Self-service kiosks are popping up everywhere – even McDonald’s – as retailers and fast food chains struggle to adjust to raises in minimum wage without increasing prices. Walmart is even using robots to monitor stock levels and send photos of empty shelves to employee’s phones, according to a recent AP story by Christopher Rugaber and Anne D’Innocenzio. The hamburger chain Mooyah is training its cooks to pivot on one foot like a basketball player instead of taking extra steps, a move that is intended to enable five workers to do the work previously done by nine.

Robots and sports training are unlikely to be the solution to this dilemma for many independent retailers, but we are faced with the same challenges as wages go up. One solution is to increase workers’ efficiency, Rugaber and D’Innocenzio point out. “A company’s wage increase of 10 percent can be offset if its employees produce 10 percent more.”

While it is a worthwhile goal to have your staff work more productively, you should start by giving careful consideration to how any changes will impact customer service or employee job satisfaction. Personal service is one of the key ways that brick and mortar shops can compete with online retailers – and given the challenges of attracting employees today, it’s important to keep your staff happy.

In examining efficiency, take a careful look your sales figures to determine whether the hours you are open are optimal. Can you reschedule your existing employees and cut back on a few of your regular hours? How many employees do you need to always have good coverage on the sales floor during the times you are open? It may be helpful to set up a swing shift, with an extra person coming in to help for a few hours in the middle of the day if you find that that is when more shoppers are present.

If you have employees in other roles such as stock person and bookkeeper, you may be able to save some expense, and gain flexibility, by having two people job share these positions instead of hiring for a full-time position. Those of us who are particularly busy during the holidays know the benefit of having seasonal workers willing to come help for just a few weeks. Keep in touch with these employees throughout the year by including them in employee communications and customer emails so that they are not out of the loop when they return for the season.

Many bigger retailers try to make efficient use of their sales staff by changing their schedule from week to week. This unpredictability is a key reason that retail has trouble getting good applicants. Workers need to know their hours so that they can schedule classes and other life events around their work – and they also need a dependable income flow.

Efficiency in store procedures is a win-win. Customers appreciate friendly, speedy service, and employees like to feel that good use is being made of their time. The new year is a good time to examine your policies and procedures to see if you can do anything – short of automation – to streamline them.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder

PS I will be presenting two free seminars during the upcoming Las Vegas Market, and would love to see you there! Each one will be followed by a book signing for the new edition of Specialty Shop Retailing.

Sunday, January 27 12:00-1:00 Endless Opportunities: Setting Up a Calendar of Events for Your Store

Monday, January 28 2:30-3:30 Markup and Markdown: Making the Best Use of Inventory Dollars