Store Associates Play an Important Role in Omni-Channel

An old retail adage says: “A happy employee makes for a happy customer.”  This is ever more important in today’s hyper-competitive, rapidly evolving omni-channel retail marketplace. The role of the store and store associate continues to evolve as the volume of e-commerce transactions increases and consumers demand seamless shopping experiences. Customers now want the ability to buy online and pick up or return those purchases in their local stores.  The store has thus become another node in the supply chain. Managing the in-store workforce becomes more complex as these non-traditional store fulfillment functions are rolled out.

Knowing how many employees to have available to support the new mixture of sales and fulfillment tasks is only the first step. Management must also take into account employee skillsets and limitations on hours, such as for budget or overtime considerations. Plus, Millennials are now the majority of store associates and they expect transparency, flexibility and a reasonable work-life balance. Managers must factor in their availability and preferences as schedules are built.

If all of this seems like a tall order for store management to fill—it is!  The traditional paper and pencil or spreadsheet methods of scheduling cannot deal with the complexity and dynamism that today’s retail environment requires. With always tight retail margins and the rising expectations of shoppers and associates, retailers must find new ways to schedule the right associates to do the right tasks at the right times in order to compete effectively and efficiently. Advanced workforce management systems specifically built for the unique needs of retailers are an important part of the solution.

Workforce Management to the Rescue!

Advanced workforce management systems take the complexity out of workforce scheduling by simultaneously considering predicted demand for workforce sales and fulfillment services; associate availability, skills and preferences; and compliance with budgets, work rules and legislation. These solutions more accurately match expected demand with workforce capacity to optimize service levels at optimal cost.

The process starts with demand forecasting engines that analyze sales history and patterns to predict staffing requirements for sales-related activities by day and time of day. In the omni-channel world, the forecast must now also include predictions on in-store fulfillment demand based on customer preferences for in-store pickup and returns, as well as the retailer’s expected ship-from-store volumes. These predictive capabilities are crucial for aligning labor demand with workforce scheduling.

These systems must also be able to change schedules dynamically as unforeseen events or demand spikes occur. This process must include “guard rails” that automatically alert managers to potential out-of-scope situations such as associates approaching overtime levels or violations of labor laws.

The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices makes mobile enablement another important consideration for workforce management solutions, particularly those used by millennials.  Mobile access for associate scheduling not only enables a manager to be out on the floor and not stuck behind a desk in the back office, it empowers associates to access schedules, view hours worked and make requests for time off or swap shifts with fellow staff members.  The solution will alert managers to schedule change requests so approvals can be completed on-the-fly without leaving the sales floor.

Ultimately, the goal of workforce management solution is to empower store managers and associates to deliver excellent service levels and customer satisfaction at optimal labor cost. This will drive long-term improvement in revenue and margins, making retailers more competitive and profitable. By empowering associates with mobile, self-service apps, these systems can also increase associate satisfaction and retention, another factor in retail success.

Learn more about how to align your workforce to the consumer’s omni-channel shopping journey, effectively establish labor standard practices, and how to tackle today’s omni-channel labor challenges while maintaining compliance at our upcoming JDA Workforce Management Delivery Tour on April 7, 2016 in New York City. Register here.

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