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Keeping Good Employees in Stock: The True Value of the Modern Retail Associate

Aug 25, 2022

Keeping Good Employees in Stock: The True Value of the Modern Retail Associate

Retailers rely on their associates to be the face of their business. While branding and advertising may get customers into the store, a helpful, informed employee can provide the standout experience that keeps shoppers coming back. To provide this experience, a modern-day retail associate should be passionate, informed, and engaged with customers.

RSR recently teamed up with WorkForce Software to produce the webinar The Modern-Day Retail Associate: Passionate, Informed, Engaged, in which Brian Kilcourse (Managing Partner, RSR Research) and Steve Tonks (Senior VP EMEA, WorkForce Software) discuss the challenges, obstacles, and opportunities involved in reprioritizing the roles of associates in retail settings. Let’s look at some of their key findings, including survey results from retail executives.

Challenges

While other industries, such as manufacturing, education, and healthcare, have made some shifts toward using digital tools, retail has been uniquely affected. Shopping can now be done completely by way of digital devices, which have put extra pressure on brick-and-mortar stores to provide the best of both worlds. And the key conduit to make that happen is the store associate.

Unfortunately, as you can see in the survey results below, retail executives responded that some of their biggest business challenges involve their employees.

Top three business challenges to improve managing sales workforce

Source: RSR Research Report: Has the Era of the Empowered Workforce Finally Arrived?

Fifty-nine percent responded that they had difficulty with finding, training, and retaining good employees. Thirty-five percent said that customers are demanding different store experiences than are currently provided — experiences that often involve interactions with employees. This involves product information, stock knowledge, and customer service.

In addition, many organizations are still dealing with the ramifications of past decisions. For some time, many companies managed employees with a “churn and burn” mindset. Rather than train employees to do their best, provide them with tools to better perform their roles, and consider the importance of the employee experience, the churn-and-burn approach meant running employees ragged until they quit while hiring continuously to replace the inevitable defectors. Not surprisingly, this left many potential workers disillusioned with retail work and led them to different industries.

Now that we understand some of the challenges retail faces, let’s address what’s preventing organizations from acting upon these issues.

Obstacles

It’s not enough to simply identify issues holding your store back, of course. But there may be things standing in the way of taking action. Retail executives responding to our survey pointed out that higher business priority projects (68%), poor existing technology infrastructure (35%), and not taking full advantage of employee abilities (43%) are getting in the way of building the more passionate, informed, and engaged associate workforce that would transform their businesses.

The issue of employees being misused and unappreciated deserves special attention as it is the key point where businesses are making improvement. The easy answer—attracting and keeping better employees—lies in strategy, hiring, communications, and training. However, despite consensus on this approach, the chart below shows that many enterprises don’t follow through.

Chart of annual training received or should have received in retail

Source: RSR Research Report: Has the Era of the Empowered Workforce Finally Arrived?

This chart tells us two things:

  • First: there is a direct correlation between the amount of training employees receive and the store’s overall performance; the retailers that put the most importance on training are Retail Winners (retailers performing above average).
  • Second: Across the board, all organizations consistently provide less training than they think is necessary.

Opportunities

What would make a more passionate, informed, and engaged associate? “Retail Winners” seem to agree:

  • Training – For employees to remain informed and best able to assist customers, more robust and frequent training is necessary.
  • Passionate – Store associates are the face of your brand and the primary representative to the public. Their presence is the key differentiator between online and in-person shopping. These staff members must be enthusiastic and dedicated to their roles.
  • No More Churn-and-Burn – Treating associates like they’re expendable and unappreciated is the exact opposite of making them more engaged. If workers are shown no confidence by their employers, they’ll return the sentiment.

So, what are we to do to overcome these obstacles, answer these challenges, and capitalize on these opportunities?

Active lifestyle clothing brand Fabletics was facing many of these same challenges in their transition from being solely an e-commerce platform to also including brick-and-mortar stores in their business model. They adopted WorkForce Software’s Experience solution, making use of its messaging and photo-sharing abilities to provide a streamlined and efficient communication channel between HQ and retail stores.

Fabletics found success with WorkForce Experience. They eliminated the need for email and built a stronger company culture by using the WorkForce Experience communication features, including media sharing (to send photos of displays and arrangements back to HQ) and central task management lists (to keep multiple franchises on the same page and assure uniformity in branding). The bottom-line result was two hours saved every day on sending emails, one to seven days saved on merchandise execution, and an entire day per week saved on merchandise validation.

Modern Workforce Management Solutions

Digital tools like those provided in the WorkForce Suite are designed precisely to answer these issues facing retailers today. Modern workforce management (MWFM) platforms provide employees with the support they need in their daily tasks as well as their interactions with management and the organization itself.

Some of the primary features of MWFM are:

  • CommunicationRetailers can now revolutionize communications within their organization, all through a consumer-grade app much like the ones your employees already use in their day-to-day lives. It also allows easier access to information on products, practices, schedules, payroll, and much more.
  • Training – Through these communication channels, it’s much easier to train new employees, re-train existing employees, and upskill other employees to be of more use and value. These “in the moment” trainings can be sent from HQ to any store location to ensure workers are staying informed and in top shape for their roles.
  • Employee Experience – Satisfied employees lead to satisfied customers. In opposition to the churn-and-burn style, an investment in MWFM solutions shows associates that they are appreciated. With extra support making their roles easier, open communication to ensure their voices are heard, and more accessibility to important employee tasks (scheduling, time-off requests, payroll, etc.), employees are given agency and independence in their jobs.

Digital workforce management solutions have what is necessary for retailers. Customers want the best of both worlds—online shopping and in-person brick-and-mortar. The missing ingredient in your in-store shopping experience is a hefty dose of digital support. Your passionate, informed, and engaged associates and your satisfied, enthusiastic, loyal customers will thank you!

For more insights, watch this on-demand webinar with RSR and WorkForce Software: The Modern-Day Retail Associate: Passionate, Informed, Engaged WorkForce Suite.

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