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Why retailers should invest in employee experience right now

Why retailers should invest in employee experience right now

With almost a third of employees planning to quit the sector, are retailers underestimating the importance of employee experience?

Almost a third (31%) of people working for the UK’s biggest retailers are planning to quit the sector, according to a survey of employee attitudes by The Retail Trust earlier this year, citing concerns around their finances, customer abuse and poor mental health.

Some retail employees are clearly not happy - and if they aren’t happy, how can retailers expect their customers to be?

In their quest to deliver the ultimate in-store customer experience, some retailers have forgotten the vital role that the employee experience plays in delivering an amazing customer experience. This is leaving retailers with yet another problem to deal with, but one that is maybe of their own making.

What’s gone wrong?

One of the biggest challenges is that a job in a retail store has always been viewed as a stopgap for many entering the industry, rather than a positive career choice.

Why is this? It’s because some retailers don’t value their frontline employees enough in the first place - highlighted by the Retail Trust’s survey results. Frontline teams at both managerial and shop floor level often don’t feel adequately supported either financially, or emotionally. Indeed, 84% of managers indicated that they would value more training to help support their team’s wellbeing.

In addition, 33% of UK frontline store teams haven’t been trained properly to do their jobs, similar research shows. All of this contributes to the devaluation of a career in retail.

Retailers can also fixate on traditional management career paths for selected team members, failing to envision and create clear career paths that suit individual aspirations and their in-store roles - heightening the sense of a ‘stop-gap role’ as opposed to retail as a career choice.

Compounding this further is a disconnect between stores and head office - reflected by 40% of managers in the Retail Trust’s survey saying they are not well supported by head office.

If managers are feeling unsupported, it may contribute to store teams feeling undervalued - exacerbating the ‘them and us’ attitude, despite retailers’ claims of being companies that listen and encourage open communication.

The reality is that retail employees are clearly reassessing their options and retailers aren’t doing enough to combat the threat of losing them. It's not just about losing people and their experience, but also the relationships formed between team members and customers - all of which impacts upon a retailers’ ability to deliver the perfect customer experience.

This reality is already proven in other service industries, such as hospitality and aviation, both of which are seeing the negative impact on their reputations of losing experienced people as ‘disposable assets’ post pandemic.

Fostering true brand ambassadors through culture change

The perception of not being able to build a meaningful and rewarding career in retail needs to change, and that change relies on a culture shift within the retail industry. Yes, this does require a shift in employee thinking, but instilling that mindset is firmly within the hands of the retailer and if they get it right - the entire industry will benefit.

Delivering an authentic customer experience will only work if customers can see that employees are at one with the brand they work for. Employees are retailers’ biggest brand ambassadors, and as such they should not only buy into the retailer’s brand and values, but help to shape them too.

That requires retailers to foster a culture in which front line teams thrive and - along with customers - are at the heart of the business.

Retail frontline teams should be proud of where they work and what they sell - they should celebrate their in-store roles, not apologise for them. Yet all too often that’s not the case.

When retailers manage the employee experience well, they can become their biggest source of differentiation from the competition. Store staff want to feel valued, have their voices heard and, rightly so, feel they are a crucial part of the business, equally as much as the teams at head office.

The success of such strategies can be seen in retailers that value the employee experience and create the right culture for their staff, such as John Lewis, Waitrose, and The Body Shop who treat (by action and name) store staff as valued ‘colleagues’, ‘associates’, and ‘partners’ - not expendable assets.

 The value of listening to staff and empowering them with the right tools for the job

Retailers need to ensure they are talking and listening to staff, not only between stores and head office, but between other stores too.

This allows the whole business to share best practice, and for staff to feel that their contribution is valued. Retailers shouldn’t underestimate the value of asking staff at the ‘coal-face’ for relevant, actionable insight and feedback into how their business is run - an untapped goldmine of information to inform customer experience strategies.

Staff need and deserve the right tools to enable them to do their jobs to the best of their capabilities. On the shopfloor, technologies such as mobile POS, can help employees offer customers an improved experience, enabling them to answer stock and product queries, as well as taking payment - however, retailers need to listen to staff and this is where culture plays its role.

Seeking feedback from frontline store teams about the in-store systems and tools they use is also invaluable in ensuring that any new technologies being rolled out from head office actually solve the challenges they have. If retailers can get these frontline teams onboard, then those staff become champions for the technology - helping to build its success, particularly on rollouts across multiple stores.

Another advantage of upskilling staff with the latest technology is that it develops their skills, whilst freeing them up to focus on other areas of the in-store experience. As their role becomes more interesting, so will job satisfaction benefit retention.

The result? People who love their job are much more likely to be able to deliver the customer experience you want them to!

Why the time to invest is now

The retail industry saw huge change during the pandemic. Whilst during lockdown retail went even more digital, as restrictions eased in-store staff had to return to work in a different retail paradigm – one that involved serving nervous customers in an environment in which they too felt at risk.

The warnings are clear from other industries, which are seeing the impact of losing talent during the pandemic, proving the urgency of why retailers should act now.

Retail risks facing the same fate.

People need to be nurtured to ensure that they thrive in their roles, and that requires investment by retailers in training, tools, and technology to stop them from walking out the door, and perhaps more importantly, walking away from the retail industry.

Ensuring frontline teams feel valued and well-equipped for their job will not only help them to perform better but will also help inspire the passion needed to deliver the customer experience that stands out from the competition.

It remains to be seen which retailers will realise that the retail workforce is as central to success as customers are and invest to unlock the value therein.

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