Overcoming Labor Scheduling Challenges in Retail Warehouses and Distribution Centers
Before the pandemic, the growth of digitization, including online shopping and multichannel fulfilment, were changing the game for retail warehousing and distribution. Now these processes are evolving even faster—and at a time when the retail market is more competitive and unpredictable than ever.
As a recent Inbound Logistics magazine article says, as of May 2020 online purchases accounted for 20% of all retail sales—compared with 11% in 2019. And this holiday season, it’s likely more customers will buy online on Cyber Monday than in-store on Black Friday, and will expect quick fulfillment for home delivery.
The competition is so fierce for the customer dollar, Amazon is opening an additional 1,000 warehousing locations to speed up delivery of goods to its customers, as a Chain Store Age article notes.
Coping with Retail Distribution Today
To deal with the influx of online orders, warehouse managers must be assured that they can match the talents and skills of available associates to the ever-shifting demands of the warehousing and distribution facilities. Technology must be able to support these associates at a time when labor budgeting and scheduling can be more complex than ever.
Making success even more difficult, retailers face these warehouse/DC challenges, as well:
- Reliance on cumbersome and time-consuming labor scheduling processes
- Outdated systems that can’t factor in employee availability and work preferences
- Inadequate support for allowing automated shift swaps based on employee skills and other critical attributes
- Inability to make quick system-recommended changes to fill potentially open shifts when associates request time-off
- Difficulty in filling shifts to match surges in online customer demand
- Technical inability to track PTO and union rules—which can lead to labor law or policy compliance violations
Labor Management and Scheduling Technology
Fortunately, there are easy-to-implement labor management and forecasting systems that support retail fulfillment, distribution, and related needs. When considering such a system, you should verify it has the following:
- Support for streamlined employee scheduling: It should simplify the process of accurate labor budgeting and subsequent scheduling of associates, based on forecasted online orders. This reduces scheduling mistakes and ultimately frees managers to focus on higher-value activities.
- Factor in a variety of data: The solution should account for associate availability, union rules, labor regulations, and employee preference. Ideally, it will take into account not just longer-term historical data, but also look at customer demand patterns over the past few months.
- Mobile-first access: To support nimble execution, managers and associates will need to log into the application via the mobile device of choice. From a familiar interface, employees can see their schedules and submit changes for approval on the fly, from anywhere.
- Account for associate preferences: Employees can, within corporate guidelines, put in for vacation and select their own preferred shifts—as well as swap shifts with other associates. This will cut down on last-minute empty shifts, and reduce the number of schedule edits managers must make.
- Open application programming interfaces (APIs): These will enable you to connect payroll, punch and other data from third-party systems, as needed. The overall solution should fit into your existing workforce management infrastructure.
These solutions work in the real world: AutoZone has successfully leveraged the Reflexis Workforce Scheduling solution to handle their many retail stores and distribution centers. These centers operate in the same locations as the regular stores—staffed by the same people who work on the retail side. By using a combination of Reflexis applications, including workforce scheduling, AutoZone has saved $100 million over seven-years!
For more insight into how you too can optimize labor scheduling and improve employee retention, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up time to chat.