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From Scheduling to Sales, Retail Leaders Excel with These Tools

Managing people, processes, and products requires a complex skillset. For retail store managers, those skills have been significantly tested during the pandemic. Factor in evolving customer expectations—from omnichannel engagement to BOPIS and curbside pickup—and it’s no wonder that many retail leaders feel ill-equipped to handle the increasing demands of their already complex roles.

From Scheduling to Sales, Retail Leaders Excel with These Tools

This article, created by Zebra Technologies, tees up proven solutions that support retail store managers where they need it most. You’ll learn about cutting-edge techs, such as:

  • Task management solutions to aid in equitable and productive work allocation
  • Workforce management solutions to automate labor scheduling and simplify budgets and forecasting
  • Prescriptive analytics solutions that analyze data and allow managers to more effectively pinpoint and delegate tasks

Content Summary

Helping Store Managers Navigate New Retail Realities
Retail Store Managers–and Store Employees–Must Adjust to New Retail Realities
Changes Cause Multiple Store Manager Pain Points
Retail Store Managers’ Top Pain Points Are Often Unaddressed
Managers’ Success Tied to Stores’ Success
Helping Store Managers Be More Effective

Helping Store Managers Navigate New Retail Realities

Retail store managers must have extraordinary skills to succeed in their roles. They have the endless administrative tasks of managing the store: work schedules, inventory, and processes. They have to contend with high turnover, constant recruiting, training, and managing employee issues. On top of these responsibilities, they also must create personalized customer experiences to stand out from competitors–all while meeting sales and revenue goals.

And that was all before the pandemic. Even if a store manager is in a brick-and-mortar location, they now manage all of the omnichannel options. Although customers are coming back to stores, many still want to buy online and pick up or return products at the store. Store managers must have teams and processes in place to make it easy for customers, however, they want to shop.

Retailers know that front-line managers and associates are their most important assets. After all, they are the touchpoint between two critical aspects of the business: the customers and the brand. But too often, retail store managers do not have the tools needed to ensure that they, their employees, and the retail store succeed. This problem isn’t limited to the pandemic response. Retail and consumer behavior have changed, and they are likely to continue changing.

For stores to thrive, store managers need effective corporate-to-store communications solutions that simplify work and prioritize tasks, providing stores with the knowledge, efficiency, and flexibility to address planned activities as well as any real-time challenges.

Retail Store Managers–and Store Employees–Must Adjust to New Retail Realities

The impact of the pandemic will be felt long into the future. Resurgences may still occur, so retailers must be ready to react swiftly as needed.

Consumer behavior has also changed significantly during the health crisis and will continue evolving even after the pandemic. Customers will expect retailers to continue offering convenient shopping options, such as BOPIS and curbside pickup. Today’s customers want speedy trips in the store, support when they want, and contactless interaction and payment when they don’t.

Stores are altering more than their services. They’re changing physically too, reformatting their internal design to make room for staging areas for the pickup services and purchase returns. Retailers are developing dark stores to be flexible to shifting inventory needs. As customers expect a seamless omnichannel experience in-store, managers must ensure they and their staff are adept at the new technologies that enable these processes. Managers need to maintain a tricky balance of ensuring the store environment supports these initiatives while also creating a positive customer experience. To do this, store leaders must train employees with new skills for these customer interactions.

“These changes alter the work that store associates must accomplish, forcing them to reprioritize their tasks and sometimes miss completing tasks altogether,” said Michael St. Charles, retail industry principal, Reflexis, now part of Zebra Technologies.

Employees also have different expectations about their jobs, St. Charles said. “They expect labor schedules that are more flexible and adaptive to their responsibilities at home. All of this complicates work for store managers, who must adapt to all these pressures.”

Changes Cause Multiple Store Manager Pain Points

Managing people, processes, and products creates significant challenges for retail leaders. Hiring and training team members, ensuring omnichannel operations are running smoothly, maintaining the appropriate inventory, and managing changing health regulations are retail leaders’ most significant pain points.

“Managers are also burdened with ensuring store shelves are always stocked and in compliance with corporate’s display guidelines. This is no small feat, especially considering the added challenge of ensuring available product (and labor) is properly balanced between curbside and in-store customer orders,” said Cameron Ford, retail industry principal at Zebra Technologies.

Ford said that this increased burden means store managers must reprioritize their responsibilities, resulting in mistakes when creating labor schedules or failure to support store associates when they need assistance.

