Retail productivity is a metric that every store owner or manager wants to maximize. After all, the more productive your stores are, the better it is for your bottom line. Many factors contribute to retail productivity — your selling space, fixtures, and products are key examples. But one factor that’s sometimes overlooked (and often under-invested in) is the workforce.
Your employees can be the biggest drivers of retail productivity, so developing their skills and improving their efficiency should be a priority.
In this post, we’ll explore the ways that you can help your team be more productive. Go through the pointers below and consider incorporating them into your staffing strategy.
1. Invest in your front-line staff
We’ve talked about investing in your staff a few times on the blog, but it’s worth bringing up again. Customer-facing employees can have a massive impact on store productivity, so don’t make the mistake of undervaluing them.
Think of it this way: your employees, in a sense, breathe life into your store and keep sales going. Metaphorically speaking, cutting labor costs is akin to skimping on your oxygen tank.
As Terry Hawkins, Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Progress Retail, a company that provides tailored retail learning and development solutions, shares,
“All I’ve heard for the last couple of decades from retail management is how to reduce costs. We might think we save money by reducing our wages bill, but ‘cutting costs’ on your oxygen tank kills productivity.” – Terry Hawkins, Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Progress Retail
She adds that encouraging productivity in front-line employees means keeping them inspired and connected. “It’s about giving them a bigger reason to get out of bed in the morning. I’m sorry, but $11 an hour will not make me inspired and passionate to sell your product.”
The next time you’re experiencing low staff productivity, you may want to ask yourself two questions:
- Do you have the right people in place?
- Are you investing enough in them?
If you answered “no” to either or both, you’ll want to rethink your hiring and staff development strategy.
2. Train and educate employees to go beyond product knowledge
Having employees with ample product knowledge is good, but no longer enough to compete in today’s retail landscape.
As Ray Riley, Progress Retail’s CEO puts it,
“Education and training is the number one way to improve staff productivity. This is more than just product knowledge, as Amazon can communicate this quite easily. Sales professionals need to meaningfully connect with each customer that walks into their store.” – Ray Riley, CEO, Progress Retail
According to Riley, you need to go beyond inventory training or teaching employees about your brand. You should take things further by “teaching managers and sales professionals to earnestly relate to customers, and show genuine interest in every customer as a human being by engaging them in conversation.”
Being an industry expert is another key differentiator, he says. “As mentioned, Amazon makes it too easy to transact at a superficial level that doesn’t require human expertise. These retail sales professionals require adaptive, solutions-oriented domain expertise. So if you’re selling jewelry, you need to know your merchandise in and out, your competition in and out, your industry in and out, and the ability to communicate effectively for the customer to understand all options for the investment they are making.”
How can you teach all that to your staff? Consider using learning experience platforms or learning management systems that focus on retail. Another option says Riley is YouTube.
“Particularly in small business retail, strong owners or managers can select content that relates to their vertical or store, can assess comprehension, and work daily on the floor to set a standard. Once team members are aware of the expectation, they will rarely fail to attempt to meet it when effective management exists.” – Ray Riley, CEO, Progress Retail
3. Catch up with each other regularly
Great communication is essential. Catching up with your team on a regular basis helps you set priorities and keep everyone accountable. These catch-ups can also give people the chance to voice questions or concerns so you can help them do their jobs better.
Christina Lavingia, the Content Marketing Manager at PayJunction, a provider of retail payment processing solutions, recommends conducting meetings daily.
“Make it a priority to have an informal standing meeting every morning to agree upon each team member’s top goals and priorities. This should include a list of tasks to accomplish that are shared with the team. By determining a to-do list and sharing it with the team, you’ll gain transparency and alignment about how each staff member should focus his or her time. Assisting customers may be a consistent task, but this is a great time to assign ownership of inventory management or tidying up.” – Christina Lavingia, Content Marketing Manager, PayJunction
4. Foster a great working environment
Raising staff productivity will be an uphill battle if your employees are working in a disorganized or uninspiring environment.
