Leveraging Data and Scheduling Associates, Key for Successful Retailers

by Brian Field on 06-30-17

We’ve all seen recent stories about the demise of physical retail — shuttering malls, brands declaring Chapter 11, and constant iterations of layoffs. The industry is undoubtedly in a stage of contraction; however, it’s not dying off. In fact, there are many brick-and-mortar retailers performing well and opening new stores. At the same time, many online-only retailers are opening brick-and-mortar locations thanks to the cost of online advertising, the limited nature of attracting new customers online, and the inherent loyal bond that retailers are able to form through in-person interactions.

These retailers have astutely integrated contextual data into their operations in order to refine practices and create an optimal in-store experience. And doing so is what keeps a retailer on track. Rather than falling victim to perceived trends, retailers are able to lean on their data and trust historical information when shaping their offerings and differentiating their brand. This is fundamental as it relates to forecasting performance and scheduling associates.

Start With Traffic Forecasting

Too often retailers inaccurately forecast traffic by backing into traffic assumptions based upon transaction counts. The result? Gaps in service when scheduling associates. With that in mind, successful retailers provide their store managers with traffic data in order to create schedules based on real anticipated trends. Specifically, store managers utilize in counts — that is, the number of shoppers entering the store at a particular date and time — when scheduling associates It’s important to draw the distinction that “in counts” represent a retailers’ opportunity, while “out counts” can be used to evaluate resulting performance. As such, knowing the number of shoppers who enter your store (in counts) are meaningful when determining scheduling needs (ensure staff is there when the customer is). Leveraging this critical information, managers can ensure the ideal number of associates are on the floor and available to assist shoppers. It also enables managers to thoughtfully schedule tasks — replenishing merchandise, taking breaks, conducting demos — to occur at the optimal time.

Recognize Temporary Fluctuations Versus Lasting Trends

For better or worse, grand openings, significant weather events, and other one-off occurrences can cause considerable shifts in shopper visits. Importantly, these events are unlikely to repeat making it important for a retailer to recognize their recent traffic trends, but also separate blips from lasting trends. An understanding of historical shifts in traffic, specifically year-over-year trends, should be the basis for scheduling staff throughout the year, especially during peak periods. By thoughtfully analyzing historical trends, retailers are able to establish patterns and avoid falling victim to perceived trends.

Planning For Sales And Promotional Events

While on-call scheduling and last minute labor cuts may make retailers more nimble and help save on payroll during slower days, these scheduling practices are generally not sustainable, restricted in some states, and lead to unpredictable and volatile demands when scheduling associates. To avoid these issues during the back-to-school season and beyond, retailers need to plan ahead for significant retail sales dates — Fourth of July, Columbus Day, Halloween, and Veteran’s Day in the U.S. — as well as their stores’ specific sales such as Friends and Family events and schedule staff accordingly. Retailers must utilize actionable data sets during these periods to optimize staffing levels and to ensure associate availability for those dates.

A version of this article was originally published in Innovative Retail Technologies.

Read more posts by Brian Field

Brian Field is the Senior Director of Retail Consulting Practice for ShopperTrak, where he oversees the application of ShopperTrak's proprietary solutions to retailer-specific issues across different functional areas in order to drive top and bottom line store performance. Prior to joining ShopperTrak, Brian served in roles of increasing responsibility at Chico’s FAS Inc., including as the director of corporate store operations and finance. Brian has spent nearly four decades in the industry, and his experience includes: store sales and management, training, merchandising, strategic planning and analysis for brands as diverse as David’s Bridal, Circuit City and Macy's.