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Mitigating the ‘Great Resignation’ with technology

Technology innovation can help retailers overcome workforce issues.

Retailers can address the current labor shortage with innovative solutions throughout the enterprise.

As retailers ramp up operations amid rebounding sales, they often find it difficult to hire or retain enough qualified employees. Three-quarters of retail executives in a recent Deloitte survey believe that employee shortages will hamper growth this year.

While numerous factors outside retailers’ influence contribute to staffing issues, one thing they can control is the internal use of technology. Here are three solutions that retailers can deploy in the face of workforce issues.

Frictionless shopping
An increasing number of retailers have piloted stores with frictionless shopping environments since Amazon pioneered the format with its Amazon Go store model in January 2018. However, 2021 saw a surge of “Just Walk Out”-style store format rollouts as customers sought to combine the immediate fulfillment of brick-and-mortar with the streamlined shopping experience of e-commerce.

As exemplified by Amazon’s Just Walk Out platform (which the retail giant now licenses to other retailers), a frictionless store typically operates with a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and machine-learning algorithms. The customer typically announces their presence by scanning some type of code, tapping an app, or inserting a payment card into receiving device or kiosk at the entrance.

Shoppers are then able to simply browse the aisles, select desired items, and either walk out without taking any action or again performing some type of action with their mobile device or payment card. Beyond Amazon, retailers including Circle K, Wakefern, and BP are all testing frictionless stores using technology from a variety of vendors.

While retailers (and technology vendors) have been focusing on how frictionless shopping benefits shoppers, it also benefits retailers and store associates. Stores can potentially be staffed with fewer employees, and associates are also freed from the stressful repetition of checkout and allowed to focus on more rewarding, higher-level in-store tasks, which can serve to further enhance the customer experience as well as improve retention.

Warehouse automation
On the back end, automated robotic systems are revolutionizing how retailers fulfill orders and move products through the supply chain. High-profile examples of warehouse automation include the automated “customer fulfillment center” (CFC) model Kroger is rolling out in partnership with global online grocery retailer Ocado, as well as Gap Inc. leveraging Kindred Sort robots to pick online orders in its U.S. distribution centers.

Automated warehouse systems provide retailers well-publicized benefits such as fast delivery of online orders and perishable goods, as well as greater supply chain efficiency and accuracy. But as with automation of the in-store shopping experience, automation of labor inside the warehouse enables retailers to reduce the amount of labor needed to support fulfillment, and/or relieve warehouse associates of the most dirty, dangerous, and repetitive tasks which may impair recruitment and retention.

Employee apps
Employee apps can streamline almost any retail workflow – ranging from checkout, to clienteling, to inventory tracking, to picking and packing, among others. This increases the efficiency and accuracy of labor output, especially vital in a time where good help is quite literally “hard to find.”

In addition, a growing number of retailers are discovering that employee apps can enhance vital workforce management functions such as onboarding, training, scheduling, corporate communications, and collecting employee feedback. For example, Circle K has been leveraging technology from gamified simulation training provider Attensi to enhance its employee training procedures.

The Attensi platform utilizes remote training techniques, delivered via mobile app, to deliver consistent training. Circle K found that its gamified training program lowered turnover and significantly boosted sales. In addition, 92% of employees in the program reported they like the training and think it will help them in their jobs, and 85% said it will improve their customer service skills. 

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