To say that UK retail in 2023 faced a period of challenging transition would be a slight understatement. However, there are high street green shoots appearing.
Despite this, the opportunities within retail are decreasing, and the prospect of a supportive and enjoyable career path is diminishing; according to our recent HR Metrics That Impact report, the average yearly turnover in retail being a whopping 27.3%. This stands as a stark reminder of the harsh realities that face HR departments within retail companies.
So as we approach 2024, it’s crucial to reflect on the lessons learnt from the past year in order to facilitate growth and improvement in the industry moving forward. Here are some of the top HR lessons that were learnt by the retail industry in 2023:
Employee retention and hiring
With one of the highest industry turnover rates in the country, the primary challenge for retail departments is the continued stress of hiring – and retaining – employees.
The causes for such widespread attrition are twofold:
- Macroeconomic factors, such as inflation, supply chain costs, cost-of-living crisis’, increased costs of travel and flatlining wage structures, have created a culture of high pressure, low reward and misshaped career expectations. This hasn’t been helped by the much-reported, “death of the high street” and loss of traditional retail spaces.
- The inability of retailers to adequately adjust to the changing nature of retail career support.
Whilst retail HR experts can’t affect the global supply chain or fix inflation, they can adjust the nuts and bolts of good recruitment practices to reflect what people are looking for in a career, and to help improve hiring processes and standardisation across a busy and fast-paced industry.
This can be done through revamped hiring and onboarding practices, the increase in flexible working, transparent salary and promotional ladders, and a focus on employee retention as a key pillar of strategic retail business planning.
Handling employee complaints
As we reflect on the challenges of handling employee complaints in the retail sector, it’s evident that there are valuable lessons to be drawn from our experiences. The processes by which retailers are empowered to handle customer complaints should be reflected in – indeed, they should be a benchmark for – the way retail HR leaders handle employee complaints.
Long gone are the days of expecting staff to bear the rigours of poor pay and shoddy work/life balance – the Great Resignation put paid to that. What matters more than ever is empathy, treating staff with kindness, servant leadership models, personalisation of career handling, careful due diligence and leading by example.
Of course, keeping staff happy is one challenge, but retaining staff amid a brutal inflationary spike is almost impossible without novel company-wide support built on empathetic leadership and crisis-proof HR vision.
Though, solving employee complaints shouldn’t be a chore, neither should they prove to be difficult. Which is why the advent of anonymous feedback channels and digital employee sentiment tools and application become a no-brainer when looking for technological investments within HR in 2024 and beyond.
Change management is not something only done in a boardroom or at an AGM, it’s also done on the shop floor.
For example, technology and legacy retail practices are colliding. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of everyone in retail, no matter their role or seniority, to have the training to be able to utilise novelty retail-focused technology, and to pivot retail practice to improve and embrace digital and in-person retail experiences for what they give the customer.
And, when over 80% of the UK population are now avid digital shoppers, it’s never been more important to empower staff to embrace technology.
Managing change works across so many touch points – from cross-team collaboration to working schedules, L&D to workplace communication, security, support and customer service, all empowered and advanced by tech.
Though, this isn’t just a single management team project, this is long-term operational change in real-time, centralising and improving customer experiences both via the digital realm and in-person, and beating customer expectations in regards to what retail spaces can and do offer.
Improving employee engagement
When the turnover rate is so high, the fix has to be all-encompassing, more personal, more meaningful, and more connected.
This is where some of the most basic supporting HR tenets come into focus. Cultures of recognition and appreciation need to be improved. Regular communication – in the form of constructive feedback, 360 feedback or continuous feedback – needs to be hard coded into the fabric of retail work.
In short, retail workers need to be heard, seen, and trusted. They want to feel like their employer listens to them, and allows them to see how their work stacks up against company performance, and how their performance fits into the company whole. Therefore, in 2024, retail HR departments need to create a more inclusive environment for employees through investing time and resources in employee engagement initiatives.
Training and development
The curse of the “accidental manager” is a phenomenon all too familiar in the retail industry. But these individuals who are promoted based on their time in service or because they are good at their job, but are not adequately equipped with managerial skills, are often the cause to a drop in overall performance and morale. To break this cycle, retail businesses need to prioritize training and development for all employees, particularly those in leadership roles.
Providing contextualised, retail-specific training not only improves skill levels among the workforce, thus reducing the impact of subpar hiring or promotion decisions, but it also signals to employees that the company is willing to invest in their future and their careers.
This effort stretches from job-specific training to mentorship programs, from excellence in customer service courses to cross-training opportunities.
The sheer array of training possibilities not only enhances the individual employee experience but also significantly improves the customer experience, as employees who feel valued and invested in are more likely to provide superior service, which in turn drives customer satisfaction. This is a cyclic relationship that can yield significant dividends for retail businesses. It’s an investment that the retail sector cannot afford to overlook as we step into 2024.
Time management for HR staff
A crucial lesson for retail HR in 2023, and one that will be carried into 2024, is the importance of effective time management.
No matter the slow creep of tech into retail spaces, or the rise of digital shopping, retail is still a labour-centric sector, reliant on millions of man-hours daily to keep businesses afloat and customers happy. So investing in more efficient time management processes is central to sustainable business practice.
But this doesn’t just mean looking at flat shop floor labour costs and making savings – this drive to efficiency can be applied across the entire retail recruitment journey, from handling employee onboarding to organising reviews, staff contracts and managing deadlines, to better resolving complaints, returns, admin and stock management.
HR staff, in the context of time management, are the great facilitators of letting retail staff do what they’re good at – engaging customers and creating great customer experiences.
A well-designed organisational structure is central to helping retail companies streamline HR operations, improve HR efficiency, and improve employee relations and engagement.
The challenge we have seen for retail HR departments lies in making sure every organisational touchpoint serves the right purpose, that changes are consistent with improving employee experiences, and that any changes simplify processes.
In 2024, consider the improvements made to on- and offboarding new staff, or creating franchisee-focused HR tools fit for large organisations across regions.
From intuitive technical processes to real-time employee alerts, to employee training, health and safety training and employee feedback and reviews, the right organisational structure – supplemented by great tech – makes HR processes more efficient and confident.
Our case study – documenting our work with McDonalds – goes into more detail about how organisational change is possible through the intersection of tech and people management.
Communication and collaboration
To work in retail is ultimately to work in the business of communication. The mark of great customer service lies in effective communication, and personal connection between staff, customers and product.
The challenges retailers face are how to maintain and improve customer communication and connection in the digital age, and how to improve staff communication between departments, shifts and team members both online and in real-time.
In response to these challenges, digital employee communication tools have emerged as a game-changing solution.By implementing such innovative tools, retailers can foster a more cohesive, collaborative, and efficient working environment, ultimately driving better customer service and stronger business results.
All-in-one enterprise HR and Workforce Management software
As the above indicates, retail remains a fast-moving, developing, increasingly digital commercial space.
For retailers looking to take that next step into the digitally-aligned retail future, finding the right way to enhance key HR management practices is vital.
elementsuite’s vast array of smart HR software solutions are ideal for the retail sector, as our plug-and-play enterprise HR platforms can help organisations improve everything from learning and development to employee engagement, by way of a host of additional tools such as onboarding, attendance and integrated payroll software.
Want to learn more? Book a demo today, and see how our platform can support your retail business today.