Why it’s time to rethink retail scheduling

by Rotageek on 18 March 2022

The pandemic has left an indelible mark on the retail sector. Restrictions caused by lockdowns reduced the number of shoppers in stores and shifted consumer behaviour towards online alternatives.

Highlighting these changes, the ONS reported that online sales reached record levels in 2020, accounting for 33.9% of all retail spending. At the same time, the overall volume of retail sales dropped by 1.9% – the largest annual fall since records began.

The pandemic has also changed our attitudes to work, thanks in large part to the working from home (WFH) options adopted in most sectors. Although WFH isn’t an option for retail workers, it has sparked a desire for greater control and freedom over our working lives more generally.

This is placing a unique set of pressures on the retail industry that are forcing the sector to rethink rostering. These can be categorised into four trends and include:


Lockdown uncertainty has made footfall harder to predict – and any customer forecasting, based on previous years’ performance, redundant in the process. The subsequent favouring of online shopping alternatives for many consumers has meant this data may never be as reliable as it was pre-pandemic.

This volatility also migrated from customers to staff. The so-called “pingdemic” brought with it new staffing challenges, with more and more workers required to stay at home. When retail managers needed to manage high levels of absences at short notice, it exposed the inflexibility of traditional scheduling solutions.

Legislative changes

Such is the positive response to the flexibility offered by WFH that the government commissioned a report into its benefits towards the end of 2021.

As a result, businesses in all sectors will be required to extend workers’ rights which includes finding ways to make it easier to request flexible working arrangements. Although these legislative changes are still in their infancy, it’s thought that flexible working – and not the traditional nine to five – will become the default position in the future.

Employee expectations

Despite the prominence of technology in our personal lives, many retail workers are still being asked to request changes to working arrangements using paper-based systems. These are frustratingly slow and a nightmare for managers to administrate.

If retailers want to enable more flexible rostering solutions, paper-based systems are simply no longer fit for purpose. Employees now expect to be able to swap or pick up extra shifts, request leave and review their hours from their phone.

Unnecessary future investment

With inflation at record levels, retailers will also need to contend with increased labour costs. But as businesses look to find efficiencies and enable flexibility, they must be careful not to contravene their legal and contractual obligations to their workforce – and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past which have left employees underpaid.

These four pressures are requiring retailers to build a level of workforce flexibility that is only realistic with the support of sophisticated technology. These solutions are needed to provide greater visibility to managers, more self-service to employees and extra computing intelligence (powered by AI) so workforce schedules can be amended at speed to match customer demand.

At a time when the retail sector faces unique levels of volatility, it is this technology that will restore stability.

If you’d like to know more about how the challenges facing the retail sector can be resolved, download our whitepaper, Squaring the Circle: How scheduling technology is creating flexible retail workforces that deliver for everyone in full here.

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