The war for retail talent: Breaking down the search for workers - The Entrepreneurial Way with A.I.


Monday, November 8, 2021

The war for retail talent: Breaking down the search for workers


The battle is real. A mobile device for each employee, hefty referral bonuses, and college tuition reimbursement – retailers are now offering these benefits and more to lure workers with what was once the hallmark of an executive position. After over a year of constant change spurred by the pandemic, retailers now find themselves at war for talent – not just with their competitors or other service businesses, but with companies of all stripes that are seeking out staff in one of the tightest labor markets in recent memory. Today, we'll break down the current battle for staff, and we'll share strategies for recruiting, retention and the role of technology.

Understanding the retail labor gap

Today, more than 90% of retailers are facing talent shortages. In an era where there are conceivably more job openings than people looking to fill them, the stakes are higher, and the field is more competitive than ever for would-be employers. Whether they’re new to the workforce or part of the Great Resignation, jobseekers have new and higher expectations of their employers and can afford to be pickier. Simply put, when job openings abound, it’s a 'buyer's market,' and candidates can afford to name their price – and then some.

While the industry is far from alone in this challenge, there are particulars of retail work and demands that are unique to the sector that can be both pros, cons to the would-be worker, and complicates matters for those looking to hire:

  • The Swiss army associate: Folding sweaters, checking inventory, serving as brand ambassador: the retail store associate has always worn many hats, and omnichannel and new services like BOPIS have added new ones—order packer, digital order captain, delivery courier—to the mix. Multifaceted roles call for a multitude of skills, from communication to an analytical mindset, further complicating the search for staff.
  • Passion required, not just anyone will do: Specialty retailers face an added challenge, as their need for specialist know-how or expertise may limit the tight talent pool. As our customer SCHEELS knows, a knowledgeable worker who can expound the benefits of one kayak or fishing rod over another can be the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity.
  • The surge of seasonal hiring: If an ongoing talent shortage wasn't enough, the holiday season is the peak time for retail hiring, and the clock is ticking. Twenty percent of consumers plan to shop mostly in-store, up from 15% in 2020, and 45% plan in-store and online shopping, up from 35% last year. That leaves another 35% online shopping exclusively. The reality is, with shipping delays and supply shortages, holiday fulfillment must be creative and may demand more staff to execute. Shoppers expect immediate delivery of items, and savvy brands will leverage their store real estate to meet this demand.

Technology can help HR attract the best talent

Human capital management (HCM) can streamline the application process, finding candidates that reflect your brand values and fill open positions faster. Once hired, empowering your workforce with the latest technologies, they gain access to the information they need to make better decisions and be more productive, increasing overall job satisfaction.

Today's workers embrace modern technologies in their personal lives to quickly complete tasks, and they expect the same, intuitive experiences when they are at work. As an example, you can give new store associates a personalized to-do list and an easy-to-follow onboarding process all in one place that they can complete from any device.

It's not just about compensation

In a talent market where hourly wages are soaring and sign-on bonuses abound, non-monetary rewards and compensation may help retailers stand out from the crowd of employers. Many retail workers apply to brands they love with an eye towards employee discounts, and retailers can double down on this incentive – whether by deepening discounts or offering high-performers a one-time expanded percentage off the price tag. Retailers can also create incentives through new responsibilities, like the opportunity to move from back-of-house to customer-facing roles. For luxury brands, commissioned employees might be rewarded with early access to new or in-demand products, which they can merchandise to their book of clients to drive sales and added commission.

Mobility is a retailers' best friend

Today's workers are used to texting, scrolling, and instant gratification in their personal lives, so naturally, they expect the same agility and speed at work. Mobile devices can improve the employee experience by helping them work the way they live, and when properly deployed, can help alleviate workloads. In fact, a new study shows that 85% of people want technology to help define their future by identifying skills they need to develop (36%); recommending ways to learn new skills (36%); and providing next steps to progress towards career goals (32%). By providing the tools that will keep associates happy in their jobs, retailers can also equip them with tools that improve the customer experience, leading to greater revenues for the brand.

Store associates should be trained, educated, and empowered to be brand ambassadors who deliver customers crave exceptional experiences. When they aren’t, customers take notice. In our recent survey, 42% of people said 'unhelpful staff' was high on the list of what causes a bad shopping experience. Technology plays a critical role in the success of a store associate. A mobile POS allows the associate to enable a customer with shopper insight and inventory visibility at their fingertips. Exceptional customer service helps to cultivate lifelong loyalty to a retailer. 

A store with nearly 300 SKUs could take a team of associates 80 minutes to do a cycle count. Adding bar codes to tags brought that down to eight minutes, and adding RFID allowed them to count the entire store in just eight seconds. This automation frees the team up from mundane and repetitive tasks, leaving more time for more fulfilling work like connecting with customers.

In the competitive retail environment we find ourselves in, the tools provided by the retailer can be a competitive advantage or a strategic disadvantage. When all other factors around compensation are equal, the retailer that uses outdated and cumbersome tools might find that their competition next door, providing the latest and greatest mobile associate tools, can attract and retain talent with far greater ease.

Learn how Oracle Retail’s HCM solution connects every human resource process across all stores, from hiring to retiring.


Corey Gale, Khareem Sudlow