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How smaller retailers can use technology to make up for labour shortages 

Retailers today are facing an increasingly unpredictable environment. It’s a difficult time for the sector at large but particularly challenging for small-sized retailers. 

Due to limited resources as backup, small retailers often feel the shock of changes more deeply. Closing their doors for even a few minutes can significantly impact revenue and undermine their loyal customer base, who, for the sake of convenience, may turn elsewhere.

Technology can offer small retailers the stability they need and help them optimise their processes and become more resilient for the future. 

Grappling with labour shortages

New figures from the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have shown the scale of the labour shortage crisis within the retail industry, with 40,300 job vacancies in retail trade in May 2022 – an increase of 11,200 or 38.5% compared to February 2022. Retailers must focus on offering employees a better experience so that they are able to attract new workers and reduce turnover.

Retail-ready solutions such as Learning as a Service (LaaS) can help train new employees faster and encourage existing team members to upskill. This can include on-device point-of-need learning to instructor-led training in service.

According to a recent study, a new employee takes an average of 12 weeks to become productive on the job. In order to speed up a new team member’s training and free up managers and other staff members, portable mobile devices along with on-demand software are especially useful. 

The devices can be loaded with video-on-demand software applications and other learning tools to support effective on-the-job training. Instead of spending days shadowing co-workers, new hires can spend one day learning the ropes and then become self-sufficient by the next day. For instance, if a team member forgets how to process payments, they can use their mobile device to access a step-by-step guide rather than consulting with a co-worker. Employees can also easily transition between different roles, from taking stock in the backroom to delivering exceptional customer service on the floor by using such mobile-powered training tools.

Employee empowerment through scheduling 

When employees of small businesses are suddenly unavailable to work, it may feel like the only choices small business owners can make are either opening late, closing early, or staying closed for an entire day. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) must consider ways to manage their small workforce using technology and look for ways to boost efficiency. Leveraging an integrated scheduling platform can streamline the process as well as help with task distribution.

 A scheduling platform also helps fill vacancies and creates opportunities for employees to gain valuable experience in various roles. Another key benefit is that it gives your team visibility so that if they want to pick up extra shifts, help keep the doors open, submit time off requests, and secure instant coverage, they can do so without involving a manager. Offering increased flexibility and greater control will make your employees feel more valued. 

Meeting workers’ digital demands

Developing a strong workforce for the future requires recruiting, empowering, and retaining Millennial and Generation Z (Gen Z) staff, the latter of which is the first truly digital native generation and will likely comprise at least one-third of the Australian workforce by the year 2030. As they enter the workforce, they bring with them new expectations around technology, putting more pressure on small businesses to invest in solutions that support a more connected and productive workplace.

For instance, by using technology tools to conduct inventory counts, a very important task can be simplified with little or no training needed and can enable retail associates to drive the entire inventory management process by themselves. The benefits of this are plenty; not only would this reduce time spent on monotonous tasks, but it would also empower retail workers as they would feel like they have been trusted with an entire process. 

Fortunately, with more accessible devices in hand and streamlined communications, small business leaders can more effectively manage and mentor their younger workers so they feel fully engaged and set up for success, which is key to providing a solid employee experience. Such technological toolkits also make retailers’ lives easier, particularly in these uncertain times.

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Brett Newstead

Brett Newstead

Brett is a Director of Sales at Zebra Technologies who has been with the company for over 7 years. He is a customer centric leader passionate about innovation, developing talent and solutions that empower frontline workers.

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