Retailers are working hard to move past the pandemic and its drastic hit to their sales by  innovating and transforming the way they manage their workforces. Thankfully for retailers, this process is becoming easier with sophisticated technology. 

The pandemic has dramatically changed the way we live, the way businesses work, and even adapted expectations from the consumer. Most were forced to rely on online retail giants such as Amazon and ASOS, as well as supermarket delivery services, leaving the SME retailer facing an uphill battle for a share of the market against these established brands.  

However, with lockdowns now (hopefully) over, the pressure lies on retailers to explore and evolve the in-store experience, improve their employee experience,  as well as expand e-commerce options. 

Retail services company Fourth MD EMEA Sebastien Sepierre tells Retail Insight Network about the importance of retailers taking digital transformation in their stride, both front and back of house, and what sort of positive impacts it can have on future business success. 

Technology – the solution to retailers post-pandemic struggles

Digital transformation is revolutionising the way that companies handle their business both internally and externally, and the retail industry is no different. In fact, research conducted by Fourth shows that almost two thirds (64%) of retail leaders are exploring new technology solutions, while eight in ten retailers (79%) plan to implement more tech before the end of 2021. 

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Another challenge for retailers is finding the balance of where to invest time, money, and manpower in the future, with data suggesting that consumers are likely to hold onto the trends they’ve acquired throughout the pandemic. This change in consumer behaviour also means that with less necessity for in-store visits due to e-commerce, customer service – when consumers do come in-store – needs to be exemplary.  

Here, digital transformation can aid both high street retailers as well as e-commerce brands, with our data highlighting that retail leaders believe both e-commerce (38%) and HR and workforce management technology (38%) are the most critical tech solutions for their business in 2021. 

Putting your workforce first

Through no fault of their own, retailers now face a serious uphill battle when it comes to staff attraction and retention. The pandemic has highlighted some shortfalls that the retail industry must reform if they want to secure talent for the foreseeable future. Employers need to ensure they undo the damage that months of furlough and financial uncertainty has caused, by focusing on re-establishing employee confidence. 

Thankfully there are innovative ways that tech can help employers to tackle this challenge, and guarantee that a career in retail is a rewarding and safe experience:

Intelligent scheduling

The retail industry continues to battle against isolation requirements, leading to sporadic pandemic scheduling. By introducing a modern and efficient scheduling system that allows workers to flag their availability instantly, managers can prepare for future staff shortages – and be able to easily adapt when they do happen.

It’s also crucial that retailers are able to make staffing decisions that allow employers  to accommodate for flux in demand during peak times – such as Christmas. Our data shows the importance of this, with two in five (43%) small retail businesses looking to implement further tech to help manage the potential need for flexible working practices (self-isolation and/or quarantine.) as capacity planning is cited as a top operational challenge this year.

Technology offers employers a platform that clearly shows them staff availability, insights on peak times, and data on productivity.

Instant team communication

It’s fair to say instant messaging has become a staple of our lives, so why don’t we utilise its value in the world of work as well?

By offering a platform that, among other features, enables instant messaging between employer and employee, workforces can be fully integrated as well as increase interaction.

This means that an employer can send vital news alerts to inform the entire workforce, regional teams or individual stores of any necessary information, new policies, work incentives or rewards, and otherwise urgent in-house communication.

This also means that an employer doesn’t haven’t to rely on an in-person team meeting – something that might be increasingly difficult – to share information with the workforce. This option of staying in touch regardless of time and location will prove extremely valuable going forward.

Earned Wage Access (EWA)

This is one of the latest innovations to have gripped the retail industry even before the pandemic and is now quickly becoming a default expectation for most retail workforces.

Offering access to the wages your employees have already earnt alleviates many key issues, most importantly it provides financial security and removes the undue stress that can have a number of side-effects, which could trickle down into the service your customers receive.

With EWA, employees can see exactly how much they’ve earned and instantly access a percentage of those wages throughout the month. Automating this process means businesses can simplify payroll, and ultimately improve retention.

Listed above are a few ways that employers can use tech to transform their businesses for future success. Modern workforce technology helps employers to speed up processes that would have previously taken greater resources, as well as provide channels for greater transparency between employee and employer. 

Investing in the future

All retailers are quickly becoming aware of the positive effects that technology can have on their business practices but it appears that the larger retailers may already have invested available budgets in technology pre-pandemic. Our data shows most  larger retailers (88%) are more likely to revert to their old technology practices.  

This means that SME retailers are going to need to step up and take notice of this tech-centric approach from their competitors by implementing the services that they’re providing to their workforces. Not doing so runs the risk of appearing unattractive to fresh talent as well as hampering business success with outdated work models. 

Retailers can take this opportunity, moving on from the worst of the pandemic, to evolve the way they work and specifically how they manage their workforce. The myriad of workforce management tech now on offer can fully upgrade both employer and employee experience Whether you’re a retail employer looking to adapt the way you schedule, manage payroll, and onboard new staff, or if you’re an employee, wanting greater transparency from your employer or more fluidity with your wages, workforce technology is an investment bound to futureproof your business for the foreseeable.