Retail Challenges in 2020

It’s not easy to adjust to a new normal; and even harder when we don’t know what “normal” will even look like a few months from now.  Sometimes it feels like nothing will ever be the same again.

To be fair, it is probably realistic to assume that things will never be the same again, but how things will normalise in a few years is anybody’s guess. Rather than losing heart, our emphasis at Simms & Associates is on finding ways to deal with the situation as it stands, help as much as we can, and stay positive.  Change presents challenges, of course; but also opportunities!

In the retail sector, frontline workers are the ones in charge of leading the way to recover the economy.  They’re also bearing the brunt of the pandemic in many ways.

Most businesses across the globe have been, and continue to be, impacted.  We were, and most of our customers were also. Who could have anticipated the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns? Followed by having to reopen at short notice under different conditions, managing employees remotely, and adhering to ever-changing rules and regulations that vary not only by country – but by region and even, here in Spain, by barrios.

Speaking to our customers and retailers in our network, we have found three common challenges that come up.

1.     Forecasting data in retail is no longer useful

How long this will hold true, I don’t know;  but historical traffic data is not as useful as it was. What happened in previous years is certainly not an indication of what we can expect in the months to come. Black Friday, Christmas? What will the footfall pattern be? Will people be spending the same as they did last year, or will belts continue to be tightened?

We need to look at near-term historical, intraday and realtime patterns to manage our retail stores now more than ever. However, this is further complicated by the ever-changing capacity maximums, which can render our predictions just as useless.

At this moment, realtime information is the most relevant. Being able to re-forecast requirements based on in-the-moment capacity and footfall is key to optimising both customer experience and employee efficiency.

Future-dated forecasting has given way to truly “managing in the moment”.

2.     Frontline staff’s health and safety

While the people who can, continue to work from home; retail staff cannot. Stores are opening, and frontline staff is back at work, but so much has changed. From fulltime concierge functions to help manage the flow of customers, staffing hand sanitising stations, and in some cases altogether blocking the entrance where staff take orders at the door via curbside pickup.  All these changes and more, to guard the health and safety of staff and customers.

How do you manage this? A spreadsheet? WhatsApp chat groups? How long can you handle this situation manually?

Getting information and training out to frontline staff

The primary way we can help is by providing them with the best and easiest-to-use tools.  To make sure they get the latest information on new protocols, ensure they’re appropriately trained to handle safety measures and help them be flexible enough to adapt to changes in both schedules and laws.

Keeping frontline employees healthy

Frontline staff is in constant contact with people—customers, suppliers, and each other. We need to make sure sick employees stay home by giving them support in shift changes, provide health checks and contact tracing; and keep social distancing at work without harming the overall customer experience – and your brand.

Providing economic aid to employees

Hospitality and retail employees suffered greatly from the spring furlough, with a good number of them still facing hardship.

As an employer, what can you do to help your team members? Naturally, you are concerned for them, but the current challenges have also affected you. There are small things one can do to alleviate the employees’ situation.  For example, by putting systems in place so that employees can easily get an advance on their wages or allowing them to pick up extra shifts and be paid for them as soon as they’ve finished – all without impacting your payroll department or the regular pay runs.

3.     Employee communication

With most companies having a big part of their office-based employees working from home, lack of flexible and agile communication has become the main culprit of failures in productivity.

Remote communication has had to substitute the comfort of face-to-face interaction in the office. For employees to adopt a useful tool, a company-wide communication tool must be intuitive, flexible, and quick to deploy.

By putting in place a corporate communication network, not too different from the social media your employees already use personally on a daily basis, you enable one-to-one and one-to-many communication now that face-to-face is not available.  You can also ensure that the right information is getting out, when it needs to, and is on a secure platform.

At S&A, we have been ‘remote-first’ since our foundation.  When people join our team, I’m often asked what exactly that means.  ‘Remote-first’ essentially means that those team members who do not work out of the physical office are never at a disadvantage because of that.  Everyone has access to the same information and the same tools.  We have years of experience working on virtual inter-company and cross-company teams, with people based all over the globe!

How can Simms & Associates help?

The way all of us live, work and interact has changed. Some of these changes are temporary, but our future is unlikely to go entirely back to our old ways.

Our Retail & Hospitality experience, combined with tools to help manage and communicate effectively, expertly positions us to help companies address these challenging times as adeptly as possible.

We recognise that companies and employees have been hit hard, and we want to help make this transition as smooth as possible.  It’s about making iterative, pragmatic changes that can be deployed quickly—being able to adjust to in-the-moment changes, whilst keeping an eye on the future.

We have decades of experience in all facets of workforce management.  We may not have all the answers in this new climate, but we would love to talk with you about the challenges you’re facing today – and share our insights to help you navigate not only your immediate issues – but help you get where you want to go.

If I have touched on some of the challenges you are facing, please reach out to me on LinkedIn or through our website. I would love to connect and share ideas; maybe we can help.

By: Amanda Simms

Founder and CEO