A retail store associate clocking in using their badge on a Zebra tablet running Reflexis software
By sara lauer | October 30, 2023

Your Store Manager's Christmas Wishlist: More Time

They say there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, but there are – if you can make it easier for them to schedule retail associates.

Jingle bells, crowded stores, and a season of joy; the holidays are upon us and with them, the characteristic surge in customer traffic, bustling checkouts, and the tangible spirit of the festive season filling every aisle. But behind the scenes of the glittering shelves and festive storefronts, your store managers are hustling more than ever. They’re probably a bit uneasy, too, afraid that they aren’t going to survive the season. That’s because they know how much work it’s going to take to interview, onboard and manage seasonal hires while still mentoring associates, aligning operations to corporate mandates, managing physical or digital changes to store operations, and ensuring labor schedules meet the intensified customer demand. 

Retail operations can become very daunting, very quickly, to say the least. Most employees still haven’t seen that “relief” they were expecting to see when the pandemic ended. If anything, they’re under more pressure because they’re having to manage more inventory, discounts, in-store events and foot traffic with fewer team members – many of whom are brand new and still leaning on managers for guidance.  

So, how do you ensure stores are properly and predictably staffed to keep customer satisfaction levels high, giving employees much-needed consistency, and avoiding burning out your managers and teams?

Herein lies the subtle paradox. The last thing you need is for managers to quit during peak season because they’re overwhelmed, tired or feeling like a failure. You must do everything in your power to make their jobs easier. Now, there are several ways you could do that, but one of the best (in my opinion) is to give them the gift of time.

I’m not talking about scheduling them for longer shifts, rather giving them more time back in their day to focus on things such as onboarding, compliance, and the complete planogram overhaul – or to just be free to support associates and customers as requests for help come in. 

When they don’t feel so rushed, when everything feels manageable, then suddenly the entire mood of the store changes. A happy manager can lift the spirits of the whole team along with customers. Likewise, the stress a manager feels can be transferred to others. 

So, let’s talk about four ways you can give your managers the gift of time this holiday season (and all year long):

1. Get rid of manual scheduling once and for all!

Having to figure out the best schedule for one person is mentally taxing. Having to figure out the best schedule for dozens or hundreds of employees – and then having to rework it dozens of times a day when people call out, quit, get hired, etc. – is impossible without the help of technology. It’s as painful as doing taxes, some people say. So, why would you make your managers – your valued team leaders – do what equates to taxes all day, every day? And, yes, they’re working on schedules almost all day, every day because of the constant change requests and the uncertainty of retail operations. 

I’ve never understood why, in this digital age, any store manager must still manually pull together staff schedules. Schedule optimization engines have been around for several years now and proven more than capable of preparing a stellar workforce schedule – one that balances employees’ wishes with customer/operational needs. So, why continue to make your managers do something that results in nothing more than brain drain and probably a lot of heat from employees whose schedules don’t match their availability? (The human brain can only remember so many personal requests and the human eye can easily miss things such as “Susie isn’t available on Sundays.”) 

If you really want to show your managers how much you appreciate them, and you really want them to focus on everything else that’s going on in the store, get a more modern, more intelligent/automated, scheduling software tool that does the heavy lifting and hard thinking – matching labor “supply” with the many demand levers every day as both factors fluctuate. Managers can continue to review for exceptions and work with employees to adjust as needed, but they don’t have to be the ones to figure everything out.

If you don’t make this change, this investment in your people, you risk operational costs booming and customer satisfaction plummeting – which I know you can’t afford given that a single negative incident might prompt 50% of customers to consider other shopping alternatives or prompt managers to quit.

Now, if you do heed my advice and give your managers a scheduling assistant of sorts, you can expect the opposite to happen. Since this type of scheduling software is designed to predict labor needs in the context of operational demands (that’s why it’s so good at scheduling), store managers can see the impact external factors have on traffic, including potential inventory, footfall, e-commerce or promotion scenarios without having to individually program those into a system. These more automated forecasting methods, which use AI at least in part, are designed to foresee outcomes based on history, calendars, external events, and other factors to create an optimized labor schedule. Even better, all this happens without the store manager needing to know how many shopping days there are between Thanksgiving and Christmas and how that affects daily traffic, just to name one factor that could affect a staffing plan. This type of scheduling tool has all the relevant information built into its calculations – giving your managers one fewer thing to worry about, and some time back in the process. In fact, I’ve had many customers tell me they’ve reduced the time their managers spend on scheduling by up to 75% after switching to this type of scheduling tool.  

Remember, though, scheduling staff is not just about headcount, and schedule management is not just about filling gaps. It’s ultimately about weaving a tapestry of satisfaction for employees and customers alike. Managers are expected to craft rich, rewarding in-store experiences for shoppers, and that requires them to have the right people scheduled at all times: happy people whose positive attitude will spill over to customer interactions. So, make a change that will make managers happy so it’s joy, rather than disdain, that becomes contagious. 

2. Give employees greater control over their schedule! 

In an environment where 79% of retail job seekers underscore the significance of schedule flexibility, retailers who don’t offer employees a self-service scheduling option are pretty much disqualifying themselves from consideration by top talent. They’re also choosing to add risk to their operations, because they’re forcing managers to spend all day mediating schedule changes with employees and likely upsetting and frustrating employees in the process. Every schedule alteration translates into a cascade of communications and approvals, inevitably sapping valuable time that could be better utilized enhancing in-store experiences during the high-stakes holiday season. 

There are some decisions and actions that require a bit of back-and-forth dialogue; scheduling is not one of them. If you trust your employees enough to handle your inventory and money, you can trust them to manage their schedules. So, spend a little bit of money on employee self-service software that will enable them to swap with other people when they are sick or need to balance personal obligations with work commitments. 

