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4 ways retail brands can increase staff engagement

I am delighted to have Andréa van der Meel, founder of SeekStock, an engagement tool that delivers real-time product insights from the shop floor to head office, to share her valuable insights on closing the gap between the shop floor and head office through the most important assets to any retail business, your people.

Now over to Andréa...

Having worked in the fashion retail sector for 11 years, I have never really understood why frontline retail staff aren't typically held in high regard. I can tell you first hand that the work isn't ‘easy’, especially for an introvert such as myself.

Being on your feet all day, coupled with the mental exhaustion from dealing with a constant flow of people makes the retail floor extremely challenging. Not to mention the heavy administrative workload that store managers are required to balance, all by close of trade. And if that weren’t enough, throw in a few negative comments here and there from customers that replay over and over in your head.. at 2a.m… Not always #funtimes.

But despite all of that, retail work can be incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of guiding a male customer into a slightly slimmer-legged pant, all in the name of fashion. We may not be saving the world, but we are giving everyday people more confidence through their outfit choices. Who knows, perhaps we are giving these customers the confidence they need to save the world? I, at least, like to think so.

Although there is a side to retail that customers don’t get to see; the relationship between retail stores and their head office.

Retail staff strive to feel part of a bigger picture and share in the vision of their chosen brand. They want their contributions to be noticed, and to progress and grow as the company grows. For smaller brands with only a handful of stores, staff get the benefit of one-on-one interaction with designers and decision makers, allowing them to feel like a valued team member. But for most larger chains, staff often feel like just another number. I can speak from experience when I say I have personally felt a lack of engagement and purpose within some retail organisations. The negative effects of poor staff engagement include poor work performance, sub-par customer service, high staff turnover, theft, increased training costs and attendance issues. It’s no surprise that these effects negatively impact retailer’s bottom lines. For brands to maximise their in store profits, they need to put in what they want to get out of their teams. Here’s a not-so-scientific graphic to help paint a picture:

Copyright: Andréa van der Meel

“So what can retailers do to ensure they maintain an ongoing, meaningful connection with their frontline employees?”

1. Communicate Clearly. It’s incredibly common for retail staff to have no idea what is going on at head office. What direction is the company heading in? What new product lines are being introduced and when? Who is new to the team? Who has left the team? More often than not, these questions don’t tend to get answered unless someone asks. There is a serious lack of preemptive, company-wide communication about important updates. To add insult to injury, when customers query something brand specific that staff haven’t been informed about, they have to embarrassingly say they don’t know the answer. A monthly, internal newsletter distributed to all stores is a quick and easy way to keep everyone up to date.

2. Have product-centric discussions, often. Shop staff should be the first port of call for brands that are serious about understanding their stock demands. As customer bases vary slightly from store-to-store, frontline staff are best positioned to help brands identify nuances between each outlet. Staff are generally very passionate about having the right products in their store, as it makes their jobs easier. However, current feedback methods limit their ability to communicate their store’s needs effectively. Typically, the only feedback welcomed by head office is from managers. This frustrates me greatly, as there are plenty of non-managerial retail staff with great input that simply never sees the light of day. Product discussions should not only be all inclusive, but they should happen more frequently. For staff to feel like an integral part of their organisation, head offices need to learn to talk with staff, not at them. There is a huge opportunity for technology to streamline such discussions and provide actionable insights for retailers to optimise their stock. These are the types of issues products like SeekStock are striving to solve.

3. Incentivise staff. There is nothing like a bit of healthy competition between stores to really drive results. A monthly prize for the staff member with the highest units per transaction, or the tried and true “Employee of the Month” are great ways to acknowledge the efforts of your staff. Although the way to really get to your employees hearts is through cold, hard (albeit taxed) cash. I’m personally not a fan of paying staff in store credit. It may be a cheaper alternative than giving a cash bonus, but it will likely leave a sour taste for some. Staff are aware that store credit not only goes straight back into the business, but more often than not, the amount given is conveniently never enough to cover the cost of anything. This forces staff to spend their own money just to use the credit, and this can sometimes feel more like apenalty than a reward. The most memorable monthly prize I’ve experienced in my retail career was the chance to win a trip to Fiji. Needless to say, that month was the hardest I have ever worked, probably in my life. Unfortunately I didn’t come away with the win, but the brand certainly won with the increased productivity from staff and the boost in sales. This prize was also conveniently timed in one of the slower retail months of the year - very clever!

4. Work in store. Nothing says “I value the work you do” like doing it too. Showing staff that you are willing to get your hands dirty and work on the shop floor from time-to-time can have enormous positive effects. Staff will welcome the chance to get insight into the minds of designers or buyers, and your head office team will get first hand feedback about what products are working or not. Some brands (usually those smaller in size) make this a priority, with higher levels of staff engagement and morale as a result.

Those on the frontline of our retail stores have so much valuable insight to offer. It’s my sincere hope that brands will make more of an effort to listen. At the end of the day, engaged staff equal happy staff, and happy staff equal happy customers. What more could a retail brand ask for?

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