The economic downturn has sent consumers, employees, retailers and investors alike into a tailspin. At the same time, inflation shows few signs of a slowdown since it began over a year ago. Retailers that wish to make it through this time must prepare for things like labor shortages, changes in consumer spending and reduced budgets from the top down. Still dealing with residual effects from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, weathering this economic storm will require retailers to have a refreshed focus and a modern approach to problem-solving.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked retail as having the second-highest quit rate at 4% — well above the national average of 2.7%. And the number of unfilled job openings exceeds the number of unemployed workers with experience in the industry. This means frontline retail workers — many of whom have already taken on new tasks in addition to their scope of a few years ago to keep up with consumer demand via omnichannel operations — face being stretched even further if the necessary steps to spread the workload aren’t quickly put in place.
Getting this balance right will be tricky, but retail leaders must commit to investing in digital transformation initiatives that support their frontline workers without compromising the customer experience or other business goals. In retail, frontline workers are indispensable in managing the roadblocks to come, and neglecting their needs can mean a potential hit to the bottom line.
Some of the most common drivers of increased pressure on retail workers aren’t new problems; they’ve simply gone unaddressed since the start of the pandemic and have been exacerbated by economic factors. Consumers are increasingly concerned with rising prices, spending has weakened across the board and the supply chain continues to affect product availability, to name a few. An added layer to these complex macro trends is the tasks frontline workers are required to carry out each time they clock in.
For example, some businesses require multiple employees to share one store operations device, so if one unit is being used, it stops the work of all other employees on the floor. These devices typically capture data from barcodes, text or objects and assist with varied workflows, from stock management, receipt of goods and pricing through to clienteling and mobile point-of-sales as well as a range of other tasks. Critical devices like this are often shared due to the costs of procurement and maintenance and can become outdated quickly as the costly proprietary software upgrades are difficult to justify amid budget reductions.
What Does the Future Hold?
At a time when budgets are tight, new solutions need to be cost-effective, agile and must prove their worth quickly. Investing in new tech for the sake of upgrading won’t be beneficial for your workforce in the long run, and it’s important to think about long-term adoption and scalability.
Upgrading to scanning devices that include smart data capture technology allows interaction with a wide array of data sources — not justbarcodes but also text, IDs and even physical objects — while also providing actionable insights. Time-consuming tasks, like logging in a new shipment of goods, can be shifted to technology as smart data capture solutions give a single device the ability to scan several items at once and share real-time stock counts, cutting the time needed to finish this task in half. Armed with accurate information, frontline workers can make quicker, more informed decisions, and businesses benefit from workflow automation at scale.
This streamlined process frees workers up to do the things that customers remember about great service. They can be more attentive on the sales floor, and they can take the time to answer customers’ questions to help them make the best decision. By delegating tedious tasks to technology, they’re able to carve out valuable time to connect with shoppers.
An Evolved Omnichannel Approach
As businesses continue to evolve their omnichannel approaches, the blending of in-store, online, mobile and other customer experiences means companies are looking for new investments to boost multiple channels as the most attractive option long-term.
The ways people shop will continue to ebb and flow as new options, like the metaverse, gain traction in industries like retail. Workers cannot — and should not — be expected to take on the greater workloads that these expansions require without the necessary tools or training. Smart data capture technology better supports staff and creates an improved customer experience in the face of staffing shortages through streamlined access to information that improves decision-making.
Businesses must catch up to the technology before they pay the price of an exhausted workforce and a consumer base that isn’t willing to shop where they don’t feel valued.
Jessica Grisolia is a retail expert specializing in digital transformation and change management strategies. At Scandit, she is responsible for the go-to-market and industry strategy for the retail sector in her role as Senior Industry Solutions Manager. Passionate about innovation, Grisolia explores trends and technologies that bring new ways for employees and customers to interact with the store and take advantage of omnichannel services through digital transformation and automation.