The Big Ideas at NRF 2023

by | Jan 23, 2023

While 2023 is only a couple of weeks old, we have already attended the retail event of the year. NRF’s Retail Big Show is one of those events I always look forward to. For Axsium, it’s always a great opportunity to meet retail customers and industry experts and discuss the workforce management challenges they’re facing.

We presented our Axsium OPS labor modeling and analytics suite at our Big Ideas session on Sunday. Axsium OPS features our integrated work measurement platform Opus, our powerful labor planning solution Planara, and Studia, our mobile data collection tool. After the session, we had some terrific conversations at our booth with many retailers attending the show.

As you’d expect, I heard a lot of stories about the difficulties the current economy is causing for retailers. We’re all aware of the operational challenges, whether it be inflation, rising wages, or high turnover rates.

But what was refreshing about NRF 2023 was the focus everyone had on practical solutions. At any industry event, you’re going to come across a lot of different new technologies and insights. But when it came to workforce management topics, the three I discussed most often with retailers were:

  • Automation
  • Agility
  • Productivity
Lucas Muellerleile and Michael Gondek tell the crowd about Axsium OPS during Axsium's NRF 2023 Big Ideas session.
Lucas Muellerleile and Michael Gondek tell the crowd about Axsium OPS during Axsium’s NRF 2023 Big Ideas session.

NRF 2023: Automating Your Budget

I spoke to numerous retailers, including some large national chains, who are still using spreadsheets for their core labor planning. All of them needed to patch together myriad models just to perform the basic mechanics of a labor budget.

This isn’t rare—I imagine many of you are in a similar position. But I find it surprising that we’re in 2023 and there are relatively few solutions aimed at helping retailers get off inefficient and error-prone spreadsheets and onto integrated and automated solutions. Most of those I spoke to knew their manual labor budgeting process was an issue. But they weren’t sure how to fix it.

Axsium developed Planara, our powerful new labor planning and analytics solution, to combat just this situation. Planara automates your core labor budgeting processes. That means you can spend more time on other value-added tasks, like conducting what-if scenarios or analyzing labor performance.

How does Planara accelerate your process? It brings Operations and Finance onto the same platform, where both sets of inputs and both methods of planning can coexist and inform the other. The increased transparency into the bottom-up vs. top-down expectations allows teams to collaborate and ultimately align on labor targets. And that makes the drawn-out labor budget approval processes each year a thing of the past.

If you manage millions, if not billions of dollars in labor cost, you simply cannot afford to stall or upend your labor budgets by something as trivial as a formula error or data input mistake. It’s time to get off the spreadsheets and into Planara.

NRF 2023: Keeping Your Labor Budget Agile

We all know the impact that the pandemic and resulting lockdowns had on the retail world. The disruption across the industry was enormous. Organizations had to move quickly not just to stay competitive, but to protect their revenues.

In the wake of that, I met with a lot of people at NRF this year who were looking for ways to make their companies more agile. We’ve all become acutely aware of how important it is to be able to respond quickly to economic changes.

That’s what makes a platform like Axsium OPS so important. It allows you to adapt quickly when the unexpected happens. For example, you can use Opus to make alterations to individual labor standards that automatically implements across your labor model. That ability to quickly implement changes across your model is invaluable in our fast-moving economy.

NRF 2023 attendees get a hands-on demo of Axsium OPS, featuring Opus, Planara, and Studia.

NRF 2023: Tightening Your Labor Budget

Better agility helps you manage in the moment. But what about the ability to achieve challenging labor goals for the future? Most of the NRF attendees I met had one thing in common—they wanted to sustainably drive employee productivity.

Thanks to inflation and wage pressures, many retailers have tighter budgets in 2023. To keep their labor expense rate of sales steady, they will have to allocate fewer hours per dollar of sales. But how do retailers achieve this while still providing the same (or better) levels of service for their customers?

It’s about finding efficiencies and savings wherever you can. Some organizations will initially have to cut corners and reduce staff count, even while facing increasing workload. But to realize true productivity growth under these conditions, you will need to take a hard look at the processes that your staff perform day-in day-out. More often than not, you’ll find many opportunities to help your stores make more efficient use of employee time.

A process improvement driven approach is a far more sustainable way to tighten your labor budgeting belt. The time savings you’ll find mean your in-store teams can focus more on sales and other productive tasks. And it can improve employee morale and engagement during difficult times.

What Comes Next

The Axsium team looks forward to NRF every year. It’s a great way to take the temperature of the retail industry and see what to expect in the coming months. This year was no different.

Are you facing similar challenges to those I discussed with so many NRF attendees? Our team at Axsium have solutions that can help you become more efficient, agile, and productive. We’d love to hear from you.

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