Nicola Band

The future of work is changing: what does it mean for retail frontline employees?

The rate of change in retail 

It was during the 2019 Champions League, and I was desperately trying to finish early so that I could watch my team play that evening. No such luck, I had to go into London for a client meeting. I did however end up watching the game with some new friends on the train home. It struck me then how much our lives have changed over the last 5 years. Never did I imagine I would be able to join in the on-train festivities watching Liverpool play on my mobile. 

Thinking about it further I realised that everything has changed:  

My home – I have a friend called Alexa now pretty much running my house. And she can even buy stuff when I ask her. 
My body – My Apple watch monitors just about all aspects of my health and keeps telling me I do not do enough exercise. 
My education – I can now do a degree on Google in 6 months! 
My shopping habits – If I can’t get it online and delivered tomorrow, do I really need it? 
My transport – Do I really need to buy a car or is it just cheaper to use Uber or car sharing? 

My whole behaviour has changed as a consumer, as it has for most of us. To keep pace retailers have had to implement a range of new strategies and technologies, such as personalisation, a 360-degree view of the customer and customer analytics, to focus on creating an enjoyable customer experience. And while many have taken on this challenge quite successfully, just as many quickly became disrupted and were not as successful. Just look at the high-street! 

Move forward to this year, and with the global Covid-19 pandemic the world is experiencing this change at an even faster pace than before. In the words of Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in four months.” The question is, who can adapt to the new normal to thrive and not just survive? Who understands that the future of retail is not just in adjusting customer experiences, but also addressing the employee experience as a means of gaining competitive advantage? 

Retailers today are reacting to changes in consumer behaviours driven by social distancing protocols and mandated or needed store closures. They are dealing with an unknown timeline and a growing reliance on digital platforms, while attempting to ramp up their digital capabilities across all areas including employees, ecosystem, merchandising and product, supply chain and stores.  

Is there a new normal? 

Granted, retail organisations have experienced major disruptions in the past, such as 9/11, the financial crash, but consumer shopping patterns have never shifted across channels so quickly as it has now. Growth in digital commerce is poised to continue, as the social distancing measures prompt more retailers to close stores and consumers to limit their movements. With the drive towards reduced social interactions, customers have shown a growing interest in Buy Online, Pick-Up in Store (BOPIS) across all retail verticals.  

So far, the stay-at-home mindset has greatly benefited retailers selling essential goods such as groceries and household items. Online grocery shopping has been growing at an unprecedented speed. Sales receipts through online platforms, such as Amazon Fresh quadrupled in March compared to the same period a year earlier. 

This is an inflection point that will lead to increased online grocery shopping penetration, even after this crisis is over.  Retailers are being more aggressive with pricing and promotional levers to get through the crisis. Promotions are on the rise among non-grocery retailers. Free shipping that is typically reserved for loyal customers or has a minimum purchase threshold, is being given away in many cases to entice shoppers to buy online. 

Overall, the crisis is accelerating the need for scalable and resilient capabilities to drive profitability in the new post-crisis retail era across all retail verticals, geographies and new channels. Coupled with that, increased consumer demand has also created an opportunity for non-traditional retailers to play a key role in the future of retail, creating a need to be competitive on all sides.  

As a retailer, just focusing on the customer experience is not enough anymore – the new normal requires a flexible and resilient organisation that is able to reinvest in their operating model to ensure optimised cost of sale structures, simplified operations and differentiated employee experiences (across all your employee journeys) that creates parity with your customer experiences.  

• Retailers like Walmart, Amazon, CVS and others announced hiring nearly 500,000 workers collectively to be able to both maintain store operations and keep up with the surge of online orders. 
• Boutique retailers with no ecommerce are redirecting employees to social media to drive sales by showing inventory over Instagram and taking orders through Instagram Direct Messages. 
• Many retail organisations need to move staff from stores to their virtual contact centres (which are now run from employees homes) as call volume and complexity is dramatically increasing.  

The new normal is about protecting your customers, your people and your business. 

What should retailers focus on? 

The initial focus for all retailers is to leverage digital commerce capabilities to support their near-term goals of driving cash flow and maintaining the safety of their employees. However, permanent accelerated shifts in consumer demand, across all retail verticals and geographies, will occur as a result of this crisis.  

Both traditional and non-traditional retailers need to develop deliberate plans to quickly improve digital commerce capabilities in all critical functional areas, to drive growth and profitability in their businesses. Especially with high volume trade scenario’s looming over the upcoming festive period.

Four digital workplace focus areas that leaders must address

01. Reset the culture and adoptive behaviour: Provide technology and optimisations for enabling effective remote working, activate communications plans to provide policy guidance, and enable workplace champions. 

• Leadership enablement – Equip and support your leaders to rapidly dial-up trust for their remotely-located workforce based on outcomes created virtually. Create a stronger-than-ever sense of belonging with new forms of informal conversation, and embody a human-centric way of leading and working. 
• Health and wellbeing – Understand that your people are taking care of children, parents, and friends. Help them to stay whole during turbulent times matters. The primary responsibility for all organisations is to protect the health and safety of its employees. 
• Adapt the ways of working – Enable employees to easily discover whatever they need to know, adopt the collaborative tools that keep them connected, and collaborate so others can benefit from the greater brain in a modern way. This includes elements like social collaboration and peer-to-peer learning.
• Employee value proposition and experience – One size does not fit all. Allow employees to create the workspace that works best for them. Keep in mind that for those who thrive on social interaction, remote working can feel very lonely. For those who like to take themselves away from others – it can help them vanish in a way which would be detrimental to the contribution they can make. 
• Responsive environment – Use this opportunity to reimagine the operating model and new traditions or rituals for the future. Share stories and recognise those who are going above and beyond in difficult times. Through specifically designed interventions, organisations can make lasting changes affecting both mindsets and behaviours. 
• Enhance productivity – Avoid the bias that virtual work will be less productive. Allow employees to find their own style of flexibility and empower them to get work done. Establish norms on how employees communicate their on/off time. Switch focus to an outcome rather than hours. 

02. Flexible collaboration: Rapidly deploy and scale collaboration tools across the organisation and build bridges with your employees, customers, partners and suppliers.

• Accelerate device deployments and leverage virtual environments to support increased mobility demand, and facilitate large scale virtual conferences and workshops to keep people and customers connected. 
• Enable reliable, secure and ubiquitous remote network connectivity to employees and seamless integration with customers and partners. Enabling all employees freedom of working – including your contact centre. 

03. Organisational continuity: Scale business continuity plans beyond IT to include mass sick leave, travel restrictions and large scale remote working environments. 

04. Leverage and invest in new technologies: Streamline operations, facilitate a smooth back to work process, and create ongoing resilience.  

Some practical examples: 

As we emerge from the biggest forced period of change in recent history, now is the time to set in place plans and changes that will enable your retail organisation to be resilient. Not only to survive, but to be fit for the future – whatever it brings.  

Let’s continue this conversation, join us on our retail webinar or chat to us about how we can help you today

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