Some grocery retailers faced recent criticism that they had unfairly benefited from rates relief, compared with non-essential retail stores that were forced to close during lockdown. While critics pointed out that grocers were able to stay open and make money, this narrative masks the fact that grocers and other essential retailers have racked up huge additional costs to cope with chaotic demand patterns, as well as rapidly evolving consumer behaviours and channel preferences created by the pandemic.
In reality, the changes have been non-stop for grocers and essential retailers alike — from recruiting temporary staff while full-time staff were furloughed or off work, to ramping up and securing core supply chains, to adapting home delivery networks to handle a 10-50x rise in orders. Many had to source hard-to-find items as well as make costly changes to store layouts, introducing hygiene and safeguarding capabilities, like installing screens at the checkout, and managing the flow of socially distanced staff and customers.
Frontline staff are in the eye of the storm
Whatever the challenge to systems and processes in making these changes, the real burden has fallen on staff, all of whom have been affected both at home and at work. And all these pressures are now walking straight into the next challenge: Christmas staffing as the industry tries to ready itself for an unprecedented peak trading period.
And it’s not just about managing staff roles in store. With ecommerce booming and shoppers saying they plan to do more Christmas shopping online in light of Lockdown 2, many retailers are looking at redeploying traditional seasonal staff from the store to support online functions – in the warehouse, distribution centres or fulfilment and logistics roles.
But whether or not they are reallocating support for different teams, retailers need to bring in additional staff safely at a time when different countries, counties and cities in the UK are responding in unique ways to the second wave. And all this in the context of higher than usual absenteeism, as staff become unwell, or have to self-isolate after displaying symptoms or being contacted by Track & Trace.
This means retailers have to strike a delicate balance between having the flexibility and resource pool to bring in additional team members to maintain productivity and customer experience, and closely monitoring the cost of that investment.
Getting this wrong in a ruthlessly competitive market where price wars are an almost -permanent feature is costly in terms of profit and market share. During Peak, there is simply no room for error; retailers have to bring their A game.
Making sure your frontline is ready for anything
Getting maximum value out of Peak means retailers need to be able to cross-skill the workforce to plug the many gaps they will experience across the business, requiring them to move staff from the store, to the warehouse and distribution centre, and into customer services roles as needed. Re-boarding becomes pivotal in getting staff up to speed with new roles quickly, while on-boarding of temp staff also allows workers to add value to the business and the customer faster and more effectively.
Here’s some advice that we’ve put together, taken from our report ‘Building a resilient workforce for the retail revival’.
- Consistency is key – Make sure that all frontline staff are given the full story and the same story all the time, no matter how fast things change. So that means communicating directly with them in real-time, on their work or (even better) their personal devices, not via managers or bulletin boards where messages can get missed or lost in translation.
- The tools to succeed – Help them to stay safe by giving them the right tools to re-board and on-board quickly for new roles and environments, allowing them to contribute to team performance more quickly, so your reserve team becomes your best players
- Deliver it bite-sized and often – Dumping too much information on frontline employees at once means the learning simply won’t stick. Instead, you can make sure they always remember what they need to do by frequently reinforcing small bites of key information every shift.
- Cross-train to accommodate inevitable role shifts – They will be taking on new roles and broadening their current ones so you should introduce cross-training to help them build the right skills to shift fluidly to meet the needs of your business and your customers
With lockdowns hitting retailers hard, they will want to be certain that they are equipping and motivating staff to handle any eventuality, as well as giving them the flexibility to pivot to as yet unseen opportunities. When it comes to creating an A team to win this Peak season, this year more than ever, that ‘a’ stands for ‘agility’.