It is that time of the year again, when things start to get out of control. Retailers around the nation add more interim sales associates to support the busy sales. Sales contribute 25-30 per cent of the overall sale for most retailers today and a sales period typically delivers profits between 1.75 – 2.25 times more than normal months. Co-founder and Director, Word Hatter, Sheetal Choksi advises on the best strategies.
Sale is a time when there is a welcome surge in footfalls, often exceeding footfalls received during Diwali and Christmas. Sales typically last for about six weekends up from the four weekends about four to five years ago. The skew of sales is classically in the first and third week, and weekends for the balance. Stores need 50-70 per cent more employees to manage the rush they face during the sales.
The processes followed by stores are critical to ensure that there is optimisation of business during sales. However, across board – whether we speak with operations heads, store managers or HR managers, we find that they all face the same problems: there is always a dearth of good temporary staff. This is a constant struggle, which only worsens every year with the increase in customer purchasing power and changing brand innovations. Hence, the need for more efficient people on the shop floor during sales only increases every year.
Given this scarcity of work force, how do large format retailers manage to serve this increased flood of consumers on the shop floor? What are the various strategies employed to find, train, motivate and incentivise this temporary employee pool without affecting the existing one? What innovative solutions are they employing to manage this scarcity? Can new age technology like apps and interactive kiosks help manage some of this dearth?
Sale is a part of the annual calendar in every retailer’s diary. Every department knows the months and dates well in advance and most departments including the HR plan their resources accordingly. Most large format stores have their strategies in place much in advance of the sale period.
During sale, when the focus is to ensure maximum , streamlining certain processes ensures that the burden on the front-end staff is reduced to the minimum. Also, evaluating these processes helps understand what additional numbers of staff are required, for what roles and towards influencing which aspect of the consumer purchase process, such that consumer expectations are met during this high frenzy, high activity phase.
Unlike during regular periods, consumer expectations are different for the sale period, according to most retailers. They are not looking for experience but for the right product at the right price. The focus of the retailer too needs to be seen through the same lens. Most retailers believe that the pain points of consumers typically have to do with the following:
– Finding the right size
– Long queues at trial rooms
– Long queues at cash registers – especially with tagging issues and issues of wrong pricing or coding
– Parking at entry and exit
Most retailers also believe that if the following process are closely planned and monitored, given that a lot of the same has to be implemented much before sale, the pressure on the front-end staff can be reduced dramatically.
Size wise and fit wise display: Size wise display is most advisable during sale for ease of shopping. Also important is to have fit wise display to ensure lower rate of returns and exchanges during sale.
Availability of garments: Loss of sale happens due to non-availability of colour and style on the shop floor. People tend to leave garments lying in different departments and therefore there is a need to have a special recovery team that will ensure that the garments are placed back in the appropriate sections.
Trial room management: Most stores set up temporary trial rooms in addition to the existing ones. Often garments are left behind in trial rooms post trials, hence retailers need to have staff that will ensure that the movement of stock from trial room to shelf or display hangers is more efficient.
Price and offer clarity: Tagging of garments, ensuring the right tagging as well as perfectly executed signage can speed up the buyer’s decision-making process.
Speedy cashiering and checkout: The number of cash counters needs to be increased. At the same time, support staff for bagging and packing at the cash counters helps increase efficiency at the counters.
Loyalty programme focus: A lot of the stores focus on increasing the loyal member base during sale by incentivising the consumer to enroll for the loyalty programme. Also, there are queries regarding redemption of points, etc. Increasing the number of loyal customer interaction points helps facilitate this process.
Security: Shrinkage increases substantially during sale and trained security can help in managing the same effectively and efficiently without causing consumer indignation.
Valet parking: Increased traffic to the store means higher pressure on valet parking. Tying up with parking areas around the store and increasing the number of parking attendants reduces the pre-and post-shopping hassle of the consumer.
An analysis of the above shows that the key staff requirements can be broken up into the following areas:
Behind-the-scenes help: unpacking, stacking, folding, movement of products from trial rooms and different sections into appropriate sections.
Customer interaction: sales, trial room management, loyalty programme management and cashiering.
Support functions: housekeeping, security and valet.
Requirements for each of the above can be taken care of differently, as the skills and training required for each role are varying in nature.
Trained temporary staff is required primarily for those involved in the customer interaction space. This is where most companies tend to hire at least 10-15 days in advance and train the staff for 10 odd days. According to Customer Care Associate and Head HR, Shoppers Stop, B V M Rao, “We put them through our regular induction process and in-store trainings, which are given to any other customer care associate.”
As the head of operations of another department store stated: “Wish I could get sale cashiering specialists.”
Finding part-timers for customer facing roles Given the dearth of trained people, the first thing that most stores do is find alternative ways of engaging existing employees more effectively – from changing shifts to straight shifts, to changing incentive programmes to include daily and weekly bonuses to putting an embargo on leave during sale, everything is evaluated and implemented.
The excess requirement of work force is then employed through the following strategies:
– Seeking help of partner brands to put additional employees in their respective sections
– Incentivising existing employees to recommend new people who could join on a temporary basis
– Third-party vendors
– Students who are looking for front-end experience
Recruiting part-timers for secondary and support functions
These roles are much easier to fill. Typically, the outsourcing agencies that provide this pool are approached to fill in the additional requirements. Training of these people is also most often left to the third-party vendors.
Most of these strategies tide the stores over the sale rush and help them manage both the customer and sales process. The questions however is, will large format stores continue to approach staffing for sale in the way that it has always been done or are there newer, more innovative solutions that could provide long-term answers?
No one is looking at developing an alternative pool, which could be trained and used not just during sale but also during other peak times.
Can partnerships with colleges, training their students for cashiering result in a pool that could be available to retailers on an ongoing basis?
Can parents (ideally those retired) of the existing employees be encouraged to get trained and come in only during peak seasons?
Most of the store managers believe that there is a mental or reputation barrier for most people to work in retail and therefore evaluating this alternative employee pool may not result in an effective solution. My argument is, nothing ventured, nothing gained.