How workforce management technology can help the retail industry overcome the impact of the national living wage

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By Jason Shorrock, VP Retail Strategy, JDA.

The introduction of the compulsory national living wage in April 2016 is great news for the UK's six million workers that stand to benefit from what is fundamentally an immediate pay rise.

However, its introduction is forcing the retail industry to consider how to offset predicted costs of up to £3 billion every year, while keeping both employees and customers satisfied. To try and combat these huge changes, the retail industry has looked to reduce staff, make cuts to benefits, and even reduce Sunday pay rates – all of which are unpopular decisions. Moreover, these actions are unlikely to actually help the industry offset costs without compromising customer service quality and hampering workforce morale.

So what can be done? For retailers to remain productive, and overcome these new pressures, they must rise to the challenge of creating workforces that are happier, more productive and increasingly agile. By adopting a smarter, technology-based approach to workforce management, retailers can make the most of the national living wage, deliver a better quality of service and thrive in this ultra-competitive market.

Being in the right place at the right time

Today's retail store requires an incredibly versatile workforce which is able to carry out a number of different tasks, ranging from working on tills, replenishing stock, advising customers on the sales floor, to picking items from the shop floor for click and collect and managing a customer service desk for collections and returns. This means having the staff, in the right place, at the right time, is vital to maintain excellent customer service. In addition, with the rise of in-store technology, such as tablets and portable payment solutions, retailers must ensure all relevant staff are trained and proficient in their use of these technologies. Managing such a varied workforce is no mean feat; it requires a workforce management solution that can plan and schedule employees according to demand, as well as ensuring that tasks are completed diligently and on time.

Using workforce management technology can help retailers maximise the potential of every employee and better match staffing to demand throughout the day. For example, take a busy Saturday morning at a consumer electricals store. By using a workforce management solution, managers can ensure they have sufficient customer service and technical support staff who are all available to process transactions and offer guidance on the shop floor, when demand is at its peak. This is particularly important with the increased use of click and collect services and the returning of goods in store.

Mobility takes you miles

As an industry that relies so heavily on its workforce, it is crucial that the retail industry looks after and empowers its employees. A key aspect of this is avoiding costly employee churn. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, staff turnover costs UK businesses over £4bn a year; a cost the retail industry will do well to mitigate given the additional impact of the national living wage and the likely increase in this cost to retailers as roles get more complex in the store.

Taking advantage of the latest mobile solutions – where employees can access their schedules, complete on-the-job training, and view payroll, benefits and annual leave information – stands to not only increase employee engagement, but also productivity. Maximising productivity is essential if the industry is to overcome the financial pressures caused by the national living wage. Moreover, mobile solutions will also attract millennial talent and reduce staff turnover, resulting in monetary and time savings.

Mobile technology has the additional benefit of empowering management staff. No matter how well an organisation schedules and equips its workforce, things happen that aren't planned for. For instance, if an employee becomes ill or fails to report for work, management can use mobile workforce management solutions to react. These solutions alert managers to these variances as they occur, allowing them to take immediate corrective action to optimise service levels. This minimises the time that management spends in the back office dealing with unforeseen events; enabling them to stay on the shop floor while still retaining full visibility of the team and its critical activities.

Manage expectations and tackle problems head-on

The deployment of a workforce management solution, like any technological implementation, should be underpinned by the buy-in of the end user. Without this, the solution stands to fall flat and investment will be wasted. Successful implementation of a workforce management solution will also not be possible without the support of the CEO, and HR and IT departments, each fully endorsing the new technology deployment. However, businesses must not rush a new workforce management implementation. When it comes to a fundamental change like this, simple and steady wins the day.

Having an effective workforce management strategy is no longer a nice to have, it is a must have. By using latest technology retailers can empower their workforce, improve customer service and ultimately deliver greater efficiencies at a time when employment costs are on the rise.

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