Reframing 'The Great Resignation' as an Opportunity for Great Reflection
In the wake of the pandemic, workers across every industry — technology, healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, etc. — are putting in their two-weeks notice in favor of better pay, increased flexibility and equitable working conditions.
Dubbing it “The Great Resignation,” amongst the hardest hit by mass employee exodus is the retail industry. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in April, the retail sector recorded 965,000 unfilled job roles. Often overwhelmed, 93 percent of workers in the retail sector said they took on new responsibilities in 2020, according to a recent survey from Airtable. In Zipline’s own Labor of Love report, we found that 42 percent of retail associates are considering or have already decided they're planning to leave the retail workforce after the pandemic.
The 'Dead-End Job' Refresh
The general consensus seems to be that retail jobs aren’t worth the grueling hours, difficult customer interactions, low pay and sporadic schedules. Certainly retail workers — especially those on the front lines — need a livable wage, safe working conditions, and to be treated by both customers and employers with dignity and respect. The idea that retail is and always will be a “dead-end job” is rhetoric I don’t agree with.
There are plenty of industries where the path to a successful career starts with those same tenets of self-sacrifice. Imagine pulling all-nighters as a law clerk, working night shifts as a medical resident, or the copies and coffee runs of an unpaid intern. In our society, we accept these working conditions with the promise that they’ll inevitably lead to a rich and rewarding job down the line.
Historically, we haven’t thought of retail in this way. So much so that there’s even a debate as to whether some retail jobs belong on a resume at all. However, if there’s any benefit to come out of the tumultuous year all retailers have been through, it will be a reassessment of the value a retail career can bring.
The Great Reassessment
In a post-pandemic world, retailers will need to reassess everything: product assortment, omnichannel strategy, customer needs and, perhaps most of all, how they’ll attract and retain top talent. We're on the verge of witnessing a time of great innovation and growth — not just for retail brands, but for retail workers, too. Instead of the “Great Resignation,” maybe we should dub this the “Great Reassessment.”
It’s no secret that retailers everywhere are closing more of their stores. These brick-and-mortar outposts aren’t just another point of sale, but are now also a logistics hub for shipment processing, an experiential form of physical advertising — even a destination for local events and press opportunities in some cases. It goes without saying that retailers will need to trim their workforces in order to bring these strategies to life. It’s not enough to only sell a product anymore. Effective retail employees need to manage shipment logistics with skill, physically represent their brand, and represent the voice of the customer.
If that sounds like a great way to build covetable, corporate-ready skills ... well, that’s because it is. When brands truly optimize their stores (and they’ll have to in order to remain competitive), managing those stores is nuanced, complex, and the start of an exciting career trajectory. The manager of lululemon’s experiential Mall of America store isn’t just managing a P+L and tracking sales. She's also expected to curate a shop-in-shop strategy, coordinate a holistic customer engagement plan with its in-store coffee shop, drive community partnerships that result in local press, and craft a staff of brand evangelists to create the halo effect all retailers need to reach their omnichannel goals.
The Start of a Covetable Career
Store employees will be responsible for dictating the success of their company as a whole as forward-facing brand representatives. Effective store managers need to be able to implement change and ensure their location is living up to their brand’s standard. They’ll need to ask themselves questions such as: How will my store become more about experience? How can we better educate our customers? How will we form a true connection with the local community?
Above all, they’ll need to serve as the critical eyes and ears on the ground, communicating customer concerns and trends directly back up to executives at headquarters.
Whoever leads these stores of the future will need to view their day-to-day work through a different lens. In this new normal, store leaders will have the opportunity to hone in more closely on valuable business skills. With a single success at one location, more autonomy is given to the employee, opening a scope of possibility for their trajectory within a company and an actual career.
Many of the most admirable leaders in the retail industry came from humble beginnings, inside of a store and behind the cashwrap. Today those same leaders manage store teams for Fortune 500 companies, oversee global HR strategies, and many of them are pursuing new innovations in retail technology. We should be building a future where more business leaders look back on their retail beginnings as something to be proud of — where working in retail becomes a “dream job” anyone can aspire to.
Melissa Wong is the co-founder and CEO of Zipline, the leading operations platform for distributed teams.
Melissa Wong is the co-founder and CEO of Retail Zipline, the leading communication and execution platform for retailers, and has over a decade of experience working in retail. Last year, Melissa raised $9.6 million in funding led by Emergence with participation from Serena Williams through her venture firm, Serena Ventures. Her company powers communications for major global retailers including Gap Inc., Lush Cosmetics, the Lego Group, and others and has collectively saved brands millions of dollars by improving communication and execution.