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

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