There were a host of difficulties plaguing retailers this past holiday season, including inventory shortages, production issues and shipping constraints, to name a few. The most notable shortage, however, was on the labor front.
As of July 2021, the number of retail job openings peaked at 1.2 million, compared to 876,000 during the same period in 2020. Hiring rates dipped by 250,000 in July as well, highlighting just how much assistance is needed. Deloitte forecast that retail sales would rise by 9 percent this holiday season, so the consequences were dire for retailers to keep up with demand.
What strategies are retailers betting on to kick hiring into high gear? Large companies like Walmart, Kohl’s, and Amazon.com, among others, are increasing wages and leveraging bonuses and tuition assistance to attract workers to join its ranks. But it remains to be seen if these tactics are enough to entice needed talent. There are still lingering concerns as retail workers are expected to return to stores, specifically around vaccination status and COVID exposure, as well as family obligations and other effects from the pandemic.
Why Tech is the Answer
As we’ve seen in the nearly two years since the pandemic began, many employees can perform their jobs from home and/or with the aid of technology. Retailers stuck in traditional in-store (and e-commerce) models need to realize they can’t dwell in the past. The role of the store and its associate has changed, and more advancements are required to meet the demands of consumers and employees.
Omnichannel retail is now front and center, with consumers (perhaps hesitantly) going back to brick-and-mortar shopping combined with increased online purchases. Even with shoppers now face-to-face, associates aren't necessarily needed on the floor to make a sale. Innovative technologies are making employees’ roles and the shopping experience safer, more efficient and even more customer friendly.
Video is playing an increasingly important role in the retail experience and is key to helping associates perform their job at the same level they would in a typical storefront interaction. Livestreaming and one-to-one video chat picked up incredible momentum during 2020 and 2021, and platforms offering these services are a central tool for maintaining employment across a brand’s footprint.
How? Take, for example, a large jewelry retailer in the U.S. that, upon entering lockdown periods, equipped its associates with a SaaS platform enabling them to schedule appointments and video chat with their online shoppers from the comfort of home — and later, back at the storefront. Workers can communicate directly with the customer through the platform, offering advice and showcasing products in real time (perfect for shoppers looking to make an important jewelry purchase, like an engagement ring). As the world has gradually started to open up, the brand realized the value in its investment. It continues to allow its employees to work remotely using live video and has equipped some of its U.S. showrooms with designated areas where associates on the floor can take online video calls. This technology also allows the retailer to offer more purchase options, such as curbside delivery and buy online, pick up in-store.
Getting (Back) to Work
As retailers work to tackle staff shortages and other hurdles this holiday season, it’s essential they take a step back to assess what employees are looking for and, in turn, what they plan to offer them. While better wages, bonuses and tuition assistance certainly are appealing, the top priority among today’s workforce is flexibility. According to a study published by the Harvard Business Review, 88 percent of workers responded they wanted flexibility in their hours and location. In the retail sector, this means providing them with the tools and equipment needed to perform their job from anywhere.
As evidenced by the example mentioned above, retail associates can successfully engage with customers remotely. Tools like live video give workers the flexibility they're looking for and help keep them and customers safe while still providing personalized service. If brands want to thrive in 2022 and beyond, it’s time for them to take a step into the future.
Andre Hordagoda is the co-founder and co-CEO of Go Instore, a solution technology connecting digital customers with in-store product experts using an AI-augmented reality, live video platform.
Andre Hordagoda is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Go Instore, a solution technology connecting digital customers with in-store product experts using an AI-augmented reality, live video platform. Over two decades, he has gained years of experience within e-commerce and has had a major focus on helping retailers improve conversion rates, AOVs as well as optimizing customer experience using a myriad of technologies ranging from digital personalization, AI, CRM, web analytics and now live, immersive video.
Before launching Go Instore, Andre worked with large organizations, including Experian and Smart Focus (formerly Emailvision), as well as undertaking leading positions, growing early-stage businesses such as Peerius and SundaySky.