Rethink your retail operations for Peak 2021, says YOOBIC

The best way to prepare for what is looking like an increasingly turbulent peak shopping season is by supporting frontline staff to boost their performance and deliver a great experience to customers, says Fabrice Haiat, CEO and co-founder of YOOBIC

Retailers do not need reminding that they are going into Peak hampered by staff shortages, delivery interruptions, supply restrictions and at exactly the time that consumers emerge fully from 18 months of disruption. Even the media can’t decide between a Christmas cracker or Christmas cancelled.

Retailers have been dealing with a shortage of workers for most of 2021 and both the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and the accountancy firm KPMG have said the number of available workers plunged in June at the fastest rate since 1997, exacerbated by a lack of workers from the EU that returned home during the pandemic, many for good.

They are also dealing with threats to their supplies to the extent that some businesses are not able to trade, and, even where goods are ready to ship, the UK is short of around 100,000 lorry drivers to make deliveries, according to the Road Haulage Association in a survey of its members.

Both Covid and Brexit have caused knock-on effects across the supply chain, including a lack of warehouse workers, threats to the supply of packaging and CO2 gas, and buying behaviours that were hard to read even before the pandemic. Some retailers have started their peak push even earlier than usual, hoping to catch customers that have been told that their Christmas turkey may not be available or that the most popular toys will be sold out by November.

Working with all these challenges, retailers will want to know that they are able to support the people who deliver the best possible Christmas, frontline staff. So here are five strategies for better store and staff performance during Peak 2021 to ensure operations can be optimised to overcome disruption.

1.       Digitise store operations

As customer behaviour this year will be more unpredictable than ever, it will be important for retailers to be able to see what is happening in the stores at any moment, so they can make any necessary changes quickly. Everyday store processes can be time-consuming and difficult, all of which keeps staff away from helping, advising and being available to customers.

The first solution is to cut down or get rid of paper-based processes. By bringing all communications together, employees have everything they need in one place without any juggling of multiple tools and lost productivity. Task handovers and waiting for approval disappear and the time lost on the printing, filling out and filing away can be recovered.

By digitising all communications and tasks, retailers not only get total visibility, but they can make it easier for staff to manage and report back, leaving them free to get back to customers.

And by applying artificial intelligence, data gathered can be analysed to reveal areas where corrective action plans can be deployed immediately.  Indeed, our data shows retailers can improve the sales performance by +2% by leveraging AI to take immediate and automatic corrective actions in-store.

2.       Improve communications

By using accessible, non-hierarchical and engaging store communications, retailers address the limitations of traditional methods, such as emails, that tend to be one-way and dictatorial and can quickly become overwhelming for frontline teams if they face a barrage of email directives in an inbox they rarely access. In addition, a more open form of communication enables employees to connect to their organisation and peers in other locations.

Currently, over a third (34%) of retail employees feel disconnected from the HQ so enabling the use of mobile devices to make internal communications available to every retail employee improves two way communications between retail teams.  It also encourages store and area teams to share their successes, challenges, feedback and questions to create a community between stores; and, using GIFs, emojis and a friendly tone to make internal comms fun to read, and use polls, comments and likes to make them interactive and measurable.

3.       Offer the best employee experience

Retailers want to recruit staff that have the talent to work in a store environment that now requires a much broader set of skills. They will also have to deal in the short term with staff shortages. So, in order to attract the best possible people, as well as retain those they already have, retailers need to offer the best employee experience possible.

This is enabled by having a structured approach to team procedures, tasks and processes, execution, store communications and training, all backed by technology that automates as much as possible to remove any barriers between staff and their customers.  It also enriches training programmes with micro-learning – our research suggests that 40% of retail teams are trained once a year or less, which can leave frontline teams feeling underprepared to perform at their best.

4.       Digitise regional team processes

Because regional teams are smaller post pandemic, they have less time to visit stores and spend time with staff. The solution is to use video calls to open up remote communications between store and regional teams, use photos and live chats to give visibility into store performance.

Some regional team processes can be delegated to store teams using digitised checklists, pictures and calls. And in-person store visits and audits can be supplemented using video calls. In this way, regional teams now have broader coverage of each store, lower travel costs, and can do more to support each store with less time and fewer resources.

5.       Upskill staff using modern training methods

Key to a successful Peak will be higher sales in store and this will depend on giving staff training that they can access via their mobiles and through easy-to-use apps. Training also needs to be short and memorable, so it is easy to apply and quickly.

Training content and techniques should also be fun, engaging, competitive and social, so everyone has a reason to come back for more. It’s critical to match training to what younger employees are used to, and also to give older employees something refreshing to change things up.

For more insights into how retailers can optimise store operations to maximise Peak 2021, download latest report.