Workforce Management Summit: Task Management and Customer-Facing Time Among In-Store Best Practices

To drive optimal customer engagement in-store, retailers must implement strategies and tactics that will increase efficiency and overall store organization. As a result, store associates can focus on providing customers with quality service and a memorable shopping experience. During the 2011 Retail Workforce Management Leadership Summit in Jersey City, New Jersey, retail executives, strategists and workforce management experts gathered to gain insight on best practices from retailers that have excelled in workforce management and maximized income. The conference also highlighted leadership case studies, retail workforce management benchmarks and cross-channel tactics that are designed to amp up customer engagement and sales efficiency.

Movado Company Store, Charming Shoppes and Black’s Photo were among the retailers presenting insights on how to schedule store personnel based on peak times. Key themes included task management, training techniques and implementing new technology to enhance team communication.

Movado Implements “STAR” For Increased Customer Interaction
During the event session titled Vision and Value of WFM: Insight And Perspectives From The President Of Movado Company Store, Movado’s President, David Phalen, and Director of Global Information Technology, Rich Higgins, revealed how Movado improved in-store efficiencies to boost customer engagement and purchase rates.


After analyzing store traffic and average conversion rate of prospective customers converted into buyers, Movado sought a more cost-efficient scheduling method. In turn, Movado deployed a new workforce management automation solution designed to maximize overall labor spend.

“We started putting traffic counters in stores so we could take that metric and incorporate it into the schedule,” said Higgins. “We weren’t necessarily trying to reduce headcount. We were trying to maximize headcount.”

To maximize labor with minimal expenses, the watch designer and manufacturer implemented its “STAR” strategy, or “Shopper To Associate Ratio.” This new metric allows store managers to determine high-traffic times and decide the best times to assign store personnel. In addition to creating more efficient workforce management processes, this new system also optimizes one-to-one face time between associates and shoppers.

While improving workforce management for its 33 brick-and-mortar locations across the U.S., Movado also was able to streamline task management, providing real-time information accessible to managers and staff. However, for a successful implementation of workforce management, the entire store team must be willing to adapt, according to Phalen. “Everybody has to believe in it,” he noted. “My team and field have to feel as if it’s a tool that will help them do their job better. If I can combine those two, that’s the key to success.”

Charming Shoppes Improves Task Management Efficiencies
In the session titled Driving Operational Excellence Through Superior Execution, executives from Charming Shoppes and Black’s Photo provided their first-hand accounts on how to improve workforce management in a communication and technology focused market. Moderated by Andrew Gaffney, Founder and President of Retail TouchPoints, the panel highlighted the importance of tracking in-store tasks and implementing new technology to increase team communication. Panelists included Krista Elwell, Director of Store Operations and Initiatives for Charming Shoppes, and Pete Scully, SVP of Sales and Operations for Black’s Photo.

Elwell discussed the importance of measuring store operations and assessing strategies among retail stores. With past field experience as Senior Manager of Store Operations for Anne Taylor, Elwell joined Charming Shoppes to balance workflow and tasks for the company’s multiple brands — Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherines.

Elwell joined Charming Shoppes at a time when it had fallen behind from an operational and technological standpoint. “The technology equipment was very old, and the processes in the store were also very old,” Elwell said. “I think one of the most impressive and most challenging things about Charming Shoppes is that there is a tremendous amount of tenure in the field. There’s always that fun of something else is coming, or it worked better this way…We’re at a point right now where we’re almost two years into the work. They need to start evolving because they’re really behind and we’re not changing, if anything we’ll be moving faster.”

The retail chain also was suffering from a discrepancy among stores in terms of customer engagement strategies. Without guidelines regarding suitable customer-facing time, Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherines stores struggled to prioritize shopper interaction and back-end tasks. To help solve this problem, Elwell deployed task management calendars for Charming Shoppes brands equipped with plans for customer-facing time. That way, workers could prioritize tasks and management could track in-store progress.

“When I came on board, nobody ever heard the term ‘customer-facing time,’” Elwell said. “Now, it has become part of our language.”

Charming Shoppes has rolled out these new systems to every location. “Everyone’s working with standard operating procedures, everyone’s working with units-per-hour, everyone’s working with the same scheduling guidelines,” Elwell said. “It’s almost a baby step to what an automation solution would be for us.”

Implementing New Technology Improves Communication
During Scully’s part of the panel discussion, he presented challenges Black’s experienced when executing new team policies and adjusting to technological trends. Black’s Photo Corporation is an imaging company that retouches photos and sells cameras and wireless products. The company currently operates 114 Stores and employs close to 1,400 store associates.

Following the acquisition of Black’s by Canadian wireless company Telus Corporation, company executives were charged with examining and responding to different trends. “Wireless has become an important part of capturing people’s moments and memories,” Scully said. “In the old days it was nice…You would take photos over the weekend and you had no choice but to go into a Black’s store to print and see them.” As consumers transitioned to digital cameras and smartphones, Black’s had to think innovatively to bring shoppers back into the store.

The retailer focused on recreating its vision and mission statement, building a new “co-creation concept” for customer interaction, and implementing a cloud-based solution for its new imaging web site. The “co-creation concept” directed employees to upsell customers who ordered several prints-offs, by suggesting that they use those printouts for larger projects such as canvas prints and calendars. Additionally, as part of the new program, Black’s Photo offered customers access to free, one-hour, one-on-one camera lessons when they purchased a camera from Black’s Photo.

While on paper the new program showed a lot of potential, Black’s faced the challenge of effective implementation. “All of [our initiatives] sound like a lot of work and very ambitious, and at this point, sounds like a lot of the right stuff,” Scully said. “The problem is it’s a massive challenge for the field to deal with all of it. We’re trying to create this great customer experience but we don’t realize that what we’ve done has become challenging for our associates.”

Scully also stressed the need for retailers to provide the means for store associates to adapt to rapid changes in technology. To keep up with the changing pace of the in-store environment, photo associates currently are interacting with each other via email through weekly bulletins, video content and simplified training. Store associates also can access training videos, announcements and price alerts on their smartphone or at-home computer before work, so information is fresh in their minds. In turn, staff will become more aware of quick-moving changes within the store and more eager to communicate with shoppers.

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