With almost three million workers, the retail industry is the UK’s largest private sector employer. But retailers face a number of challenges when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best staff.
Staff turnover rates in retail are among the highest of all industries. There is no hard data for the UK but, in the US, the average retailer has to replace more than 60% of their staff every year.
That is a huge financial strain on an industry already dealing with changing consumer habits, the ongoing shift to online shopping, and the looming impact of Brexit.
Research suggests it can take up to 23 weeks before a new retail employee is putting in their best performance at work. The lost revenues during that period, plus the expense of finding a new employee, hiring and training them, means it can cost more than £20,000 to replace just one employee.
A transient workforce
Still, many in the industry think that high staff turnover is just something that they have to deal with.
Often retailers can only offer work at certain times of the year, or part-time roles. It is a job that attracts students, who tend to live in different places during term-time and holidays. This all contributes to an ever-shifting workforce of people who may view their retail job as a stop-gap rather than a step on the career ladder.
At the same time, bricks and mortar stores are becoming a crucial part of a retail business. While online shopping offers customers convenience, physical stores provide the immersive experience of a brand. That means it is more important than ever that staff have a good understanding of the products they are selling, and feel a strong connection with the brand.
So, how can retailers recruit the best candidates and, more importantly, retain the staff they already have?
Firstly, retailers need to offer work that fits in with people’s lives. Approximately 1.3 million people are working in the gig economy in the UK – 4% of everyone in employment. While some of those would prefer to be in full-time work, it’s clear that many people want more control and flexibility over their working lives. Maybe they have young children, or ageing parents to look after; a side-hustle they want to work on in their spare time; or a triathlon to train for.
Forward-thinking companies have recognised this trend and are doing their best to accommodate it. Travelodge, for one, is experimenting with offering working hours that fit in with the school day, so that parents who want to return to work can find roles that accommodate their caring responsibilities.
A decade ago, hiring people who can only work at certain times would have resulted in a complicated scheduling puzzle. Today, retailers can use a data-driven software to manage their staff’s many different requirements.
Rotageek’s technology balances staff preference, contract hours, and working time limits, with expected demand and budgets in order to create the optimal schedule. Staff can swap or pick-up shifts on the platform (subject to manager approval), with any changes updated immediately on the rota, giving them even more control over their work schedules.
The technology can be used at a store-level and across national chains, meaning retailers can offer students work in their university town during term time, and shifts in their home town during the holidays.
Retailers can also use our software to better understand footfall and predict how many staff they will need at different times, and on different days.
This is not with a view to cutting staff. Only one of our clients has ever said the software made them realise they were over-staffed. Instead, retailers can manage the staff they have better, ensuring they always have the right number of people in-store.
That does, of course, give customers a better experience. Crucially, it also ensures that staff are not left under-occupied and bored, or stressed and overworked. As a result, they have time to do what they do best: engage with customers; share their knowledge about products; and get them excited about the brand.
Staff are happiest at work when they feel like they can do their job to the best of their ability. That kind of job satisfaction encourages employees to stick with a company, even in the retail sector.
If retailers can provide genuine opportunities for career progression on top of that, they will have a pipeline of talent for management roles. They can then promote from within to build up a workforce of people that are loyal to the business and have a deep understanding of its operations.
Scheduling is not the only thing retailers need to get right to recruit and retain the best staff, but it’s a good first step.