Flexible work has been called “the way of the future,” and increasingly, workers see it as an essential characteristic of a job rather than a nice extra. But in retail, where face-to-face customer interactions are a big component of the job, a flexible work environment with the option to work remotely is often not an option.
Perhaps it should be.
Retail roles are currently the third-hardest job to fill in the United States. If they want to attract and retain talent, retailers need to change their mindset, and open up opportunities to qualified candidates seeking flexibility.
“In a tight labor market, companies cannot afford to ignore the value employees place on having flexible work options. … The flexible-job market is currently very robust, so flexible-job seekers are also feeling empowered to seek jobs that are more compatible with their life,” noted Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, in SHRM.
Millennials and Gen Z are particularly drawn to flexible work arrangements, according to a PwC study. Given that 39% of the retail workforce is under the age of 28, retailers that offer flexible work arrangements will have the best chance of attracting a broad variety of young retail talent.
But how can they do it?
Growth in online sales is creating more opportunities for flexibility
The good news is that, just as retail employees’ expectations have evolved, so, too, has the retail industry. The growth of online shopping, pushed by a massive change in consumer habits, has transformed retail from a brick-and-mortar-only experience to one that must incorporate online and digital channels.
For retailers, the growth in online sales means more possibilities for staff to work remotely.
“Instead of being on the shop floor as a sales representative, you can be an online personal shopper, or an online customer service representative,” said Carsten Wulff, vice president for Europe at LS Retail. “And if your company has adopted a modern IT infrastructure, you can also work from home and analyze buying patterns, or keep track of sales trends using real-time data.”
Cloud holds the key
Cloud-based IT solutions for retail have been increasing in popularity because they can facilitate more flexible, remote work arrangements. Employees can work anywhere at anytime, and due to the structure of cloud-based systems, more tasks can be done remotely than in traditional setups.
“Retailers are moving away from stationary laptops in an office into cloud-based solutions that can now offer not only better service for the customers, but also better working conditions for employees,” Wulff said. “And that’s something which young generations of well-educated job applicants will respond to.”
With cloud-based solutions, especially in the case of integrated or unified systems, retail employees can have enterprise-wide visibility into every aspect of the business — from inventory and merchandising to point of sale and beyond. This visibility enables employees to not only do work remotely, such as managing online support or inventory tasks, but also to provide a better, more personalized customer experience.
“Retail, and omni-channel retail in particular, is built on data. And today, to anayze data, you don’t need to be on the store floor, looking at tons of printed statistics,” said Wulff. “If you use a cloud-based retail solution that pulls information from your stores and e-commerce, you can get a unified view of your customers across all channels and transactions, and use this data to design personalized promotions or communication that engage them in a meaningful, personal way.”
Cloud-based solutions also help streamline operations. This includes better monitoring of out-of-stocks, expediting deliveries, and even managing suppliers, carriers and logistics providers through digitized documents and communications. The result is not only the ability to offer more flexible, remote work arrangements, but also a lower time to market for retail goods, and a better shopping experience overall for customers.
Attract talent and brand ambassadors
Retailers have a demand for a skilled workforce that can facilitate the needs of their customers. By offering flexible working conditions that include remote work for all or part of the time, they can better compete for talented, well-educated employees who can elevate their business and the customer experience.
Flexible work arrangements can also help build staff loyalty, and increase employee retention. In a FlexJobs survey, 80% said they would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options.
And, this loyalty can go beyond simply retaining employees. “Retailers should keep in mind that if you earn the loyalty and respect of your younger staff, you might actually end up with the best brand ambassadors you can find,” Wulff said.
And who doesn’t want that?