How Retailers Can Save Hours, Shift Labor at the Micro-Level

Forecasting accuracy in today's economy does not come from sales and labor forecasts developed at the beginning of the year or quarter. Forecasts must be constantly adjusted to match recent trends. And today's unpredictable climate has made real-time visibility a must-have. Retailers need fast and reliable systems to analyze trends and dynamically explore 'what-if' sales and labor scenarios. But it takes more than technology and slick dashboards. Micro-level visibility requires deep, objective analysis to arm retailers with more effective ways to true-up labor forecasts.

Automation Does Not Yield Insight
Smart leaders seek accurate data they can trust. Some retailers are well on their way toward achieving visibility through advanced solutions. But, automation does not magically yield insight. A closer look does. Ideally, before workforce management and business intelligence solutions are purchased or upgraded, retailers will have undergone a thorough operational audit. An internal and external cross-functional 'A Team' will have been identified to provide insight across the organization aligning solutions with objectives, defining metrics for success and guiding change management. When done right, the resulting solution yields tremendous visibility to key performance metrics and the most relevant drivers that impact labor. And when the quest for true visibility combines internal insight with objective expertise, retailers are armed with decision making tools that produce forecasts the organization can believe.

Sharpening the Lens
Increasing the focus, at the micro-level, helps retailers find ways to save hours and shift labor to better match the desired customer experience. The phrase "That's how we've always done it" must be quickly replaced with a more realistic set of time and labor standards that zero in on the basic needs for each store.

Take for example, the routine tasks associated with opening the doors for business. For one established retailer to open by 10 am, checklists and busy work have long been in place as the standard. With sharpened focus and objective review, tremendous insight is gained. These old, but comfortable standards are boiled down to the basic essential needs. Time studies are performed to provide a more realistic picture of how long each action should take. Systems and processes are carefully refined to improve efficiency. And when the field is engaged and sales associates believe the new approach is right, retailers can shave hours from their old, routine tasks. In this example, instead of cutting resources to reduce expenses, retailers gain a more realistic, accurate picture of labor drivers. The end result is improved allocation of staff to meet defined expectations during peak customer times.

Technology does play a role, but has little impact if old, ineffective processes are below the radar. Feed your process and system what it needs today to improve forecasting accuracy. Engage managers and front-line employees and reward ideas for continuous improvements in performing tasks and gauging demand.

When forecasting is accurate and real-time visibility is at its peak, labor forecasts can be trusted. Retailers with laser focus and the willingness to adapt will win today and build a foundation for expanded success as the market rebounds.
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