2020 presented the world with major unprecedented disruption, triggering tremendous change and the need for organizations to be flexible and agile. The retail industry has been deeply affected, but many retailers have found a way to prevail and continue to thrive amidst the challenges. As I’ve written about previously, the real winners in retail in this new world of work are the brands that already had intelligent workforce technologies implemented as part of their employee strategy.
Below I detail how successful retailers pivoted and adapted both consumer and employee strategies in 2020, and how they can continue to use these strategies into the new year, no matter what it throws at us.
Harmonized retail and HCM models
Throughout the year and the pandemic, the most successful retailers (those who maintained a loyal customer base and upheld sales) had harmonized retail models in place – meaning that they prioritized the customer as the main channel, and adapted their operations to satisfy that priority. These organizations have effective omnichannel sales models and communications in place and embraced them even more so during the pandemic. In response to harmonized retail models, the real winners in the industry also embraced harmonized human capital management (HCM) as part of their response to the challenges that 2020 threw us. This means they prioritized their employees with empathy, while leveraging intelligent technologies to help effectively communicate with employees while ensuring their wellbeing, safety, and productivity.
While we all hope 2021 will bring less challenges, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable, and that leading organizations must be prepared to tackle anything at any given moment. Both harmonized retail and HCM models are crucial for success amidst both normal operations and crisis operations. The new normal is here to stay and the world of work will only continue adapting as time wears on. This means that retailers must continue to re-evaluate their technology offerings to help employers stay compliant, help employees stay engaged, and help both customers and employees feel safe and satisfied.
The continued rise of e-commerce
Online shopping and dark kitchens have certainly been a saving grace for the retail industry this year. If the start of the holiday shopping season has been any indication, e-commerce is the fuel that will keep retailers afloat. The retailers who have delayed investing in inventory/supply-chain management this year have lagged other successful retailers who have fully embraced new models of delivery and distribution, and thus new models of engaging with their workforce. These retailers are now frantically trying to get a grasp of what they have, where they have it, how to deliver their products and services, and more. In short, the retailers who, prior to the onset of the pandemic, had embraced e-commerce and all the various changed workflows that come with it, were better equipped to handle the challenges the industry saw.
Most industry experts and retailers alike believe recovery back to 2019 levels will take place throughout 2021. As the new year approaches, retailers will need to continue to embrace new technologies to bolster their e-commerce experience, if they haven’t already. New technologies like on-demand services, voice activation, and predictive and prescriptive data science will help augment the online shopping experience and co-exist with people systems. Disparate systems will continue to be a roadblock – so retailers must do everything they can in 2021 to streamline and update their technology stack. The retail organizations that continue to overcome business disruption while prioritizing the customer and employee experience will continue to thrive.
A well-cared for workforce is an agile workforce
To me, it’s always been clear that a meaningful customer experience starts with a meaningful employee experience. Many people, especially hourly retail workers, faced much adversity in 2020 due to various lock down orders and store closures, undoubtedly facing reduced hours and/or the loss of employment. Throughout these challenges, the way retail employers communicated with and cared for their employees was paramount in getting through this year. Modern technologies helped retailers do this in a meaningful way – from easily accessed employee communications and effective scheduling technologies allowing for safe coverage and easy maneuvering, to on-demand pay solutions allowing employees to get paid when they need it most. The way leaders interacted with their employees was an indication of the success they’ve had in 2020, and the success they will find in the future.
In preparation for the next major disruption, and to maintain confidence amongst the workforce, retailers need to continue to prioritize employees from a place of empathy. This not only bolsters brand recognition within the market, but it also encourages agility and motivation within employees. In 2021, organizations need to continue to embrace modern technologies to prepare for evolving customer and workforce needs - leveraging new tools to promote workforce assurance, with a focus on workforce communications, learning, and financial wellness.
Embracing new modes of working: skills consolidation and talent-sharing
Once the pandemic became a very real reality in Spring 2020, most retailers were forced to reduce their staff in large quantities. As the new world of retail started to normalize, retailers began to find new ways to serve their customers with a still reduced workforce – 40% at best. These forced changes led to the necessity and development of more collaborative work models and a consolidation of skills among employees. For employees who used to greet employees in store, how do they create that magic moment through a different medium? Those who once specialized in a certain task or function now had to expand their skill set and perform cross-functionally. Effective and modern workforce management technologies helped managers and retail leaders determine where there are gaps in their skill distribution, and along with a favorable learning system, were able to re-skill and upskill current employees to fit the new demand
Skill flexibility is necessary for retail employees to thrive, and 2021 will continue to see this trend grow, among other new modes of working. For many retail workers, working hours were cut severely, if not eliminated, and the ability to count on consistent pay became equally elusive. As a result, talent-sharing, along with skill flexibility, has become a new practice. With talent sharing, retail employees can opt to share their talent cross-brand and cross-location in order to feel more financially stable, while at the same time help their employers optimize the labor pool. Modern mobile technologies will continue to foster trends like this, while helping to build more predictability into both the lives of employees and employers.