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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like we Don’t Have Enough Holiday Retail Staff This Year

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As brick-and-mortar retailers are flat-out prepping for the holiday shopping season, they’re also facing a diminished workforce to help manage it. Despite supply chain issues, this year could be even more profitable than last, but only if retailers can fix their staffing issues in time.

Shoppers’ Anxiety is Pushing Them to Spend This Holiday Season

Empty shelves and lower stocks aside, holiday shoppers are coming, and the registers are ringing. Deloitte’s annual forecast predicts holiday retail sales will rise by as much as 9% — or $1.3 trillion in 2021. Market research group NPD also expects consumers to spend big this year, predicting an average of $785, which is more than they’ve spent over the past two years. 

As shipping uncertainties drive online shoppers back into physical stores, retailers should prepare for heavier foot traffic as all major carriers, USPS, UPS and FedEx are no longer guaranteeing delivery times. They’re offering suggested shipping deadlines, but hitting them doesn’t mean packages will arrive in time. 

Holiday spending also kicked off earlier in 2021 after Vice President Kamala Harris cautioned consumers to start shopping in August thanks to supply chain issues. The result? Shoppers are coming in hot, heading into stores much earlier and anxious about the stock shortages that will keep them from fulfilling holiday wish lists. 

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That increase, however, is a double-edged sword. With increased foot traffic comes the need for more staffing. Not only do retailers need a reliable workforce, they also need workers prepared to recommend product alternatives when stock runs short. But there’s a bigger issue at hand. There’s no holiday staff coming to the rescue, and existing workers are already too burnt out to go the extra mile.

Retailers That Want to Come Out on Top Need to Embrace an Employee Incentivization Strategy

On the upside, all indications point toward this holiday being a profitable one. The downside, and it’s a big one, is that retailers heading into the busiest shopping season of the year with skeleton crews may not be able to take advantage of it. 

Last April, a record number of U.S. retail workers left their positions, 649,000 to be precise. And they didn’t just leave; they left angry. Retail workers were putting their health at risk during the pandemic and asked to do so for as little as $11 per hour

If the pandemic was a shot in the arm alerting us that we’re not paying retail workers enough, the holidays will be the booster round. This holiday season has the potential to be tremendously successful, but only for retailers that overhaul compensation in time to attract, retain and motivate an exhausted pool of workers.

To be successful this season, retailers must do two things. They need to assure workers that compensation improvements won’t end with the holidays, and they need to start compensating staff when customer recommendations translate into sales. The best way to succeed on both counts? Make employee sales incentive programs a permanent part of their compensation structure.

Recommendation-led employee reward programs not only address staffing concerns but also drive serious revenue! Online shoppers driven into physical stores by shipping concerns will be especially receptive to recommendations. The question is, will your floor team be motivated enough to jump on that opportunity? 

Giving your employees the “will” to sell with product recommendations will become essential when this year’s inevitable stock shortages happen. For example, let’s say an REI customer wants to purchase an Obermeyer ski jacket, but the product is out of stock and supply chain delays mean there isn’t a reliable restock date. You can be confident an employee incentivized to sell a quota of winter apparel will persuasively recommend a brand that’s in stock and make the sale. 

There’s still time for retailers to demonstrate to their workers that they’re in it together and that both parties can reap the rewards of a profitable holiday season. Show retail workers how you’re committed to improving their quality of life by investing in an automated employee reward platform this season. Just make sure it’s a solution that empowers you to regularly incentivize valued and revenue-generating workers using a variety of approaches.

Retailers that work with a connected employee reward system will find it much easier to inspire holiday sales competitions with in-store leaderboards and head-to-head races with other stores and employers. Doing so will make for a more profitable holiday season and go a long way toward building a healthier, more sustainable retail work culture that will endure long after the last holiday shopper exits the building.


Andrew Duffy is the CEO and Co-founder of SparkPlug. He has experience in finance and retail technology and leading teams of entrepreneurial developers in artificial intelligence and big data projects. Before founding SparkPlug, Duffy worked at Bridgewater Associates, where he studied emerging markets and implemented investment theses based on research into human behavior. Duffy has been instrumental in ensuring SparkPlug effectively motivates retail and restaurant employees while also delivering actionable post-campaign data insights.

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