How Retailers Can Adjust to the Gig Economy


The gig economy is growing – and it’s absorbing the workforce of traditional retailers as it expands. Between driving for Lyft, walking dogs with Rover or assembling IKEA furniture through TaskRabbit, the workforce has come to rely on the gig economy.

Gallup data shows that over one-third of U.S. workers are involved in these nontraditional work arrangements. But as people increasingly choose the flexibility of gig work over conventional hourly employment, retailers are scrambling to compete. From giving workers autonomy to create their own schedules to communicating through tech-enabled platforms, “gigs” can offer benefits that aren’t feasible for most retailers.

As workers migrate toward the gig economy in steadily larger numbers, how can retail organizations compete for talent? Here are four ways you can sway workers eyeing gig employment:

Rethink Scheduling
Traditionally, scheduling has been a major pain point for both retailers and their employees. Sixty-two percent of retail managers say they’ve had employees quit due to scheduling conflicts, revealing a clear need for systemic change. By implementing a centralized shift-management platform that can be accessed on mobile devices, businesses allow workers to indicate work preferences and enable them to pick up open shifts autonomously. With a more transparent and collaborative scheduling process, you can simulate the gig economy’s flexibility, boosting employee satisfaction and retention.

Incorporate Gig Elements
Younger workers are abandoning traditional retail jobs for those that include more independence and autonomy over work hours and location. While retailers may not be able to replicate the no-strings-attached freedom of the gig economy, you can take steps to infuse its core ideas into your business. For instance, if you have multiple store locations in the same city, you could allow employees to choose shifts at any location.

Democratizing scheduling fills needs across a network of stores while also granting workers the ability to create more accommodating work schedules. Digitizing aspects of workforce management and communication also contributes to greater employee freedom, allowing them to complete administrative tasks outside of the store and on their own time.

Consider Mobile Solutions
Your employees are likely among the 77% of Americans who own a smartphone – so why not use their penchant for personal tech to your company’s advantage? Introducing a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy helps you meet employees where they’re at, leveraging their comfort with personal devices to improve management and communication. Through digital workplace platforms, workers can access important information anywhere and anytime, a big plus for the 57% of millennials who prefer using mobile devices to view content like schedules and training materials.

Additionally, these solutions allow retailers to quickly alert employees to policy updates or notable company changes. BYOD policies enable reliable communication, engaging workers through preferred communication channels. Just as the gig economy uses smartphones for employee management and operations, you can use similar mobile technology to drive increased efficiency and employee satisfaction.

Maintain Clear Communication.
Faulty lines of communication between different teams in a company quickly leads to diminished productivity and disengaged workers. Establishing regular, direct communications with employees will help you foster a stronger relationship. When employees are alerted to company changes or receive frequent updates – through digital platforms or any other means – their investment in the company grows.

Healthy intra-company communication allows retailers to cultivate an environment not possible in the gig economy, helping employees form a community and support network. Opening up discussions has benefits for businesses too, as workers can offer an on-the-ground perspective, providing feedback that improves processes and customer experiences. Employees who feel engaged by their employer are less likely to jump ship. And, aware of leaders’ support, your workforce can drive increased revenue for your company.

While it may be difficult for retailers to compete with the lifestyle perks of the gig economy, it is not impossible. Digital platforms, small policy changes, and direct communication go a long way toward retaining workers and warding off would-be defectors. When you show you’re listening, employees notice, leading to an engaged workplace environment that temporary gigs can’t reproduce.

-Steven Kramer CEO at WorkJam

With 20 years of executive leadership experience driving business results and developing disruptive technologies for the retail industry, in 1999, Kramer co-founded iCongo, a leading global software provider for omnichannel retail and B2B commerce solutions, which merged with hybris Software in 2011 and became the largest independent provider of e-commerce solutions with 27 offices worldwide, 1000-plus employees and more than 600 customers. Kramer was part of the executive management team and board member at hybris. hybris Software was purchased by SAP in 2013. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from McGill University.

Contact Kramer:

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