Giving employees this level of autonomy will build morale and trust, as they won’t feel like their whole lives are being controlled by someone else. They know they have a way to make a change if they need to. And, who knows, they may not need to change their schedule all that often. But if they do, you can trust it will be covered – or that a manager can still intervene if needed – and that your employees (when they do work) are going to fully show up because they made the schedule…it was their decision to be there at that day and time. They aren’t distracted by something happening outside work that they’re missing, and they aren’t resenting you because they can’t be there for a family member who needs help because it was “impossible” to change shifts. Plus, many employees want managers to like them, and there’s an underlying fear that asking for a day off or a swap will cause friction.  

So, give employees some control back by getting an employee self-service app online that they can access from their personal devices. I really don’t think managers are going to balk over the change. In fact, based on what I have experienced, they’re likely going to thank you. I’ve had many managers come back to me thrilled that this change has given them so much time back, as they can essentially “manage by exception” while staying focused on everything else that they’re responsible for (like making sure the associates who are working that day are fully supported so they can ensure an exceptional shopper experience). 

3. Give employees more freedom to float – and managers more access to those willing to float.

If you have more than one location, there’s no doubt you’ll inevitably find at least one facility – or department – in a dichotomy of being simultaneously under and over-staffed, struggling with the intricacies of sudden leave requests or unanticipated customer surges. Even if you have traditional float pools in place, there’s going to be an imbalance at some point in time, though the imbalance may be in the distribution of responsibilities on a specific set of associates who are constantly carrying undue burden. That’s because traditional float pools limit the adaptability of your staffing model. 

Instead, I encourage you to shift your perspective on how to handle multi-site scheduling (or even cross-departmental scheduling). 

Instead of putting geographical boundaries on employees’ “availability,” let employees tell you where they’re willing to work and create a single, collective resource pool for the area. Then, let the schedule optimization software match skill sets and availability with the needs of each location or department. You know staffing needs are going to be fluid throughout the holiday season as it’s impossible to be 100% sure of traffic levels, staff availability, and other factors that influence scheduling. 

So, let go of rigid float pools and embrace a more flexible and resilient system that enables you to easily share employees across multiple locations, based on need and ability, dynamically adapting to the diverse and unpredictable needs of each individual store during the holiday rush. Besides giving you robust shift coverage so you can deliver a top-notch customer experience at all locations, software that has multi-site scheduling capabilities provides your enterprising associates the opportunity to earn more money during the holiday season. It also simplifies the scheduling process for your managers, liberating them to refocus their energy on operational and customer experience excellence. 

If that’s still not enough to convince you, maybe these numbers will: one department store saw an 80 basis points increase in sales, translating to an annual increase in sales of about $31 million, after using this type of software to optimize scheduling.

4. Let employees bid on their shifts (so they can stop bugging – or begging – your managers)!

As I’ve mentioned a few times now, sticking with traditional scheduling – forcing your managers to craft timetables that, while operationally sound, might not always align with the personal and professional lives of associates – is a recipe for failure. We live in an era where employee satisfaction is parallel to customer happiness, and ensuring associates have a say in their schedules is paramount. 

That’s why you need to get a shift bidding software tool online as swiftly as a self-service schedule management tool. Once again, this is not merely about taking scheduling off your managers’ shoulders. Shift bidding software can be a catalyst for organizational change by anchoring a democratic, inclusive, and transparent scheduling environment where associates don’t just work with schedules but have an active hand in crafting them. By enabling associates to bid for preferred shifts and setting clear, equitable rules and guidelines, scheduling becomes both a cooperative and streamlined effort that respects and acknowledges the personal lives of the associates. 

The result is twofold: a collective, collaborative approach to scheduling that also safeguards against understaffing, ensuring that managers and associates alike can work in unison toward delivering a frictionless shopping experience for every customer. Plus, employees will feel in control of their own lives, and giving them that feeling is priceless. Managers will be appreciated. You will be appreciated. Employees will feel seen, heard, and appreciated. That’s huge.

Closing Thoughts: The Gift of Time and Efficiency

Navigating through the festive season, your store managers are not just grappling with the complexities of increased traffic and heightened consumer expectations but are also trying to safeguard the well-being and satisfaction of their hard-working associates. Workforce management software like the ones I described – those that facilitate labor-optimized scheduling, multi-site scheduling, shift bidding, and employee self-service schedule management – emerge as more than just a quick fix. They become a strategic ally that does more than merely solve problems based on the past. They help your entire team anticipate and adapt to the myriad challenges that the holiday season unfurls by anticipating what may happen and adapting schedule recommendations automatically. They also save you money because they save you the time and effort required to constantly replace employees when scheduling-related turnover occurs. Did you know that 83% of retail associates now prefer to manage their schedules via a mobile device or app? That’s up 7% from 2022 and 10% from 2021, according to feedback tracked year-over-year in Zebra’s Annual Global Shopper Study.

I know it’s technically not a retailer, but I think it’s worth noting that a global quick service restaurant (QSR) – which has a similar staffing/scheduling model as retailers – started using workforce management software. It did so to give employees more control over their schedules and help managers optimize schedules based on labor supply and customer demand, and it saw an 8% reduction in employee turnover. That resulted in around 2,500 fewer hires per year, which translated into an approximately $12 million annual benefit. This technology also reduced the time store managers spent writing schedules by four hours per week. So, during this very special season, I really hope you’ll consider gifting your store managers and associates the boon of time, efficiency, and greater control over their lives. It will help elevate operational efficiency, which I know is a year-round ambition, and it will help cultivate a more nurturing, positive, and rewarding work environment.

Don’t let their time slip away – or your customers. Reach out when you’re ready!

Digitizing Workflows, Retail, Article, Hospitality, Software Tools, New Ways of Working,

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