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Comment: Manage the Moment

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Staying competitive in retail has never been more difficult, or more important. Progressive retailers are striving to find areas within their businesses where they can drive increased sales and reduce costs. Ensuring they have the optimal staffing levels to maximise sales is a key part of this strategy. However, whilst the use of workforce management (WFM) technology to achieve this is well-established, factors such as increased globalisation, real-time systems integration and new mobile platforms are changing the face WFM requirements for major retailers.

One size doesn’t fit all

Although retailers in the US are the traditional early adopters of workforce management technology, the requirement for global solutions is mainly being driven by EMEA-based retailers. Whilst only 26% of US-based retailers operate in five or more countries, in the EMEA region, this rises to 65%, with 43% being truly global in nature, operating in more than 10 countries, with one French retailer having stores in 91 countries.

With this internationalisation, comes the challenge of tailoring a WFM system, not only to different languages, currencies and time zones, but also to the different laws and labour agreements which pertain to the employment and management of staff in each country. To put all of this into a single, enterprise-wide global WFM solution is no mean feat.

However, whilst the challenges are significant, so are the benefits. The most obvious is the simple issue of cost of technology ownership; having one global system instead of multiple local systems delivers an immediate saving. Beyond that, the ability to have visibility and to be able to report globally on what is your highest controllable cost, i.e. labour, is going to provide additional value by removing process and opening up information that was traditionally stored in local systems. This, in turn, drives a consistent operating model across geographies, allowing a retailer to standardise and provide a consistent brand experience in all their stores, wherever they may be. This also allows the sharing of best practice and the ability to learn from individual regions and apply on a more global basis, all the time being sensitive to local custom, practice and laws.

Need for speed

Another major trend in retail workforce management is the need to speed up the workforce management business process.

The traditional process typically starts with the budgeting phase in which budgets are set annually for the entire year. We then move into the forecasting process which takes the latest trading information and tries to extrapolate what trade volumes are going to be. This is typically done from 1-2 weeks up to a few months out and includes converting the forecasted level of trade into the workload required for each store, incorporating what skills are required.

That becomes the major input into the scheduling process where we take our demand, our people, their availability and their contracts and come up with best schedule to meet that demand. We then supplement that with task management information which is typically non-business as usual activities such promotions, layout changes, product recalls and so on. Once we have that, we record attendance and worked hours against the schedule and prepare payroll information, all the time managing performance. This is all done quite a few weeks, or potentially months, in advance to give employees notice of when they need to work.

But things change – trade goes up, trade goes down and things like the weather can have a huge impact on the sales mix. The people you have planned might go absent through illness, training or holidays. New people will start and others will leave.

As we get closer to the day of operation, more information becomes available to us. We might know exactly what volumes we’re going to get in terms of deliveries and what days those products are going to come into the store. And if we’re fulfilling an on-line or dot com order from store, we start to understand what those orders and the associated work content is going to be. So, what was once optimal quickly becomes out of date as things change.

This means having a system and, more importantly, a business process that can cope and react to this change. That’s likely to involve the ability to re-forecast your trade daily, taking into account the latest information as it becomes available. This then allows you to re-calculate labour demand and the skills needed within your store on a daily or more frequent basis and the ability to react to that by recreating schedules.

This doesn’t mean coming up with a completely new schedule at the last minute that your employees are not expecting, but it does mean making the best use of the available resources to re-allocate tasks, stagger and schedule breaks at most appropriate times, creating new unfilled shifts which managers can try to fill and show areas which may be a potential issue, e.g. coverage gaps or where the store may be over-scheduled.

In the past, schedules were weekly – the trend is now to more dynamic workforce allocation through daily, intra-day or even real-time scheduling, with today’s WFM systems allowing retailers to take actual information regarding attendance, footfall, queue lengths, deliveries and react intelligently, in the moment, to provide a better service at a lower cost.

Right here, right now

There is a huge amount of buzz around mobile technology, and the field of WFM is no exception. What is driving this is simply the fact that the technology exists and is widely deployed and available to all types of users.

This gives rise to demand from end-users for new types of information to support real-time decision making and is driving new more responsive business processes. Mobile is not about making old applications mobile; it is about leverage this technology to drive new opportunities.

In terms of WFM for retailers, we see there being a number of key user groups, the first of which is retail assistants who are typically young, tech-savvy and have their own, powerful mobile devices. This gives us the opportunity to empower employees through ‘self-service’ capabilities which give them access to their schedules, allow them to request holidays, etc., and allow them to engage more with their company.

It also has some interesting benefits for the retailers themselves because it allows them to maintain a lower traditional contract base in stores and flex up and down far more dynamically, by posting shifts on-line for people to pick up on their mobile devices.

Mobile also provides store managers with visibility into the schedule, how the day is structured, what needs to be done, by whom and when and the ability to react to situations without having to leave shop floor. For example, if someone calls in sick, they can take that call on their smart phone but also begin to resolve the staffing issue by understanding who else is available to work and calling them in. It also allows them to see tasks that have been sent down to them by Head Office, create and delegate tasks and see and address performance issues in real-time.

Mobile also puts information into the hands of a retailer’s regional and district managers allowing them to better manage costs and service levels, understand how tasks and work are being completed and to get a deeper, real-time understanding of any performance issues in their stores.

A winning formula

Today’s retail leaders are deploying web-based workforce management solutions to achieve consistent global operating standards and the ability optimise their workforce and deliver information into the hands of those who need it in real-time. In so doing, these industry leaders consistently out-perform their competition with faster growth rates, greater customer satisfaction and higher profitability.

Published on Friday 23 November by Editorial Assistant

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