Jingle bells, crowded stores, and a season of joy; the December holidays are nearly upon us and with them, the characteristic surge in customer traffic, bustling checkouts, and the tangible spirit of the festive season filling every aisle. 

But behind the scenes of the glittering shelves and festive storefronts, store managers are hustling more than ever. They’re probably a bit uneasy, too, afraid that they aren’t going to survive the season. 

That’s because they know how much work it’s going to take to interview, onboard and manage seasonal hires while still mentoring associates, aligning operations to corporate mandates, managing physical or digital changes to store operations, and ensuring labour schedules meet the intensified customer demand. 

Retail operations can become very daunting, very quickly. Most employees still haven’t seen that “relief” they were expecting to see when the pandemic ended. 

If anything, they’re under more pressure because they’re having to manage more inventory, discounts, in-store events and foot traffic with fewer team members – many of whom are brand new and still leaning on managers for guidance. 

So, how can retailers ensure stores are properly and predictably staffed to keep customer satisfaction levels high, giving employees much-needed consistency, and avoiding burning out store managers and teams? 

The last thing retailers need is for managers to quit during peak season because they’re overwhelmed, tired or feeling like a failure. Retailers must do everything in their power to make jobs easier. Now, there are several ways it could be done, but one of the best is to give them the gift of time. 

I’m not talking about scheduling them for longer shifts, rather giving them more time back in their day to focus on things such as onboarding, compliance, and the complete planogram overhaul – or to just be free to support associates and customers as requests for help come in. 

When they don’t feel so rushed, when everything feels manageable, then suddenly the entire mood of the store changes. A happy manager can lift the spirits of the whole team along with customers. Likewise, the stress a manager feels can be transferred to others. 

Get rid of manual scheduling once and for all 

Having to figure out the best schedule for one person is mentally taxing. Having to figure out the best schedule for dozens or hundreds of employees – and then having to rework it dozens of times a day when people call out, quit, get hired, etc. – is impossible without the help of technology. 

It’s as painful as doing taxes, some people say. So, why would retailers make their managers – valued team leaders – do what equates to taxes all day, every day? And, yes, they’re working on schedules almost all day, every day because of the constant change requests and the uncertainty of retail operations. 

I’ve never understood why, in this digital age, any store manager must still manually pull together staff schedules. Schedule optimisation engines have been around for several years now and proven more than capable of preparing a stellar workforce schedule – one that balances employees’ wishes with customer/operational needs. 

So, why continue to make managers do something that results in nothing more than brain drain and probably a lot of heat from employees whose schedules don’t match their availability? The human brain can only remember so many personal requests and the human eye can easily miss things such as “Thandi isn’t available on Sundays.” 

If retailers really want to show their managers how much they appreciate them, and really want them to focus on everything else that’s going on in the store, they should get a more modern, more intelligent/automated, scheduling software tool that does the heavy lifting and hard thinking – matching labour “supply” with the many demand levers every day as both factors fluctuate. 

Managers can continue to review for exceptions and work with employees to adjust as needed, but they don’t have to be the ones to figure everything out. 

If retailers don’t make this change, they risk operational costs booming and customer satisfaction plummeting – which they can’t afford given that a single negative incident might prompt 50% of customers to consider other shopping alternatives or prompt managers to quit. 

Now, if retailers do heed this advice and give managers a scheduling assistant of sorts, they can expect the opposite to happen. 

Since this type of scheduling software is designed to predict labour needs in the context of operational demands (that’s why it’s so good at scheduling), store managers can see the impact external factors have on traffic, including potential inventory, footfall, e-commerce or promotion scenarios without having to individually program those into a system. 

Start using AI to forecast scheduling needs 

These more automated forecasting methods, which use AI at least in part, are designed to foresee outcomes based on history, calendars, external events, and other factors to create an optimised labour schedule. 

Even better, all this happens without the store manager needing to know how many shopping days there are between Black Friday and Christmas and how that affects daily traffic, just to name one factor that could affect a staffing plan. 

This type of scheduling tool has all the relevant information built into its calculations – giving managers one fewer thing to worry about, and some time back in the process. In fact, I’ve had many customers tell me they’ve reduced the time their managers spend on scheduling by up to 75% after switching to this type of scheduling tool. 

Remember, though, scheduling staff is not just about headcount, and schedule management is not just about filling gaps. It’s ultimately about weaving a tapestry of satisfaction for employees and customers alike. 

Managers are expected to craft rich, rewarding in-store experiences for shoppers, and that requires them to have the right people scheduled at all times: happy people whose positive attitude will spill over to customer interactions. So, make a change that will make managers happy so it’s joy, rather than disdain, that becomes contagious. 

By Sara Lauer, Workcloud Customer Success Director, Zebra Technologies