provide a tailored shopping experience, while helping stores stay in compliance with ever-changing state and municipal mandates throughout the pandemic. Encouraging and simplifying the omnichannel experience also helps on the safety front, by encouraging behavior like curbside pickup. Facial recognition and voice-enabled time clocks can keep associates safe with touchless clock-ins. Reflexis solutions can seek responses to specific checklist questions concerning items such as employee temperature and whether they've been in contact with anyone who has been ill. This also helps with contact tracing efforts.
RIS: Our research data shows the category of workforce management solutions as the top tech investments today in retail? Why is that?
Menon: Pressure from enhancing the omnichannel customer experience created approximately a 30% increase in store workloads — forward-thinking retailers have adopted or upgraded their workforce management capabilities. Retailers also have experienced a decrease in customer loyalty coupled with an increased use of online shopping. Combined with the increased cost of labor, more difficulty retaining employees and lower margins, workforce management solutions are a logical choice to solve those challenges. Workforce management solutions can save retailers millions of dollars with more accurate labor forecasting.
RIS: What new and innovative technologies do you see as becoming more important to retailers as they optimize today's workforce?
Menon: New and innovative technologies to optimize retailers' employees include:
- Augmented reality
- Dynamic scheduling for remote workforces
- Increased use of automation, robotics and sensors
- AI to drive more efficiency, automation and a reduction in workload
- Increased use of blockchain
- Computer vision
- Optimization and innovation in transportation and logistics to reduce shipping costs
RIS: How can retailers effectively use workforce management tools to improve employee engagement and retention?
Menon: By utilizing AI-powered schedule optimization tools, retailers can minimize schedule edits, improve employee satisfaction, reduce absenteeism and incentivize associates. They can also proactively monitor all operational metrics using health checks. By enabling employees with a mobile, intuitive application to view their schedules, whether on-site or at home, associates can take the first pass at adjusting their schedules to fit their needs, in real-time.