The retail industry is challenged by labour shortages across the board, from delivery drivers to warehouse staff, from store staff to IT specialists. And it’s a challenge faced everywhere from the UK to the US and Australia.
But what can retailers realistically do to address the issue?
The shortages can be traced back to a whole plethora of reasons – from regulatory changes to the impact of Covid, to changing mindsets of where and how people want to work, to restrictions prohibiting the international movement of workers.
Impacted further by supply chain challenges, retailers are experiencing a ‘perfect storm’ of demand. They must find ways to improve staff efficiencies to overcome labour shortages and make better use of systems to counter growing logistical and merchandise issues. Retailers need to work smarter, and here are 6 strategies to consider.
1. Revisit resource allocation
Lack of results can be spotted easily but identifying ‘labour sinks’ can be difficult. Hence, retailers need to launch a concerted exercise to reappraise their businesses to ensure efficiency of existing human resources, as labour shortage challenges won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Where once driving efficiency was about predominantly improving the bottom line, the current climate necessitates a shift in focus to making business processes less reliant on people and maximising the productivity of staff in general. It’s crucial that retailers figure out how they can satisfy consumer demand and expectations with the reduced resources they have. As mentioned, it needs to be about smarter retailing – using a popular catch phrase – about doing more with less.
2. Harnessing the benefits of connected retailing
Retailers need to be harnessing the benefits of connected retailing, so they can handle the shift in customer buying behaviour with less stress on the available resources. A great example of this is the introduction of customer order fulfilment by shipping orders directly from stores. The use of stores as micro-distribution hubs allows retailers to get closer to their customers than ever, enabling rapid order fulfilment and delivery when required.
Shipping of customer orders from stores not only means reducing pressure on traditional warehouses where resources may be stretched at times, but also making better use of store team members’ time during quieter periods due to the demand shifting to online.
3. Excelling at the basics in-store
Now is also the time for retailers to reassess their brand promise. It’s about doing the basics well to ensure that the baseline of a solid, compelling customer experience is there. Meeting and greeting at the door won’t help if shelves are not correctly stocked, click-and-collect orders cannot be handled promptly, and getting customers through the tills takes a long time.
Retailers can also empower customers to reduce the need for staff through options such as instore self-service technology that allows customers to order or check prices and stock availability themselves. For example, Andrea Day, Solutions Manager for End User Services at The Spotlight Retail Group described Retail Direction’s customer-facing self-service price checker tool as a “game changer” in their Harris Scarfe stores.
4. Look for warehouse optimisation opportunities
To counter labour shortages, human resources can be optimised in other areas too, such as addressing dual handling of stock, or process automation of scanning and labelling incoming stock, cross-docking, and break-bulk procedures. By eliminating duplication of effort through efficient warehouse picking and packing, driven by optimised warehouse management systems, retailers will not only help to maximise staff productivity, but it will also lead to reductions in mis-picks and improved accuracy.
5. Streamline manual instore tasks
Other technologies can also be used to reduce manual processes instore, such as using RFID systems to perform instore stocktakes. Manual counting of inventory and the reliance on barcodes to capture the counts can be time consuming – specifically when staff levels are low. In addition, infrequency of stocktakes due to cost or lack of resources can result in bigger stock inaccuracies, leading to potential customer dissatisfaction.
By using RFID, time spent stocktaking can be reduced from hours to minutes and accuracy of stocktaking increased dramatically.
6. Focus on staff enrichment and retention
It’s also more important than ever for retailers to invest in the people they have now. Skills and satisfaction of a retailer’s existing people need to be analysed across the board, to make sure they are not underutilised or a flight risk, and wherever possible, to tap into employee strengths and fill skills gaps. Investing in existing people will not only allow them to widen their skills remit and take on new roles but may also give them revived interest in retail as a career. That translates into happier staff, who are more engaged in interesting roles and enjoying a better employee experience - which invariably will lead to improved customer experience.
It’s time to get smarter
By carefully looking at the labour resource challenge through an internal lens – and examining existing resources, strengths, and technologies to drive greater efficiencies – retailers can make permanent improvements, without spending large amounts of money and putting their business at risk. To coin a phrase - the answer often lies within.
Retail Directions provides a unified retail management software platform that enables retailers to simplify retail operations, reduce operating costs, and deliver seamless experiences for consumers and staff. To find out more about making retail easier, and using technology to help tackle staff shortages, get in touch for a demo of the Retail Directions platform.