How Retailers Can Prepare for an Uncertain Future
Rarely has there been more pressure on retailers to meet the challenges of an uncertain and tumultuous environment.
Even with a vaccine potentially around the corner, we’re seeing signs of the COVID-19 pandemic taking a turn for the worse. With cases rising across large swaths of the United States, and with spikes occurring across the United Kingdom, France, and other EU countries, many infectious disease experts are predicting that trends will continue to worsen as we move further into fall and winter months. With coronavirus relief having dried up in the US months ago, and as additional relief packages continue to stall in the US Congress, many have far less disposable income available for discretionary spending, with millions slipping into poverty.
And this isn’t the only uncertainty that retailers are facing. After having endured a summer of civil unrest across a number of major US cities, retailers are now facing the fallout of an unusually turbulent election season. With emotions high around the recent US presidential election, and with election-related disinformation and conspiracy theories widely spreading across the internet, there’s now a great deal of tension over the decisive election results.
All of this could have a massive effect on retail as 2020 draws to a close, but as of right now, that effect is uncertain. We don’t know exactly how severe the COVID-19 pandemic will be in two months. We don’t know if we’ll see widespread civil unrest as a result of the recent US election. As of right now, retail is performing relatively well, with retail sales jumping about 2% in September, much higher than what was estimated. However, since we know that disruption is absolutely possible in the near future, retailers need to have the infrastructure and the technology in place to quickly adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.
For any retailer looking to stay agile during turbulent times, two technologies are critical: Peer-to-peer communication and intelligent workforce management:
1. Keeping Employees Safe with Peer-to-Peer Communication
Streamlined communication is a must for any retailer looking to stay agile in times of uncertainty. As the severity of the pandemic fluctuates, retailers must have the capability to send new safety information in real time to store managers and associates in affected areas. And if there is civil unrest in any particular city, retailers have to be able to give store managers and associates instant updates about store hours, store closures, and other precautionary measures.
Using a comprehensive peer-to-peer communication system makes it easy for corporate staff, district managers, store managers, and frontline associates to send messages to one another in real-time, ensuring that everyone immediately receives the most up-to-date safety information. These solutions allow for more targeted communication as well; by using distribution lists and message templates, you guarantee that critical information is sent to relevant employees in the shortest possible time. This also cuts back on needing to send out follow-up or clarifying messages, eliminating wasteful and confusing clutter in employees’ message inboxes.
During high-stakes disruptive events like pandemics and civil unrest, it’s essential to confirm that your associates are reading and understanding important safety information. Retail-centric peer-to-peer communication solutions have the analytics capabilities to see how many associates have viewed or responded to a message. This makes it easy to track how effective communication is and helps retailers pinpoint and respond to those who haven’t seen important safety-related messages.
2. Empowering Precise Scheduling with Intelligent Workforce Management
Disruption can wreak havoc on already strained labor forecasting and scheduling processes. Retailers might have the ability to collect data on sales, employee productivity, and more, but none of this matters if it can’t account for disruptive factors such as pandemic severity. Inaccurate forecasts and imprecise labor schedules can be a huge risk factor for retailers, leading to wasted labor spend, decreased employee performance, and penalties and fines from noncompliance with labor regulations.
Intelligent workforce management dramatically improves the quality of your labor forecasts, simulating critical scenarios and creating best-fit forecasting models to account for far more variables than traditional forecasting models. This makes it easier to create forecasts to account for rapid shifts in customer traffic, the labor needs associated with new pandemic-related initiatives, and trends that are specific to individual geographic regions. Not surprisingly, creating more accurate labor forecasts improves the quality of your labor schedules, leading to more productive employees, higher sales, and lower rates of turnover and absenteeism.
Using employee self-service solutions alongside workforce management is critical to a strong labor operations strategy. If civil unrest or the pandemic forces managers to modify labor schedules, updates can be sent to employees’ mobile devices, where they can view their schedules at any time. Employees can also send time-off requests directly to their manager’s mobile device, where managers can approve or deny these at the press of a button. This functionality is vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, when associates may need to call out abruptly to take care of relatives, children, or because they’re exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
For more insight into how you can keep your store execution and labor operations agile during turbulent times, check out RSR’s recent white paper, “Workforce and Compliance Management in the Age of Disruption.”