Deloitte: retailers must act now to ‘future proof’ their business

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Retailers need to act now and rethink both their organisation and workforce in order to prepare their business for changes in the retail sector, according to findings from a new Deloitte report.

Retail Productivity: Shop for tomorrow’s workforce looks at the changing world of the retail workforce, and how a combination of factors are presenting both opportunities and challenges for the industry as it strives for greater productivity and profitability.

Retailers are increasingly investing in and adopting new technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) in order to automate manual tasks, make their existing workforce more efficient and create new, higher-skilled job roles as a result.

At the same time, retailers are having to adapt to changing composition of the workforce: by 2020 millennials will make up more than half of all workers, rising to 75% by 2025. In order to attract and retain the best talent, retailers are having to accommodate work expectations from millennials that are very different to previous generations.

Laurence Collins, HR, digital workforce and people analytics partner at Deloitte, comments: “Retailers’ profits are under pressure at a time when they need to incorporate a number of new and different sales channels in order to match customer expectations. These pressures are leading to a greater focus on productivity, the workforce and the future role that technology could play in either replacing or augmenting human labour.

“Defining how much work and who – or what – will deliver this is going to be critical to enable retailers to change and evolve their workforce in the right way.”

With the make-up of the retail workforce changing, the report suggests that retailers need to rethink the workforce experience at a holistic level by changing the nature of how talent is sourced, deployed and supported. Creating and maintaining a positive employee brand and workforce experience will be essential in order to attract and retain the best in talent.

In addition, retailers should recognise that there is still much to be gained by increasing the productivity of the current workforce, and should consider adopting analytics technology as part of the future-proofing exercise. Retailers need to be able to use the data they have in order to predict outcomes and prescribe action, rather than reporting history.

Collins adds: “The world of work is changing and new technologies will increasingly automate many tasks in such a way that will transform retail over the next decade. Retailers are already responding to these labour challenges, but the question is, are they moving fast enough?

“The next three years will be a defining period for UK retail and will very much determine who will be the winners and losers in the longer term.”