The events I look forward to the most each year are Axsium’s annual WFM Forums. Over the last decade, we’ve worked to develop a community of cross-functional workforce management leaders who take the time to come together to build expertise by exchanging experiences and best practices with industry experts and peers. In addition, they take advantage of our specially-programmed networking opportunities throughout the events. Last month, our 2021 WFM Forums were held virtually and we were grateful to be joined by more than 75 retail and hospitality leaders in both the UK and North America. While emceeing via a Zoom meeting was unique, it was wonderful to see so many of our valued customers “face to face” again.
Our team provided a great deal of Axsium’s trademark thought leadership on topics including the In-Store Processes that Facilitate E-Commerce, a Guide to Making Cross-Site Scheduling a Reality at your organization, and a number of bold Predictions About the Future of the Retail Workforce. (feel free to check them out!)
But perhaps most interesting of all were the discussions led by the Forum participants about where their businesses stand today, the challenges that they are currently facing, and the opportunities that they expect to embrace over the next 12 months. Several common themes began to emerge across these discussions.
First, there was a palpable sense of pride and accomplishment. While we didn’t dwell on the impacts of the pandemic, almost everyone agreed that the previous year was one of the most challenging and intense. From the now familiar stories of store shutdowns to ramping back up, to new store roles and safety protocols, and to pivoting to new services and fulfillment channels, attendees expressed appreciation for what they had collectively accomplished. Many were most proud of their store teams’ commitment to their customers, how quickly they were able to meet the unprecedented challenges, and the “scrappy” resilience of their operators. For these retailers, accomplishing a year’s worth of work in 30 days early in the pandemic proved that they could adapt creatively to realize tangible rapid change in their store operations and meet their customer’s needs.
Second, labor is today’s biggest challenge. Retail is back and businesses are hiring across the board. Despite that, the labor market is not keeping pace, open positions are not being easily filled, and the applicant pool is the lowest it has been in recent memory. Retaining processes adopted during the pandemic (think BOPUS) calls into question how stores are staffed and the talent needed to service customers effectively. Identifying the right full-time/part-time ratios, adding new jobs and capabilities, simply finding drivers to get product out of the DCs into stores while supporting the important principals of diversity and mental health are all current initiatives that our assembly of retailers are facing. Coupled with the rising costs of labor, many are actively “deconstructing” store roles and the processes they support which have downstream impacts on their labor models and the workforce management systems they use to support their teams.
Speaking of rising costs, another topic of discussion centered around the pinching of budgets from brick and mortar to spending on the digital experience and distribution technology. On the one hand it makes sense, as we’ve seen statistics which show that the pandemic accelerated the shift from in-store shopping to online channels by about five years. There’s no question that efficient fulfillment is now a competitive differentiator, but remembering to streamline store-based returns processes and providing flexible click-and-collect options on a local basis can lead to quicker delivery, leverage store staff, and maintain the brand experience. Of note, figuring out how to measure productivity, which is relatively clear if shipping from the DC, presents unique challenges within the store environment. Everyone is impressed with how quickly most retailers have progressed in the mix of physical and digital selling, while our leaders face the challenge of balancing their payroll between the salesfloor and online.
There were several other topics we covered including the administrative hurdles of today’s WFM systems when it comes to facilitating cross-site scheduling, training investments and techniques that some are finding effective when offering an open shift marketplace to their store associates, and workarounds when leveraging historical, pandemic influenced data while forecasting. Our leaders recognize that while there will always be challenges, there are also opportunities to innovate and deliver real, measurable ROI to the business through workforce management. Unfortunately, the time went quickly, and we all look forward to meeting in person during our next WFM Forums. We hope you can join us!
To learn more about how Axsium can help your organization find and implement solutions to one or more of these challenges, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to speaking to you soon.