Cloud-based workforce and task management solutions vendor Reflexis Systems has evolved along with retail since its founding in 2001.
Acquired by Zebra Technologies for $575 million in September 2020, Reflexis is a leading provider of intelligent, AI-powered workforce management, execution and communication solutions for multi-site organizations in retail, food service, hospitality and banking.
Reflexis got its start serving the retail industry, and has developed a suite of applications uniquely suited to meeting the demands of managing core retail workflows at the store, field and corporate levels. A brief review of how three major retail chains – Staples, AutoZone, and Vera Bradley – have deployed Reflexis technology in the past two decades provides insight into why Reflexis is such a valued technology partner for so many retailers.
Reflexis’ first client was a big one – office supplies giant Staples. The retailer has been a loyal Reflexis customer since 2001, when it discovered it had more in common with the software than the fact they were both headquartered in the southwestern suburbs of Boston.
“The primary issue our founder (former Reflexis CEO Prashanth Palakurthi) had was he would walk into a store and try to have questions answered or to receive help in finding products, and the employees who had the knowledge weren’t available,” said Sundar Ranganathan, Vice President of Advanced Markets & Technology, Zebra Technologies, and co-founder of Reflexis. “That was the genesis of the first solution, Reflexis Task Manager™, which helps retailers ensure some employees are not overloaded with tasks while others are underutilized.”
Reflexis Task Manager distributes workloads to solve issues of store employees having uneven or unpredictable availability. The solutions also drive analytics of employee scheduling and activities, with informational dashboards that enable corporate management to communicate data to managers in the field.
“When we pioneered the store execution management concept, we found that Staples is a scaling organization and are faced with the same challenge,” explained Ranganathan. “Also, they are very forward and advanced in the way technology is used, so it was like a match made in heaven. Furthermore, they were local to us as well, which made Staples the perfect choice to be our first client. When Reflexis pitched the story to them for streamlining execution and avoiding delays in updates to district managers and levels up, they were very excited about it.”
By enabling consistent, centralized communications between headquarters and stores, Reflexis Task Manager enabled Staples to eliminate duplicate messages and generate over $1.5 million in soft savings. Real-time visibility saved store managers seven to twelve hours a week that would have otherwise been spent on the phone or in email getting updates.
For field managers, task-based alerts enabled management by exception, saving 10 hours a week. And the initial rollout of streamlined employee surveys generated $460,000 in hard savings.
Task Manager’s easy-to-use, role-based interface ensures the solution is used by all employees. Staples users even voted Task Manager as the company’s best software implementation.
“The tasks were streamlined, and store managers were happy there were fewer calls for them to handle,” commented Ranganathan. “Staples corporate told stores they don’t have to do a task it if it does not appear in their Task Manager dashboard. District managers were happy they were getting updates in real time, so they didn’t need to call the store to get updates.”
During its two-decade relationship with Staples, Reflexis has used feedback from the retailer to help steer the development of new solutions. These include Reflexis StoreWalk® (now known as Q-Walk), which facilitates on-site inspections to ensure the store environment properly reflects the brand image; as well as a KPI Activator™ module which monitors key organization metrics (such as sales) in real time, with automatic task assignments and store inspections, if metrics fall short.
Reflexis has since also developed several other store communications and workforce management solutions, as well as the StorePulse® real-time execution solution that monitors various store-level data points and creates task notifications, helps reallocate resources as needed, and updates other corporate systems if required.
“Of course, reporting is pervasive, so we built comprehensive reporting around all these modules simultaneously as well,” said Ranganathan. “With mobility being an important part of today’s demographic, it also became an integral part of our offering.”
Reflexis began its ongoing relationship with leading aftermarket auto parts and accessories retailer AutoZone in 2006, when the chain decided to move from a legacy workforce management solution. AutoZone put out an RFP, and Reflexis won the company’s business.
“The AutoZone implementation was unique,” said Suresh Menon, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Software Solutions at Zebra Technologies. “We looked at task execution as well as workforce planning and management.”
AutoZone has complex scheduling needs, as stores frequently vary in size and operating hours. In addition, some stores also act as regional distribution centers, supplying parts to other stores and commercial customers.
And with as few as two associates working a typical shift, employees often act in multiple roles throughout the day. Depending on location, product selection, and a range of other variables, individual stores may have very different labor standards. AutoZone also offers in-store automotive services such as battery installation and changing windshield wiper blades, requiring associates with specific skillsets.
Other factors, from weather conditions to economic upturns and downturns, have had an impact on AutoZone’s customer traffic, as well. This has remained true throughout AutoZone’s continuing partnership with Reflexis.
“There was actually an increase in store traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Menon. “People who didn’t drive their car during March and April found their batteries weren’t running. Also, a lot of people who found themselves with spare time used it to work on their cars.”
To keep up with shifting real-time demand, the store operations team wanted a system that enabled it to update the labor model without IT assistance. Based on those requirements, AutoZone selected the Reflexis Workforce Scheduler™ and Time and Attendance™ solutions. Facing rising minimum wages and operating costs, accurate, simple scheduling was key to reducing spend without sacrificing the customer experience.
