High-street favourite Wilko recently announced it will be forced to close 400 of its stores and put thousands of jobs at risk as it failed to secure a full rescue deal. Diane Wehrle, insights director at research company Springboard recently said of the brand’s closure: “There is never one challenge that causes the demise of a business. For Wilko, it was a blend of increasing competition, losing sight of what its core offer was and high costs.”

The landscape for retailers is currently tougher than ever and has been challenging for some time. Understanding and serving the needs of the modern customer is complex and accurately delivering on these needs is a tall order.

While diversifying your product portfolio and investing in your online presence are handy techniques for boosting revenue, supporting processes with valuable data and powerful technology can set a retailer apart from its competitors.

At the heart of any business is its people, and a happy workforce is perhaps a more pertinent method for achieving success than any other. Investing time into creating an agile and happy employee experience should be a priority for retailers.

As retailers are faced with economic uncertainty, consumers with less spending power and a myriad of other challenges, supporting all staff should be top of their agendas.

How technology can help

Contrary to popular belief, AI is not a panacea for businesses. For retailers and their teams, supply chain disruption, the energy crisis, inflation and changing shopping habits have all created a complex environment in recent years with a myriad of implications for both customers and staff.

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What AI can deliver is its ability to compute vast quantities of useful data, thereby presenting retailers and people managers with the insights needed to make the right decisions quickly while shedding light on uncertainties.

Modern AI powered workforce systems analyse and process a myriad of data inputs to surface timely insights and advice, thereby making managers more effective and employees happier.

Workforce management systems support the needs of retailers by processing historical data on customer shopping habits, weather forecasts, labour budgets and more to produce digestible and trustworthy insights. Technology can ultimately add agility to operations and manage cost in a way that not only meets the needs of the business but simultaneously takes into account the needs of the employee.

AI-supported labour scheduling and demand forecasting

Technology can help businesses to keep a close eye on an employee’s work-life balance, career progression and support creation of a positive work environment where employees remain motivated.

Modern employees demand to own their personal schedules, rather than their employers having complete control. Modern workforce management solutions will automatically request time from employees based on role requirements, availability, skills, certification and ratings.

Alongside this, technology can support labour scheduling that accurately meets the needs of the business and customers as well as the employee. AI-powered demand forecasting uses historic data on customer spending habits, weather forecasts and more to support with accurate labour scheduling.

For retailers with multiple sites, flexibility means not limiting employees to one branch or area. Retailers are already using cross-site scheduling features in workforce management systems to share staff across multiple stores or brands in close proximity, thereby optimising labour budgets, meeting customer demand more effectively and also supporting leaders with absence management.

AI-driven personalised schedules should already be commonplace in the new world of work, as vast quantities of data, options and preferences need to be processed at once.

Not only does this reduce administrative burden on managers and help control costs, but it also helps to make employees feel valued and engaged. The impact on customers is positive too, as happier workers means better customer service. The sooner the retail sector taps into the capabilities of AI for its workforce, the better.

Compliance in retail HR technology

HR professionals often wear many hats. One of their many responsibilities is keeping up with changing and complex legislation. This has long been a challenge for businesses and there is now a huge breadth of regulations to adhere to that concerns employees such as the National Living Wage, holiday entitlement and payroll.

Storing documents electronically in a system that makes it easy to tag, file, and search those documents, with fast and simple reporting capabilities can simplify this. By regularly pulling reports to view missing files or documents about to expire, HR teams are able to proactively manages compliance, collecting missing files or requesting recertifications and staying far ahead of an audit.

HR professionals can also use tools such as metatags to quickly prove employees filled out the right version of a form. It’s also quick and easy to update processes to include a newly required legal step, or to update a webform to include additional fields or instructions – keeping one step ahead in a dynamic environment by working quickly.

Adhering to these requirements doesn’t have to be done manually, in fact, technology can support businesses in meeting them, keep HR practitioners informed and flag when standards aren’t being met. To ease this administrative burden, organisations are increasingly turning to technology that can automate people processes and easily be configured and adapted to align with new rules and regulations.

Reducing workforce turnover in retail with AI

Workforce management tools and AI can play a key role in supporting the retail sector to navigate challenges and manage uncertainty as much as possible. Technology can also support retention efforts by offering employees flexibility and keeping an eye on working hours to avoid burnout.

Employees want flexibility, autonomy and to be empowered to design their own careers around wider responsibilities. In the same vein, they want the organisations for whom they work to show care for people, culture, society and the environment. HR technology can support clear communication of values and offer employees the power to effectively and confidently share their views on wider issues within the business.

From a career development point of view, through provision of supporting resources and online training, HR technology can help to instil a sense of belonging and pride within employees. For example, training sessions and resources can help to upskill and reskill employees at a pace that suits them and equips them with the power to progress as and when they want to.

What is next for HR technology in retail?

In the modern world of on-demand, personalised work, HR technology solutions play an essential role in meeting evolving employee expectations.

Modern workforce management technology such as AI can assist the retail industry in a variety of ways that support a healthy and happy workforce. With this technology, organisations will be able to ride the uncertainty of the coming months and years, and whatever they might bring.