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How Retailers Can Use Technology to Compensate for Labor Shortages

It’s a common occurrence in today’s retail landscape: merchants must continually confront labor shortages or unexpected employee illness. For smaller retailers, closing their doors for even a few minutes can profoundly affect revenue and challenge the loyalty of customers who are forced to shop elsewhere.

Technology can be the key to overcoming workforce challenges. Retail-ready solutions are instrumental in training new associates faster and encouraging upskilling of existing associates. These same solutions are essential in engaging and retaining younger employees — “digital natives” — as they make up an increasingly large percentage of the workforce.

Preparing for Any Reality

The retail sector has been hit hard by the “Great Reshuffling,” with many employees leaving jobs for higher wages, more flexibility and other perks. Reducing turnover retains institutional knowledge and improves the overall strength of the team. It can also yield significant savings for merchants even though it requires upfront investments in technology and staffing.

According to a recent study by career platform Zippia, the average cost to hire a new employee in the US is $4,425 and filling a position can take up to 36 days to 42 days. What’s more, it takes an average of 12 weeks for a new employee to become productive on the job. Enterprise software applications running on mobile devices and powered by the intuitive and familiar Android™ operating system are vital in speeding up new associate training and making managers and other staff members more accessible.

The devices can be loaded with video-on-demand software apps and other self-directed learning tools that support more effective on-the-job training. Instead of spending days shadowing colleagues, new hires can spend one day learning the ropes and then become self-sufficient the next. If an associate forgets how to process payments, they can use their mobile device to access a step-by-step guide rather than consulting with a co-worker.

Empowering Employees

Opening late, closing early or staying closed for an entire day may be the only choice when running a business with a small team that suddenly becomes unavailable to work that day due to illness, transportation issues or other uncontrollable factors. That’s why smaller retailers must consider ways to manage and augment their workforce using technology.

The simple guidance provided via retail-ready mobility solutions enables easy upskilling and cross-training for current employees. With more training and powerful tools at their fingertips, employees can easily flex between different roles, from working stock in the backroom to delivering exceptional customer service on the floor. This helps fill scheduling vacancies and creates opportunities for associates to gain valuable experience. Additionally, workforce management software can give associates visibility into call-outs if they want to pick up extra shifts and help keep the doors open. It can also allow them to submit time-off requests and secure instant coverage, even last minute, without having to involve a manager. This helps reduce the risk of unexpected store closures due to staffing shortages.

Meeting the Digital Demands of Workers

Developing a strong workforce for the future requires recruiting, empowering and retaining millennial and Gen Z associates, the latter of which will comprise at least one-third of the American workforce by 2030.

Gen Z is the first generation of truly digital natives. As they enter the workforce, they bring new expectations around technology, which puts even more pressure on small businesses to invest in solutions that support a more connected and productive workplace.

According to a study, 68 percent of Gen Z employees state access to a mentor is an essential factor in choosing a role. Fortunately, with more devices in hand and streamlined communications, small business leaders can more effectively manage and mentor their younger workers so they feel fully engaged and set up for success, which is key to securing employee loyalty.

Amanda Honig is currently a regional portfolio manager for Zebra in North America. She leads the strategy and road map for enterprise mobile computing by identifying investment priorities and ensuring product and solution requirements by use case, all while representing the voice of the customer across the region and providing strategic sales support.

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