Retail domination: technology and the ever-changing face of HR in retail

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It's HR in Retail month on HRZone! We're focusing on all things retail - check out our HR in retail hub to read all our great content!

Within the retail sector, both online and on the high street, wave after wave of new technologies and innovations have totally changed the customer experience, and they continue to do so.

Today it’s hard to imagine a world where we didn’t have the convenience of online shopping, while smartphone apps that do everything from allow customers to virtually try on clothes without even being in the store to collect all sorts of unique loyalty points and bonuses have made the shopping experience altogether more interactive and engaging.

On the other side of the counter too, HR and business leaders are grabbing onto the onslaught of new and innovative technologies to transform their HR processes and operations.

Technology has changed how retail organisations grow their workforces, manage their people and shape their organisations.

The ‘move’ to mobile

The technology discussion invariably begins – and often ends – with mobile. Every year’s list of HR trends heralds mobile as the ‘next big thing’ and the ‘new HR technology platform.

Newsflash: Mobile isn’t going to revolutionise the world of HR. Mobile isn’t something you should start paying attention to.

Mobile isn’t the next big thing. Mobile is here! Now! It’s been here for a long time, dominating how we communicate and interact with other people and the world around us. Anyone in HR who hasn’t already started thinking mobile is playing serious catch up.

Mobile is and should be inherent in virtually all aspects of your HR technology for retail. It’s fundamental to the employee experience and no longer exists as a trend in and of itself. Let’s step beyond mobile and look at some of the key technology trends that are helping savvy organisations dominate the retail space.

Building a winning workforce

There’s no doubt about it, a talented and engaged workforce is one of the most significant competitive advantages a retail organisation can have. But with the ever-present ‘war on talent’ the challenge for organisations is building a workforce that helps them win.

This is particularly true in the retail sector, where predominantly young workforces, regularly changing staffing requirements and high employee turnover present a unique set of challenges.

Leading organisations are turning to the advanced capabilities of HR technology to tackle these challenges. Using social recruitment tools and advanced recruitment tools such as video interviewing, organisations are speeding up the recruitment process and making it easier to target the right kind of candidates.

Then there’s onboarding and training. Some of the biggest names in retail are taking an approach to onboarding that begins before a new hire even arrives in store, and they’re using HR technology to enable this.

Training videos, such as how to fold and present clothes, and documentation are being delivered to new recruits via personalised dashboards, helping them to hit the ground running on day one.

If effective recruiting is the foundation of a winning workforce, then talent management forms the walls, windows and roof of the operation.

Again, technology is changing how organisations approach this. Continuous feedback and 360 reviews are replacing the annual review and gamification tools are changing the way employees interact with each other and with the organisation as a whole.

A new approach to workforce management

Perhaps the single biggest impact technology is having on the world of HR in the retail sector is in the area of workforce management. Paper-based processes, hand-written rosters and inefficient time and attendance tracking have long been the bane of retail managers’ working lives.

For a while now, HR technology systems have enabled the streamlining of many of these processes – or at least they should have – and saved significant amounts of time in the process. But now technology is taking things a step further and automating the processes completely.

In many organisations, managers could be wasting up to 20% of their working week rostering their teams.

Today’s workforce management technology can bring that time down to a fraction of that by enabling auto-rostering of staff. Organisations can use their operational and sales data to generate rosters based on forecasted trends, ensuring accurate rostering that puts the right amount of people with the necessary skills on the shop floor at all times, dramatically reducing overtime costs in the process. The same is true for absence management, which is claimed to cost UK businesses a staggering £24bn annually.

With mobile technology allowing organisations to quickly and automatically replace absent staff members while still ensuring adequate skills coverage and Working Time Directive compliance, retailers are ensuring that absence management isn’t the cash drain it once was.

All aboard the data train

In Gartner’s 2016 – 2018 Strategic Roadmap for HCM Technology Investments they identified the need for HR IT leaders to develop a regularly updated roadmap for their HCM technology strategy and, if they haven’t done so already, to evaluate the effect on their organisation of moving their HCM systems to the cloud in the next number of years.

Among the benefits of cloud-based HCM technology listed by Gartner, one of the key ones is the increased integration capabilities enabled by the Cloud. With better integration across IT systems, not just HR systems, but all systems, retail organisations can vastly improve their access to key workforce and operational data.

Increased access to better data is changing the way organisations view their workforces, make decisions and plan for the future.

Predictive analytics -  the branch of advanced analytics which is used to make predictions about unknown future events – is helping organisations to predict future workforce trends and plan their strategies accordingly.

And retail organisations can get in on the act too.

Utilising their data to generate predictive analytics, retailers can better predict which high performers are more likely to leave, better understand the effectiveness of training programmes, analyse metadata to predict peaks and troughs in productivity, identify which potential hires will make future leaders, and so much more. The potential to increase operational performance, productivity and efficiency, as well as drive significant savings in time and money is huge.

Say hello to wearable technology

Outside of the workplace, wearable technology has skyrocketed in popularity over the past number of years. In the US today nearly 40 million adults use some form of wearable device. Naturally, the trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by HR leaders and wearable technology is slowly making its way into the workplace. 

Retailers already utilising wearables include Tesco and Amazon, who use them to assist employees navigating the often monstrous warehouses and in tracking goods as they’re transported. This reduces the need for manual data entry and helps managers predict completion times, track fulfilment, and other key tasks.

And the use of wearables stretches far beyond just navigation and product tracking. Other uses of wearables in the workplace include improving personal security, training, time management communication and, as Fitbits become de rigeuer nowadays, in employee wellness programmes.

Saving time and increasing efficiency are two primary benefits of implementing wearables in the workplace, but they can boost employee engagement and enhance the employee experience too.

In fact, a report entitled ‘The Human Cloud at Work’ from Rackspace and the University of London found that wearable technology at work was responsible for an 8.5% increase in workplace productivity and 3.5% increase in job satisfaction.

The important thing for HR leaders in the retail sector currently assessing their technology landscape is to note that none of these technologies are ‘on the way’ or ‘ones to watch out for.’ They’re all here. Leading retailers are using them and reaping the rewards. In the fast-paced world of retail, can you afford to get left behind?

It's HR in Retail month on HRZone! We're focusing on all things retail - check out our HR in retail hub to read all our great content!

About Simon Dowd


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