Do what you can to ensure that your store is a great place to work. Keep every part of your store in top shape — even the parts that shoppers don’t see. Stock rooms, office spaces, and break rooms should be kept tidy. An organized retail environment isn’t just easy on the eyes, it also helps employees find what they need to help customers faster and get things done more efficiently.
Here’s another tip: make your retail workspace more inspiring. Perhaps you can put up motivational posters or spruce up the space with fun decor. Do some research on Pinterest or Instagram for ideas that you can implement in your location.
Case in point: hazel + dot, a store that sells gifts and home decor, posted a behind-the-scenes photo on Instagram, giving people a peek at their stockroom desk. Notice how little things like the patterned pen holders or the board that says “Maybe she’s born with it… maybe it’s caffeine” instantly make their space look more fun.
5. Find creative ways to motivate your team
Want your employees to get an extra burst of productivity? Give them a little push through prizes and rewards. If you have multiple locations, for example, why not use contests to motivate each store’s sales team to bring their A-game?
If you’re not a fan of competitions, consider rewarding your staff for their hard work “just because.” Incentives can come in many forms, and the right one depends on your business and team. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Free food! (One study suggests that free food is a more compelling reward than cash.)
- Free or heavily discounted products from your store. (Give employees the opportunity to use your merchandise themselves and improve their product knowledge.)
- Personalized gifts. (For example, if you know that an employee is a movie buff, why not give them free movie tickets?)
- A flexible schedule or more time-off (According to Fractl, flexible hours and vacation time are among the top three benefits people recognize when considering a job.)
6. Track the right metrics
Knowing and tracking the right metrics is essential when you set out to increase productivity. The question is, what should you measure, and how should you do it?
“Staff productivity is typically measured by analyzing sales generated per labor hour, but this is only part of the story,” explains Mark Ryski, CEO of HeadCount Corporation, a leading authority on retail traffic and customer conversion analysis.
“Sales generated will be largely influenced by the number of shoppers in the store. When the store is quiet with few shoppers, productivity will be low, but this isn’t something store personnel can influence. A more insightful measure of staff productivity is sales per traffic count (or visitor) and conversion rate (the percentage of visitors who made a purchase).” – Mark Ryski, CEO, HeadCount Corporation
Regarding how to measure and improve on these metrics, Ryski recommends aligning your staff resources with in-store traffic. “Compare staff schedules to hourly traffic counts to ensure you have enough labor to coincide with when shoppers are visiting the store.”
You’ll then want to “measure conversion rates and look for conversion sags,” he adds. “If people are visiting the store, but not buying, this is a tell-tale sign you have a productivity problem. By knowing when and how many shoppers are visiting, but not buying, store managers are in a far better position to make adjustments to improve productivity.”
Once you have an idea of your traffic patterns, you can set staff schedules and tasks to match those patterns.
“When the store is busy,” says Ryski, “all labor should be focused on helping shoppers buy; when the store is less busy, focus on tasking and other activities.”
7. Use technology to make their jobs easier
You want your employees to focus on revenue-generating tasks, and you can do this by giving them tools that would increase their efficiency. Evaluate your store procedures, identify menial tasks that require manual input, then find apps or platforms that can automate them.
For example, if your employees are still using pen and paper to count inventory, isn’t it time to switch to an app that can digitize the process? Doing so would mean that they’ll spend less time in the stock room and devote more energy to actually helping your customers.
Conducting retail audits? Use a solution that runs in the cloud so you and your staff can log in from anywhere with a web connection. Having this type of system keeps your team on the same page and makes it easier to manage tasks and execute campaigns.
A great audit and task management solution also frees up your managers’ time, in turn helping them focus more on developing your sales team.
There’s a direct link between your bottom line and your staff’s productivity; if you’re looking to raise your revenues, you need to start with your employees. So, keep them inspired, communicate with them often, and give them tools to do their jobs better.
And don’t forget to measure their productivity. Figure out the right metrics for your stores, track them religiously, and improve when necessary.
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