line graph, bar graph, two women looking at data on a computer, large group of people walking and wearing masks in a city, and two males a manager and frontline employee checking on products in a warehouse
March 25, 2020
Employee Experience

Understanding the Strong Demand for Better Retail Employee Empowerment

Today’s competitive retail marketplace is putting renewed interest in retail staffing models and budgets. Store associates are key contributors to the success or failure of brick-and-mortar stores. In many ways, they are a retailer’s most important asset. Unfortunately, retail employees aren't always viewed as assets. Maybe that's because staffing represents a massive expense. Recent data shows more than half of a typical retailer’s selling, general and administrative expenses go to labor budgets. So it's natural retailers are trying to find ways to ease the burden of staffing costs. Sometimes at the expense of improving retail employee effectiveness.

For many retailers technology has been the answer. In recent years, retailers have purchased expensive software to algorithmically determine when stores call employees in or send them home. It's called "Just-in-Time" scheduling. The software doesn't take personal employee details into consideration. It can't understand the nuances of staffing the way managers can. Associates are also being forced into part-time status to meet the demands of the ever-changing store schedules. It has not been a friendly, human process employees have loved.

In fact, it's not a practice local, state and national government have appreciated either. For these reasons, the practice is being abandoned by retailers.

So, outside of the murky moral and legal aspects of the practice, these kinds of technology implementations haven't solved the problems of retail staffing. In fact, many quick technology fixes by retailers have exacerbated staffing issues.

Real costs, real benefits

Retailers can't afford to mistake the huge cost of employees as a negative to their balance sheet. Employees aren't a drag on profits, but rather a massive investment in talent.

For the last ten years, Zeynep Ton, a Professor of Operations Management at MIT has studied workforce investments. Her research argues underinvesting in employees leads to inefficient operations, and lower profits. She explains:

Highly successful retail chains not only invest heavily in store employees, but also have the lowest prices in their industries, solid financial performance, and better customer service than their competitors.

Today's omnichannel retail environment means the stakes have never been higher for retailers. Physical stores and digital experiences must intertwine and overlap while still maintaining continuity. Instead of using technology to "manage" staffing, retailers must put it into the hands of store employees. Associate technology can foster improvements in everything from customer experience to operational efficiency.

Imagine mobilizing your largest asset to improve productivity, communication, engagement, and accessibility. Tools to shape the future of your customer experience.

Consumers are changing and adapting. They expect retailers to do the same.

The challenge is, you can't change fast enough if your biggest asset isn't contributing to the change. If technology is only "managing" the change instead of becoming an innovation tool for employees, you are missing out. Enabling employees with technology transforms them into agents of change. Allowing retailers to meet consumer demands.

This kind of technology turns brick-and-mortar stores into more than just profit centers. They become labs. Places where retailers can live into the process of testing and learning. Improving their omnichannel strategies.

Employees are the most important resources in a business. Retailers must empower them.

Employee Empowerment Works

The decision to use new technology to empower employees is being put into the hands of CIO's, CHRO's, and COO's everywhere. It's a big decision. However, prioritizing the kinds of tools you create can help ensure the investment turns out to be profitable for both the employee culture and bottom-line.

We recommend focusing on four key areas of employee empowerment:


Applying new technology to company operations to help employees achieve better execution and do so more efficiently.


Connecting geographically disparate employees so they can learn from one another and build lasting relationships.


Connecting employees to the Company Purpose, helping them feel appreciated and set up for success.


Provide easy access to the information that employees need to be effective on the job and get the most out of their employment benefits.

Focusing on these four strategic employee imperatives allows retailers the opportunity to create measurable results in areas employees and retailers both care about.

How do retailers effect change in these four areas? Retail leadership can connect people with purpose, provide next generation tools, invest in learning, and give influence to those closest to the customer. Essentially, retail leadership can unlock in-store employees.

Joe Saumweber, RevUnit CEO, explains, "Using tools like live events and associate mobility, retailers can deploy content and interactive training that helps each employee catch the vision for how their performance makes a difference on the KPIs of the business. When the connection between tasks and organizational purpose is made clear, performance improves."

Creating an Engaging User Experience

Employee Empowerment tools are built and launched in a range of technology mediums. Examples include location devices, wearables, mobile devices, break room desktops, cash registers, kiosks, and more.

No device or technology is an automatic winner. The key is matching up one of the strategic imperatives (productivity, communication, engagement, accessibility) with a need employees have identified. Then building a great user-experience to address the need. You've got to make sure it's a real need for the employees. The best way to do that is by asking. The same goes with building your user experience. You build a product development process of build small, learn fast, and iterate often. You test and learn until you get it right because user experience matters. In fact, nearly 60% of employees will stop using the app altogether if the user experience is poor.

Nearly 60% of employees will abandon their corporate apps if the user experience is poor.

Building a great user experience means using the technology and applications to work within your current workflow, not create a new one. Retailers have lots of systems and processes. From IT infrastructure and application layers, to store operation's standard operating procedures.

Building a great user experience means using the technology and applications to work within your current workflow, not create a new one. Retailers have lots of systems and processes. From IT infrastructure and application layers, to store operation's standard operating procedures.

Employee empowerment tools should make working within current systems easier. It all has to integrate. Out-of-the-box solutions often struggle to provide the flexibility and connectivity necessary for enterprise employee tools to actually work. If you remember the "just-in-time" scheduling software, it's not about the tech working, it's about the tech working to empower the employee. The most successful way to put the right user experience in front of retail employees is to use custom software designed for the specific retail employee need.

What About Results?

Research shows employees using wearables alone can increase productivity by 8.5% and job satisfaction by 3.5%. But, wearables are only a small (but growing) part of the bigger empowerment movement. Overall results show empowered employees sell 87% more based on a two-year study of 63,500 retail sales associates.

The impact on real, measurable key indicators for your business are possible. What if a single retail store could free up 25 hours a day in productivity? Then you scale it across hundreds of stores. Soon, the employees are not only getting more work done but feeling better about their jobs.

Retail competitiveness is at an all-time high. Major retailers are declaring bankruptcy all the time. Don't mistake one of the greatest assets just as a significant cost. Empower retail employees to impact productivity, communication, engagement and accessibility. Connect the strong demand for better employee empowerment with the opportunity to dramatically improve business. If you need help, RevUnit's Retail Employee Empowerment Services can help you determine what you need to do and build you the engine to do it.

Data Studio
Google Cloud Build
App Engine
Cloud SQL
Cloud Storage
Cloud Functions
BigQuery ML

Improve the in-store experience for consumers and employees by delivering actionable data to managers.

man and woman discussing retail store operations

RevUnit partners with leading retailers to make data accessible to frontline employees — capturing opportunities to drive improvements, increase productivity, and help delight consumers. Learn more about our capabilities with Retail Store Operations Software.

Learn More -->
RevUnit icon
RevUnit is a technology studio that helps supply chain clients identify and implement data solutions that actually prove ROI. We help organizations across industries like transportation, freight, logistics, retail, and manufacturing achieve business results through innovative data solutions — powered by AI/ML and the cloud. We’ve done it for clients like ArcBest, J.B. Hunt, and Walmart.

Related Posts