A New Frontier for Frontline Retail Workers

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By Julie Ritzer Ross - 08/31/2020

It’s early morning, and an employee arrives for work at a large chain store. She fills click-and-collect orders for several hours, then moves to assist customers in the self-checkout area. Later that day she pivots yet again, wielding a mobile device to perform clienteling duties in the store aisles. She never feels disgruntled, unsafe, or ill-equipped for the tasks at hand, because the retailer recognizes that its employees are its greatest asset. As such, it has equipped her with the proper cross-training and tools for handling multiple, changing roles. It has also taken steps to ensure her physical and mental wellbeing.

This scenario is fictional, but it underscores a significant change occurring across all retail verticals: While the role of the retail frontline associate had already begun a radical transformation before COVID-19 emerged, the global pandemic has greatly accelerated the pace of evolution. In brick-and-mortar stores, customer-facing retail jobs now demand flexibility and an incredibly wide range of skills, thanks to an increasingly longer list of catalysts. That list encompasses changing consumer preferences, new operating models and layouts, and omnichannel-enabled shopping behaviors. It also includes pandemic-related factors, like new social distancing requirements and heightened consumer preference for contactless transactions.

More than ever before, retailers must understand their customer-facing employees’ role and undertake initiatives to ensure that frontline employees remain safe, empowered, and satisfied on the job. In fact, developing and acting upon this understanding is critical if retailers are to succeed in the wake of COVID-19 and beyond.