Understaffing is causing chaos in the retail industry – could the IoT be the answer?

The retail industry is chronically understaffed. Although there is no magic cure to such endemic problems – IoT and real-time data can help fill the gaps, says Sam Roberts, sector director at mpro5

Industries across the board are facing staff shortages and vacancies, and the retail sector is one of the worst affected – impacting customer service, company growth, the cost of goods and the price of wages.

The retailer Next said prices could rise by 8% in autumn amid ‘chronic’ staff shortages, and despite employment being the highest since the 1970s, the Office of National Statistics reports that there are 570,000 fewer available workers than before the pandemic struck.

The causes are numerous, from ‘The Great Resignation’, to Brexit’s impact on the labour market, but one fact remains: this probably isn’t going away anytime soon. Businesses, particularly ones as labour intensive as retail, must find new ways to work more efficiently with fewer people; they must maintain stock and customer service quality while reducing pressure on staff and management.

Although no technology can immediately cure such endemic, infrastructural problems – it is vital that retail businesses digitise to  operate more efficiently. ‘Smart buildings’, powered by the Internet of Things and sensor technologies, and all powered by adaptive, real-time software, can enable them to work smarter, not harder; and ultimately be more efficient with fewer people.

By utilising an IoT-driven workflow management platform, companies can easily harvest and unify the data around them; viewing patterns and creating tasks from a centralised platform – with all the knowledge at their fingertips. Teams can instantly view and act upon this data, so they can do what is needed to be done, rather than act upon fixed and out-of-date schedules. Furthermore, management knows tasks are completed in real-time.

For example, if a sensor on a toilet door has been opened 100 times, then cleaning staff may well need to check it is still functional and clean. Inversely, if they go to clean as their schedule insists, and no one has been in that toilet or even on that floor, it is simply a waste of their time. Viewing these patterns form over time gives you the power to predict usage more accurately – so your future schedules can be more dynamic, and peoples’ time used more efficiently.

This gives businesses in the retail sector the power to prioritise jobs and the right people to do them thanks to new insight into existing data. Teams can spend less time worrying about covering for missing staff, and instead can trust that all tasks are being accounted for and covered; improving overall operational effectiveness while leaving as few gaps as possible.”

Ultimately, it is about doing more with less. Smart buildings, real-time data, and the ability to act upon it, gives most organisations and their staff a better chance at effectively continuing operations – despite any vacancies or absences.