Address the Elephant in the Room: The Retail Labor Shortage
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the retail industry has grappled with a range of challenges, including closures, labor cuts, reopening, restructuring, and growing labor shortages. The pandemic life cycle has been a whirlwind, and the latest stage is an exacerbation of an issue that already affected most industries: staff shortages and employee turnover. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4.5 million people quit their jobs in November 2021; and 686,000 of those jobs were in retail.
There are several factors contributing to these latest rounds of employee departures and employer difficulties in hiring replacements. Reasons for the current retail labor shortage include:
- Workers’ desire for better living wages and increased flexibility in location and scheduling (thanks to having discovered the benefits of working remotely, which can’t really be done in brick-and-mortar retail positions);
- Working parents leaving the labor force because they lack access to childcare or are caring for other family members;
- Continued concerns about health risks, particularly among the unvaccinated and those dealing extensively with the public;
- Large numbers of people retiring or choosing early retirement;
- More people becoming “epiphany quitters” during the pandemic, realizing they don’t want to lose any more time in jobs they don’t really like (and often even switching industries entirely or going into business for themselves);
- Stress and burnout among remaining employees, caused at least in part by employers pushing them harder to make up the work of those who have left.
Regardless of the reasons, you may find yourself wondering how to handle short staffing issues without losing even more people. Rather than trying to operate short-handed until you can find employees to fill open positions, you could eliminate your hiring headaches with retail technology solutions.
Lean on Technology in Retail Stores
The right technology can help you make the most of the staff you have, improving their productivity and job satisfaction without undue stress. The self-service kiosk is an interactive point of sale (POS) terminal that displays information or facilitates an action through automating, streamlining, or eliminating procedures or costs by giving customers the control to handle in-store processes themselves.
Self-service kiosks offer many benefits. They can:
- Speed up checkout lines (and speed of service is a major factor in positive customer experiences);
- Allow for customizable experiences (creating personalized offers or upsell prompts, for example);
- Assist in making employees more efficient in other areas of the store.
Many currently available kiosks are compact in size and have versatile installation options. The smaller footprint for checkout means more floor space available for products.
Encourage Customer Control
The pandemic and accompanying need for social distancing have caused consumer preferences to shift. Many customers now want:
- To take their experience into their own hands;
- To avoid others in public;
- To complete checkout at their own pace.
Technology in retail stores, including kiosks, can fulfill these demands and increase customer (and employee) peace of mind regarding health and safety, leading to improved satisfaction. Companies that provide superior customer experiences are more likely to build revenue 4%–8% faster than industry average.
Not Replacing, Just Repositioning
Some employers may be hesitant about using technology such as kiosks to alleviate the retail worker shortage because they don’t want to take away human jobs. But automating some tasks with self-service kiosks isn’t replacing the staff you do have. Rather, it reallocates the labor to focus more on enhancing the customer experience. You can reposition employees to cover restocking, greeting customers, and providing in-aisle assistance. Additionally, one employee can monitor several self-checkout units, rather than needing a cashier at each POS station.
Having a sales associate out on the floor rather than behind a terminal can ultimately increase their value. With the proper training in sales strategies such as building rapport with customers and skillfully upselling or cross-selling, your employees can increase basket sizes and create the positive interactions that lead to repeat business. In one study, 52% of consumers said they have made additional purchases from a company as a result of a positive customer service experience.
The best way to handle short staffing issues in retail is to allow technology to handle some tasks, such as checkout, in order to maximize the productivity of your existing employees without increasing their workload. Reducing their levels of stress and burnout and raising their job satisfaction can also lead to better retention, further easing your hiring headaches.
Combat the Retail Labor Shortage with Tech
As the pandemic recovery continues, the reasons for the retail worker shortage are likely to persist for a while. But you can overcome these challenges by utilizing what is available to you. Simply implement self-service kiosks and reposition your smaller staff to other areas that can be of more assistance to you, your business, and your patrons.
The retail industry will keep on growing and recovering. Make sure your business can keep up with its shifting demands and customer preferences so you can not just survive, but thrive.