The retail landscape has undergone tectonic shifts in recent years, leaving managers to navigate sometimes unfamiliar if not entirely new territory. From deploying emerging technologies to training staff on urgent theft prevention strategies, today's retail leaders wear many hats as they work to boost productivity, deliver consistent experiences, and protect the bottom line. With 2024 upon us, managers find themselves at the forefront of an industry in flux, tasked with solving complex problems while propelling their businesses into a future filled with risks and opportunities. The path forward calls for creative solutions and adaptive leadership.
As we begin a new year, let’s explore some of the biggest operational challenges store managers face today and the outlook for retailers in 2024.
Theft, Talent and Outdated Technology Top the List of Challenges
In 2022, U.S. retailers experienced $95 billion in losses due to theft. Last year, there was a worrying increase in theft and customer violence that even led some brands like Target to begin closing stores. In a recent survey conducted by my company, Axonify, 65 percent of frontline retail managers cited volatile issues like theft and violence as two of the biggest operational issues they’re facing. Clearly it’s top-of-mind.
Other impactful challenges for retailers? Hiring and outdated technology. Approximately two-thirds (65 percent) of frontline retail managers said hiring more workers is a pressing issue they’re trying to solve, while 64 percent are looking to update their point-of-sale (POS) systems as customers request faster options for purchases and returns. While the emergence of technologies like artificial intelligence doesn’t scare many managers, they are cautious of the challenges AI brings, such as new compliance standards to follow (60 percent), its impact on operations (58 percent), and the potential to create confusion around job roles and responsibilities (61 percent). Uncovering and understanding the specific challenges that retail managers face is the first step in creating a plan to address these issues, including updated training practices.
Managers Turn to Senior Leadership for Operational and Customer Service Support
With so many operational challenges at play, it’s no surprise that more than half (52 percent) of frontline retail managers are opting to connect directly with their company’s CEO to discuss store issues and improvement ideas. Access to senior leadership is crucial for retail managers in order to overcome the problems at their specific location. The responsibility, then, is on these leaders to provide the tools, training and career development opportunities for managers and staff so they feel empowered and supported.
Managers also turn to senior leadership to share critical customer feedback, such as the need for better-informed store associates, a desire for more personalized shopping experiences, and additional transparency about inventory, supply chain, pricing and order fulfillment. Customer expectations will only continue to grow with time; having communication channels between managers and leadership in place now is crucial for positive associate and customer experiences in the future.
How Retailers Can Learn to Promote Operational Efficiency in 2024
Managers play an active role in driving the operational consistency and efficiency that retailers need to succeed, as well as identifying the barriers that still exist. Case in point: more than half (53 percent) of retail managers stated they’re concerned their teams are unable to meet customers’ expectations today, and 51 percent believe operational issues will worsen next year.
Whether it’s theft, technology or hiring concerns, retailers looking for solutions to their most pressing issues should first evaluate what tools and training strategies they have in place for their teams. Organizations that do the work to establish a realistic plan to address these challenges will ensure their staff start 2024 off on the right foot.
Carol Leaman is the CEO and co-founder of Axonify, a mobile-first learning management system that uses microlearning and AI-powered reinforcement to meet the needs of today's frontline employees.
Carol Leaman is CEO of Axonify, the modern learning solution for frontline employees that actually works.
Carol Leaman (BA, MAcc, FCPA) is an award-winning thought leader with an impressive track record of successfully leading tech companies. Not only is she a disruptor in the corporate learning space, but she’s also the brains behind the Axonify solution.
Prior to Axonify, Carol was the CEO of PostRank Inc., a social engagement analytics platform she sold to Google. She was also the CEO at several other technology firms, including RSS Solutions and Fakespace Systems.
Carol is a celebrated entrepreneur and trailblazer (Sarah Kirke Award 2010, Waterloo Region Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Intrepid Award 2011 and the Profit500 Award for Canada's Leading Female Entrepreneur 2017) whose articles appear in leading learning, business and technology publications. She also sits on the boards of many organizations and advises a variety of Canadian high-tech firms.