COMMENT: How tech is helping alleviate the Christmas staffing crunch

The pre-Christmas rush is always a hectic period when it comes to staffing, Stormfront's finance director Daniel Evans explains how he is using technology to get around it.

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As we all know, the Christmas rush is creeping up on us. At this crucial time of year, retail brands are  dealing with increased customer demand, onboarding of new staff, longer opening hours and more demand for holiday.

At Stormfront, we operate 23 stores across the UK, employing over 325 staff within a flexible working environment. Many of our staff are part-time workers, and like all retailers, we rely heavily on seasonal workers over the festive period to ensure we continue to provide customers with a high quality service.

Labour is the biggest cost to most businesses; so we’ve been focused on gaining better insight and control of costs to allow flexible forward planning. In order to meet the increased demand, we need to ensure we have the right number of staff allocated in the right stores so we can deliver a top-level service, but within budget.

As the UK’s largest Apple Premium Reseller, we’re huge believers in the ability of technology to solve complex problems. So, naturally, we’ve turned to the latest tech to tackle the big challenges around scheduling, management and the cost of staffing our stores.

The right software at the right time

As a Finance Director, I am responsible for helping the business optimise labour spend. We introduced a new cloud-based solution called Rotaready across all stores. In a nutshell, the solution – which was up and running within a matter of weeks – builds rotas automatically in the most cost-efficient and fair way, but it can do a lot more.

Rotas are aligned to forecasted demand using data such as historical footfall, sales, and even the weather to produce accurate rotas in seconds. It integrates with both HR and payroll, saving time, money, and a lot of headaches. In fact, it has saved the business thousands of pounds.

I can now review store cost performance in real time and in granular detail. For example, I can focus the data by region, store or department.  The pre-Christmas rush is always a hectic period when it comes to staffing, so having full labour cost visibility across the business is invaluable. It gives me the ability to challenge resourcing levels, control costs, as well as a full forward view of resourcing right down to the penny.

If footfall changes unexpectedly, I can respond by adjusting the scheduled hours in store allowing us to match our staff costs to revenue forecasts, preventing under or overstaffing and significantly reducing costs across the board. Should it be needed, we can also offer extra shifts to staff at short notice using the shift broadcast function.

Our staff are seeing the benefits too. Each staff member now has access to a mobile app, which allows them to check out what shifts are coming up way head of time, book holiday and swap shifts. The ability to plan ahead ensures our employees can make the most of their free time to enjoy a good work-life balance.

Anyone who has had to manage holiday accrual by hand will tell you it’s a nightmare. For my managers, this task alone was taking three days each month to complete. Now the whole process is automated, freeing them up to focus on doing what they do best.

At a time where retail businesses need to make sure they are not over spending, the right technology in place makes a big difference.  Automating rotas has allowed me to run the business more efficiently and use our staff in a more effective way, saving the business tens of thousands of pounds so far.

Daniel Evans is finance director at Apple retail specialist Stormfront