Workforce in Motion: How Will Retailers Respond in 2013?

In the past decade, an entirely new store associate has emerged onto the retail scene. Today’s new associate is both well versed and confident in their ability to put technology – particularly mobile technology – to work for them to enrich their daily lives. They embrace and integrate new gadgets, devices and applications into their lifestyles unlike any preceding generation.

Consider how many retail workers might spend a typical night off the clock. Many are likely to invite friends to dinner via text message or a mobile Facebook post. They may decide which restaurant to visit using Yelp, make reservations online via OpenTable, check in upon arrival via Foursquare, and once seated, determine what to order with help from Urbanspoon. During dinner, they may take photos to share on Instagram, write a quick review of the restaurant on Zagat, or even tweet about their meal to all their followers on Twitter.

Unfortunately, when those same individuals clock in for work at their local retail store, more often than not they are forced to disconnect, unplug, and abandon these mobile tools. All too often, bulletin boards in back rooms are used to post schedules for the coming week. Swapping shifts to accommodate unexpected conflicts requires a phone call to the manager. Many workers will punch a paper card, or swipe a card, on a time clock and then look for a manager to receive their shift assignments. At the end of the shift, most of these workers will fill out a paper or electronic form to document the completed tasks, and possibly even write a note to the boss requesting a day off.

The difference between staffers’ lives on the clock and their lives off the clock is both striking and surprising, given the undeniable potential inherent in even the simplest mobile applications to improve productivity, efficiency, and employee satisfaction. This issue is further magnified when one considers the amount of time sales associates spend off the floor (and out of sight for customers) when they are bound to back-room time clocks, bulletin boards and work logs. And shoppers give retailers very little margin for error when it comes to accessible and available sales associates: a recent white paper by Empathica found 75 percent of shoppers will walk out of the store if they don’t have access to knowledgeable associates.

The good news is retailers recognize the potential benefits of a mobilized staff, and they are beginning to act. A December 2012 study by Retail Systems Research entitled “WFM 2013: The Store Employee in the Customer Age,” found that 67 percent of retailers surveyed either have implemented or have plans to implement mobile workforce technology to assist the sales process.

While these reports are encouraging, we decided to take the research one step further and investigate whether retailers are ready to put their money where their mouth is by investing more in mobility.  If the results from JDA’s recent “Retail Workforce Mobility Snapshot” survey are any indication of retailers’ intent, I’m guessing that by this time next year we will be referring to 2013 as the year of the mobile associate.

Click through the slides below to see a few highlights from JDA’s “Retail Workforce Mobility Snapshot” survey and let us know if you expect similar workforce mobility initiatives at your organization.

For additional insights from thought leaders around the industry on how companies are empowering their employees and creating more satisfied customers through advancements in workforce management, visit JDA Workforce 20/20.

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