The recession is turning the focus of retailers away from manual store-level scheduling, task management, and time & attendance processes and toward workforce optimisation to ensure that the most qualified employees are serving customers, according to a study by Aberdeen Group.
Some 82% of top performing retailers have had a formal store-level workforce optimisation programme in place for more than two years, while 72% of the same organisations consider themselves "very satisfied" with their results, according to the 'Retail Workforce Optimization' report.
As a means to increase the overall value of their customers, top performing retailers are now focusing on optimising interactives between customers and in-store staff. This is most commonly achieved by matching associates' skill level, interests, and availability with the needs of the target customer group. This process is managed at store level, with store managers taking advantage of workforce automation systems (which allows them to spend more time on the shop floor themselves).
Today's economy is characterised by lower consumer spending, greater availability of e-commerce alternatives, and a decrease in retail employee budgets, it seems logical that retailers are increasingly trying to optimise the workforce and processes that already exist.
"In a challenging economy, customer expectations are through the roof. When they walk into a store, they expect a knowledgeable, attentive associate to help them make a purchase," explained e-commerce analyst Greg Belkin, who was chief author of the report. "They know they have other shopping alternatives at their disposal, so the right employee needs to be available at the right place and time."
The study also found that top performing retailers are overcoming many of the traditional internal challenges previously associated with workforce optimisation. Only 22% cited organisational hurdles such as budget, senior management buy-in, or lack of a clear corporate vision. In fact, the main hurdles include data management and technology proliferation throughout the enterprise.
"This is not to say that these issues have completely disappeared for retailers, but the fact that they are not top challenges suggests the level of importance that customer-facing workforce optimisation at the store level holds for traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers."
For a limited time the report has been made available online via Aberdeen's web site - click here (free registration required).