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The Future of Work in Retail – Adapt, Survive and Thrive

Guest post: Neil Pickering, Content and Industry Marketing Manager, UKG. In recent years, retail has been changing, morphing and remoulding itself. Competition has been relentless, with… View Article

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The Future of Work in Retail – Adapt, Survive and Thrive

Guest post: Neil Pickering, Content and Industry Marketing Manager, UKG.


In recent years, retail has been changing, morphing and remoulding itself. Competition has been relentless, with new online entrants and discounters alike challenging long-established bricks and mortar stalwarts. Year by year, activity has moved online, large stores have increasingly migrated out of town and the essential nature of the high street has shifted, often dramatically. Online has gone from ‘nice to have’ to essential – for retailers and consumers. We are, in short, seeing a reinvention of retail – a reinvention that has shifted into overdrive during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the heart of this reinvention lies a stark, simple fact: retail isn’t simple anymore.

Expectations and constraints

Customer demand and expectations are constantly changing, driven no longer merely by in-store promotions, TV, radio and the press, but now also by the constant chatter of social media. What do customers want? Better, more fulfilling experiences. Outstanding service. Online, instore, click and collect – faster, better, cheaper! What will we want tomorrow? Who knows, but retailers must be ready.

Employee expectations have also changed and grown. Today’s workers want more flexibility, more extensive benefits, better pay and a more fulfilling work experience. They want to be able to work when they want, and where they want – even to be able to work in more than one location, or for multiple employers.

Adding to the mix, retailers, like other businesses, are feeling intense and growing pressure relating to corporate and social responsibility, culture, environmental credentials and policies, and sustainability. And all the while legislation – in particular employment legislation – is tightening, with regional variations in requirements adding to the challenge.

Navigating narrow channels

These complexities, none of them new but all of them intensified and multiplied by the past year’s events, limit retail businesses’ choices. When margins were better, giving regions or stores the freedom to manage their own destinies, and operate relatively independently may have been tolerable. However, just like the captain of a ship who’s now trying to navigate rocky waterways in a falling tide, staying afloat relies on following a narrow channel – and to do that you need timely and accurate data, and full control of your operation.

Today’s retailers need comprehensive, accurate, and up to the minute information to chart a successful course for their business – and stop them running aground. Welcome to The New Future of Work where data-driven transformation holds the keys to success.

Control your costs – unleash your people

As I’ve noted, your employees are likely to be your largest controllable expense. They are of course also your most significant asset, brimming over with ideas and possibilities and just waiting to be inspired and enabled for ever greater achievements. In The New Future of Work, controlling labour costs while at the same time realising the near limitless potential of your people will be fundamental to success.

This New Future of Work, evolving for years and here today, will richly reward retailers who possess the flexibility and agility to respond swiftly to changing demands and circumstances, and the understanding and visibility necessary to leverage their market opportunities and their people. And, it will punish those without. Recent casualties such as Debenhams and Arcadia, whose lack of evolution and modernisation predated 2020 by some margin, bear witness.

The Four Pillars of Success

Through extensive conversations with a broad spread of organisations, we’ve identified four critical pillars for success in The New Future of Work, all reliant on the power of data-driven workforce transformation. Retailers must:

  • PROTECT their business, workers and customers
  • PLAN AND EXECUTE efficiently to control costs, improve productivity and optimise revenues
  • COMPLY with evolving safety and employment legislation
  • COMMUNICATE effectively to improve the employee experience.

To help you understand the demands of The New Future of Work and learn how to thrive in 2021 UKG has created a portfolio of resources that explore each of the above pillars and the application of data-driven workforce transformation. All resources can be accessed by visiting the New Future of Work webpage.

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