All is not equal when it comes to workforce management for retail

shopping bagsIn more than 25 years in the workforce management business and having worked with many retailers over the years, I have to say all is not equal when it comes to retail workforce management solutions. I have seen many projects fail over that time and they usually fail for one of two reasons; poor change management or poor choice of technology.

Today I will focus on selecting the right technology and cover change management another day.

Unfortunately, with the tools available today the “barrier to entry” to create an attractive-looking application is pretty low, and means “buyer beware!” Any retailer selecting and deploying an effective workforce management solution must do their due diligence well. It is far too common to be drawn in by the claim that all you need is something simple. “Something simple” often translates to “beauty only being skin deep”

“If it looks too good to be true it probably is” should be the byword when selecting workforce management technology. Whilst of course any such technology should be intuitive and easy to use at the sharp end, i.e. in the stores. It must have the depth and substance behind it to allow for the sophisticated forecasting, labour standards and scheduling algorithms required to be successful in our new Omni-channel world. For instance if all the solution does is forecast and schedule to a simple standard such as labour cost as a percentage of sale, then guess what, that’s exactly what it will do, and continue to do, even as underlying sales fall.

Today’s rapidly changing retail world requires sophisticated forecasting engines capable of accurately forecasting multiple drivers for labour; footfall by store area, sales by article group, queue length, deliveries and more. The application should then be capable of using those drivers and associated granular labour standards and the variety of store operating models to create the ideal staffing plan. Taking that ideal plan through to delivering practical schedules accommodating employee flexibility, availability, preferences, skills, hours worked, legislation, collective bargaining agreements and a host of other attributes is key to quality operational delivery.

The solution must then ensure managers and associates execute against that ideal schedule, guiding store managers so they can deal efficiently with the realities of life, such as sickness, lateness and unexpected events like emergency road works right there on the shop floor in real-time. After all what is the point of the best schedule in the world unless it plays through to reality?

Finally, the solution needs to aggregate all that data, analyse it and suggest areas for improvement, identifying best practice whilst comparing channels against best in class operations.

Workforce management done well has one of the fastest returns on investment of any technology deployment. It creates genuine competitive advantage for retailers; increasing basket size, improving conversion, customer service, product availability, employee engagement, sales and revenue.

All is most definitely not equal when it comes to workforce management, remember “beauty is often only skin deep”.

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