AutoZone created a new labor model and streamlined its budgeting, forecasting, and labor scheduling processes. The new workforce management platform resulted in significant ROI, adding up to as much as $100 million in savings over seven years. Utilizing a more flexible and intelligent solution, AutoZone’s store operations teams are able to better account for unique sales and labor drivers, generating more accurate budgets, forecasts, and schedules. Leveraging advanced algorithms and rules-based automation, Reflexis Workforce Scheduler can accommodate variables including store types and sizes, individual departments, required workforce roles, locations, and regional labor laws.
This enables AutoZone to create accurate labor forecasts at each store to the 15-minute interval, and precisely align schedules with demand. AutoZone can also ensure that experienced associates who generate the most in-store sales are scheduled on the floor during peak sales hours.
The system supports scheduling fairness as well, improving engagement and retention. Additionally, via Reflexis Time and Attendance, managers can accurately see employee clock-in and clock-out activities, and also receive alerts about impending labor violations to respond proactively and avoid fines and overtime costs.
In 2014, specialty women’s apparel and accessories brand Vera Bradley found that rapid growth was straining its communications capacity. Corporate headquarters interacted with stores via outdated phone and email-based processes and legacy systems. This resulted in store managers, who were typically promoted from the best-performing floor associates, spending one to two critical hours a day manually reviewing emails.
The phone and email-based store update process also limited corporate visibility into store activities, and created confusion about when and how to execute tasks such as updating displays.
“At the corporate level, there was a ‘fix and move forward’ approach,” said Menon. “There was no visibility into whether the store got a task done.”
Vera Bradley engaged with Reflexis to roll out Task Manager, which provided the retailer with a single repository for tasks, communications, surveys, forms, and calendar functions; as well as a mechanism to collect feedback from stores. Results included a 95% reduction in email volume, and the company eliminated an average of 10 email inboxes per store.
In addition, executives at corporate headquarters gained the ability to view the status of tasks across stores and were able manage by exception, only addressing issues at those locations that have an execution challenge. The rate of on-time completion of corporate-generated tasks also rose, from 40% to 95%.
To further extend the value of its Reflexis rollout, Vera Bradley integrated Reflexis Workforce Scheduler for labor budgeting, forecasting, and scheduling, creating a 25-50% improvement in scheduling effectiveness via allocation of labor to customer demand.
At the same time, Vera Bradley decided to address uptime and productivity in the company warehouse. The company deployed Zebra MC9190 and MC9200 mobile computers, VH10 vehicle-mounted computers, and DS3678 scanners.
Additionally, to ensure stores have the right products at the right time, Vera Bradley has since begun leveraging the Zebra SmartCount self-scan hardware and software solution. Zebra SmartCount offers real-time inventory visibility to optimize shrink and boost sales, as well as provides corporate headquarters with the ability to view multiple stores’ inventories from a single dashboard.
Zebra SmartCount assists Vera Bradley in fulfilling customer orders, and has made audits more accurate and easier to conduct. Units can be scanned hourly, and the solution refreshes data in real time. Leveraging the easy-to-adopt Zebra platform, associates quickly print tags for the products so they can be stored and shipped to rapidly fill customer orders.
This means that a customer can purchase items in the store of their choice—and associates can rapidly scan, locate, and retrieve (or order) the desired merchandise without having to route the customer to another location. Overall, each year, Vera Bradley uses the Zebra SmartCount solution to conduct more than 1,100 inventories. Since 2018, the solution has supported a 5% productivity gain, even as the number of units scanned increased.
During fall 2020, Vera Bradley adopted the Reflexis Appointments™ solution in response to how customer in-store shopping habits were changing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With customers wanting to be safe and at ease while shopping in store, the retailer rolled out Reflexis Appointments to allow customers to book in-store meetings.
“Previously, a customer had to call up a store and make an appointment,” said Menon. “Now, the customer books an engagement through the Reflexis Appointments application on Vera Bradley’s website—which then alerts on-site managers of the upcoming meeting.”
The Appointments solution is also integrated with Reflexis Workforce Scheduler and Task Manager, to ensure the right associate is available at the right time. If the store is particularly busy, the manager can block off time, making more appointments available when there is greater associate bandwidth.
“Since the rollout, 98 stores take appointments weekly, and this has contributed to higher sales,” said Menon. “Reflexis-generated appointments have shown a 25 to 50% lift in the average transaction value, as compared to walk-ins. We expect automated, integrated store appointment scheduling to become a core retail functionality post-pandemic.”
The Future of Retail
“There are new patterns emerging,” said Menon. “Warehouses have more real-time inventory. E-commerce fulfillment is being pushed down to the store. Front-line associates have a lot more to accomplish in a typical work day. There are new business models to adapt to in a limited time span. Flexible, SaaS-based real-time execution and communication solutions like those offered by Reflexis and Zebra can guide associates through these new retail operating models with targeted prescriptive actions and high levels of efficiency.”