Plan for the Unexpected: A Strategy for Retailers Entering the Holiday Shopping Season
Holiday shopping in the COVID era will be unlike anything modern retailers and consumers have experienced. With deals beginning in October and extending through December, U.S. retailers are downplaying the importance of Black Friday. Instead, they're focusing on making every day of the 2020 holiday season count.
When it comes to the impact of COVID-19, retailers are cautiously optimistic that their stores will remain fully operational over the course of the holiday season. However, at the same time, two in three retailers report they’ve already had an employee test positive for the virus this year, so many are naturally thinking ahead to what might happen to stores if the effects of the pandemic were to worsen in their region. In fact, a new survey released by UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), Retailers Rethink Holiday Season Strategy, finds four out of five retailers would voluntarily close a store during the holidays if rising cases of COVID-19 posed a threat in their region.
Keep in mind, retailers have spent the past six months learning how to navigate the challenges brought on by this health crisis. And while very few claim to have cracked the code, they at least now have a realistic idea of what may happen in the coming months, and many have developed contingency plans. This includes 59 percent of retailers that say their stores have a plan to keep associates employed even if it becomes necessary to close their doors.
One thing we do know for sure is that last year’s holiday hiring and staffing models need to be reworked for the 2020 season. Many retailers have created new roles to manage store traffic, execute on new sanitization tasks, and ensure social distancing and mask requirements are being met by customers. And because the pandemic has given a tremendous bump to curbside pickup, which was limited to just a handful of retailers in 2019, nearly half of retailers (47 percent) agree that staffing up to support curbside options is a new “top priority.”
Adding to the season’s mounting challenges, we’ve seen the customer mind-set has changed substantially. This year, customers will be shopping with a purpose, not as a form of entertainment. You won’t see many out shopping with a group of friends, browsing, popping into a store they hadn’t planned to, grabbing lunch, drinks. Impulse purchases will plummet as shoppers likely stick to their pre-defined list of holiday purchases.
Will Retail Store Managers Be the 'Holiday Hero' in 2020?
So often we think about the customer experience, the employee experience, or the corporate side of the business. Store managers aren’t top of mind, despite the important role they play in engaging employees, minimizing turnover, and hitting revenue goals.
With everything that's stacked against retailers this season, we see that a lot of their success is hinging on store managers, who are responsible for executing on an all-new set of safety requirements in their stores, in addition to all of the tasks already on their plate involved in running a brick-and-mortar business.
Per the UKG survey, retailers will execute the following protocols — and are expecting store managers to enforce them:
- 83 percent require employees to wear masks;
- 82 percent require customers to wear masks;
- 80 percent have increased cleaning frequency;
- 73 percent enforce social distancing;
- 55 percent require employee health screenings; and
- 50 percent are manually monitoring and limiting headcount in stores.
All of this is centered around creating a safe and comfortable environment for customers to shop, and employees to work. And the burden of execution lies on the manager, who needs to be extra vigilant this year. If they're unable to execute, and if the customer experience falters, that could have a direct impact on store revenue. And similarly, if employees don’t feel safe at work — or if they feel stressed or anxious — they might realistically quit mid-season, which leaves stores in a position where they're less able to deliver on the customer experience.
Managers will make or break the holiday season for customers, employees and the company bottom line. Coaching, training and developing managers leads to a better employee experience, a better customer experience, a better revenue cycle — and it’s continuous.
As retailers embrace the unknowns this holiday season and plan as best they can for the unexpected, prioritizing the experience of the store manager is, in short, essential.
Amanda Nichols is senior manager, retail, hospitality, and food service practice, UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), a provider of HR workforce management solutions.
Amanda Nichols is senior manager, retail, hospitality, and food service practice at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), a leader in workforce management and human capital management cloud software solutions.
In her role, Amanda has a keen eye on tracking and identifying trends that will shape the future of work. She regularly works with both clients and prospects to improve their workforce management and employee engagement strategies by mapping trends to business objectives.