Managers are also burdened with ensuring store shelves are always stocked and in compliance with corporate’s display guidelines. – Cameron Ford, retail industry, principal at Zebra Technologies

Retail Store Managers’ Top Pain Points Are Often Unaddressed

With all they have to manage, retail store managers find that their needs are frequently misunderstood or not adequately addressed. Retail store managers’ pain points include:

  1. Too much data and technology. While information is good, it can be overwhelming when the manager does not have the time or ability to contextualize or use it.
  2. Not enough data or technology. Store managers may operate with pen and pencil or on Excel spreadsheets, leading to inefficiencies and errors and a lack of insights into improving operations.
  3. Lack of corporate-to-store communication. When new promotions or changes are introduced, in-store or through any channel, but the store manager isn’t apprised, the store is at a disadvantage, creating a negative customer experience.
  4. Being unequipped to handle the complexity of labor scheduling. Manual scheduling processes make it challenging to consider critical variables such as employee preferences and skillsets, customer traffic and product demand, and disruptive events like public health crises or severe weather. Even with training and support, store managers don’t have the time to accurately create schedules that account for all the variables that impact labor needs. Since front-line employees don’t have a streamlined way to change their schedules, request time off, or swap shifts, any scheduling changes are slow and cumbersome to manage, and updating managers about schedule changes is tricky. This break in communication makes it hard for managers to deal with modifications to labor schedules, causing inaccurate employee schedules.

How many negative experiences it takes before the average customer looks elsewhere: 2.3

The challenges store leaders face are not uncommon, said Ford. “Stores are overwhelmed with the hundreds of tasks sent by the corporate office. Communications are often inconsistent and come in varying forms. When a merchandising set is about to launch, store managers sift through 3-ring binders, emails, voicemails, and fax and text messages; each which typically contains slightly different instructions than the last.” Ford said the pain points could have long-ranging effects, causing problems for both headquarters and the store.

“Worse, these challenges negatively impact the bottom line,” said St. Charles. “With inconsistent execution, customer service falls.” According to Gartner Research, the average customer looks elsewhere after 2.3 negative experiences. He added that although one or two customers leaving might not have an impact on the bottom line, the multiplier effect of poor chain-wide execution can seriously damage customer loyalty and future earnings.

Managers’ Success Tied to Stores’ Success

There’s a significant risk when retailers don’t help managers address these challenges. The connection between a good employee experience and a good customer experience is well-established. The store manager is integral to both and directly impacts culture, branding, consistency of service, employee retention, and customer loyalty. All of these have a direct influence on sales and profitability.

If a store manager misallocates the workload, fewer tasks get completed at the store, said, Ford. He said this leads to several issues, including worse customer experience, lower sales, and lower employee engagement and productivity.

Additionally, if store managers create labor schedules that are not optimized for customer traffic, in-store workload, employee preferences, and other important variables, stores could be understaffed or overstaffed, he added. “When store managers are overburdened with work themselves, they have less time to coach and train associates, which can lead to lower employee morale if associates need help or coaching and are unable to get it.”

Helping Store Managers Be More Effective

Fortunately, three solutions are instrumental in helping the retail enterprise better manage its increasing workload, said St. Charles.

Task management solutions help retailers streamline communications between corporate and stores and monitor task completion levels. These give store managers a way to allocate work more equitably and productively, ensuring that store associates aren’t overburdened with tasks to complete during their shifts. These solutions also provide store associates with a prioritized list of tasks to complete and real-time visibility for store managers whenever associates complete a task. This makes it easier for store managers to understand what tasks have been completed and which still need to be done, and provides visibility into employee productivity and performance, task completion rates, and other execution KPIs.

These improvements have a direct impact on the bottom line. Internal data from Reflexis (now part of Zebra) shows that task management solutions can lead to:

  • 1-3% increase in sales
  • 95% reduced email volume
  • 35% increase of on-time task completion rates
  • 55% rise in completion of corporategenerated tasks

Workforce management solutions automate labor scheduling by simplifying the creation of labor budgets, forecasts, and schedules. These solutions account for the variables that matter most at stores (such as sales patterns, customer traffic, workload calculation rules, severe weather, and other disruptive events) to generate the most accurate labor forecasts. AI and machine learning also identify and correct for trends and anomalies in forecasting data. Simplifying this process for store managers removes the guesswork, reduces time spent on labor schedules, and frees managers to assist store associates and customers. Associates are also more engaged and can put in their work preferences, request shift swaps, time-off, and more.

Reflexis found that workforce scheduling solutions can help:

  • Reduce time spent on scheduling from hours to minutes, giving managers back 3-4 hours/week they can use on the floor to drive sales
  • Decrease labor payroll spending by 6%
  • Increase sales by forecasting and matching associate availability to in-store customer foot traffic

Prescriptive analytics analyzes data and provides insights to the right employee about what is happening in the store, why it’s happening, the financial impact, and what action should be taken next. Prescriptive analytics helps store managers become more effective and focused by delegating tasks, at the appropriate moment, to the right team member.

Zebra determined that prescriptive analytics offers a typical customer:

  • 15% to 18% improvement on damages and returns
  • 12% to 15% reduction on markdowns
  • 1.6% increase in sales
  • 18-20% decrease in sales reducing activities (i.e., fraud, non-compliance, etc.)

By using these tools to help manage their workload, store managers can direct their focus towards initiatives that reduce cost and increase sales, including employee training and improving the customer experience.

Retail store managers’ jobs will only get more complicated and demanding. Managers need solutions that will help them develop the knowledge, efficiency, and flexibility to address new and ongoing challenges. By recognizing the complex roles store managers play and providing proven solutions to address their pain points, corporate retail leaders can help front-line managers navigate the new retail reality, improving the retail store’s success.