Operating in ‘The Now’ with Mobile Technology

By Brian Harris

mobile-shopping-in-storeIn a previous blog post about Omnichannel retail, I suggested that retailers have to “start thinking mobile” because that’s where their customers are moving. However, I also explained how it doesn’t mean that every retailer suddenly has to overhaul their business model and start handing out 3D glasses. In other words, keep doing what you’re doing—but do it with your mobile customers in mind.

The results of a recent study by the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org division and Forrester, provide some data to back this up. Forrester forecasted that in 2016, direct online sales totaled 11.6% of total U.S. retail sales ($394 billion), but digital touchpoints impacted an estimated 49% of total U.S. retail sales. This is great news for many of our retailers, particularly those in the convenience and restaurant industries, who rely heavily on foot traffic.

Here are some of the study’s other key findings that support the idea of using mobile technology in “the now”:

  • Customer service topped the list of new initiatives retailers will invest in over the next year (confirming that flashy virtual and augmented reality are not the priority… for now!)

  • 45% of retailers surveyed said mobile initiatives transformed their overall digital customer experience

  • 54% of retailers say mobile is one of their top initiatives in 2017 (followed by marketing at 46%, site merchandising at 42%, and omnichannel efforts at 22%)

  • Smartphones made up 47% of online traffic among retailers surveyed

NRF Vice President Artemis Berry noted that retailers have found “that even modest investments in mobile initiatives can result in huge returns.” And I especially love this quote: “This is no longer a new way to reach customers, but it has certainly become a highly effective method and one that boosts the level of customer engagement across the brand.”

Again, there’s no need to reinvent the digital wheel, but better that you hop on the mobile train now before it’s too late.

Forrester Vice President and Research Director Fiona Swerdlow adds that today’s customers are empowered with information and technology. “To grow, retailers know they have to operate with a customer-obsessed mindset to deliver the experiences that consumers now expect at every touchpoint,” she says. “It’s about having all aspects of the business—stores, mobile, merchandising, customer service, fulfillment and more —work together to deliver total value to your customers wherever they are, at any time.”

If how to optimize the retail industry was presented as a dissertation, I think Swerdlow just gave us the thesis statement. That’s what it all comes down to -enabling the various parts of your business to work together in real-time.

Empowering Your Employees to Communicate  

Working at Zenput is interesting because I, along with many of my coworkers, also happen to be regular customers of many of the major retailers we serve. We help major retailers that collectively serve millions of people—including their own employees, past and present. That’s what I’d like retailers to take into account when they’re proactively considering technologies that are a “natural fit” for their businesses. Your customers use mobile, your employees use mobile… so why not invest in the mobile technology that can improve your business?

Think of the various components Swerdlow discusses and what you might accomplish if you had a real-time solution to address these needs:

  • Stores - from external maintenance to internal equipment, gain the ability to report store conditions as they change, in real time.

  • Merchandising and Fulfillment - From out-of-stocks to the new promotion delivery that never came, report it in real time. Take a photo and share it with your network to confirm the latest marketing execution.

  • Customer Service – On store visits, allow your managers to observe and report on customer service best practices. It could be included in a simple checklist of whether employees are dressed appropriately for work, use courteous language, and offer customer assistance. And this goes beyond playing “big brother” on managers—it allows an organization to celebrate those employees who go out of their way to make a customer’s day easier.

Are you ready to use mobile technology to improve your business?

Learn more about how Zenput helps retailers increase their execution by scheduling a demo.

Topics: Retail, Restaurants

Healthy Food Promotions: A ‘Must’ for Retailers

By Brian Harris


Across the food industry, healthy, better-for-you food promotions are becoming more than a “nice thought.” They’re becoming essential to attracting new customers and retaining current traffic. More retailers are launching promotions and reorganizing product assortments as they realize the opportunity to increase their bottom line.

Family Express of northwest Indiana is an example of one such retailer. Convenience Store Decisions recently reported on a new better-for-you initiative at this 68-store chain. For the next two months, children 12 and under who visit one of Family Express’ locations will be offered a free banana, pear or apple while their parents shop. The retailer is also working towards displaying its healthier food options to make it easier for customers to find and select healthy foods. Eventually each store will have a “Better for You” section.

Convenience store competitors are also making an effort to improve their healthy snack offerings. In June, CVS Pharmacy announced the expansion of its assortment of healthier foods and beverages to more than 2,900 stores nationwide. This includes the expansion of better-for-you snacks at checkout lanes and healthy trend zones. Raw snack foods are currently on display in the summer, and they’ll be followed by vegan options in the fall.

The CVS promotion adapts with the changing seasons and recognizes that healthy snacks are here to stay. Packaged Facts recently released data that should get every retailer fired up about this category. In the past half-decade, healthy-ingredient snacks have seen steady growth. In fact, the market’s compound annual growth rate of 4.7% has outpaced overall food and beverage sales growth. That rate is expected to jump to 5.7% between 2016 and 2020. That translates to $25.4 billion in sales by 2020.

According to Packaged Facts, snack bars are still the largest category of healthy-ingredient snacks, followed by sales of nuts and seeds. In terms of growth, meat snacks continue to be the fastest-growing category within the segment, particularly in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Retailers across different channels are getting the message: Healthy foods attract customers and the expansion can be profitable.

The public sector is also taking note as it considers ways to support retailers who want to expand access to fresh produce, particularly in urban areas. For example, Philadelphia launched the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative to support neighborhood stores that are trying to expand healthier offerings. “The representative from the program showed me data that I could make as much money selling two tomatoes as I could soda,” one c-store owner told NACS Online. “I didn’t realize produce could have such a decent markup.”

A Checklist a Day Makes the Apples Stay

The success of healthy food initiatives is dependent on three factors:

  1. Getting the word out via promotions
  2. Product selection
  3. Execution of display

Remember: No promotion in an ever-changing retail environment falls under “set-it-and-forget-it.” If you’re going to test the effectiveness of a new healthy foods campaign, you have to mobilize your team and follow up in each store.

For instance:

  • Is promotional signage up and accurate?
  • Is there enough product available? Are products priced correctly? (Don’t make the Whole Foods pricing error!)
  • Are individual stores executing the marketing plan? (In the case of Family Express, is every age-appropriate child provided a piece of fruit? This observation can be recorded.)

Having regional or store managers account for a promotion’s various elements via a checklist is smart, intuitive, and enables you to react in real time. It could mean the difference between a promotion increasing your bottom line or failing to make a return. Tools like Zenput increase accountability and increase returns by providing real-time, actionable insights. To learn more about how this mobile solution works in the c-store environment, click here.

Topics: Retail, C-store

Managing by Checklist: NASA Does It and So Can You!

By Jennifer Hoffman


If you know about space shuttle launches, you know the importance of the checklist.

In what seems like a lifetime ago (1999 to be exact), a friend of mine was vacationing in Florida and witnessed a space shuttle launch. It was one of the most incredible experiences of her life, especially after the launch was scrapped twice—once for a hydrogen level issue and the other for weather. This particular launch was scheduled at night, which was stunning to view. But what stood out to her—and which she later shared when learning about Zenput—was the massive pre-flight checklist. As detailed by Wired, there are several components of the checklist with sub-components. Part 8 is its own step to confirm that the checklist has been completed. Seriously, can you imagine having the responsibility of checking off the fuel tanks of a space shuttle?

Now consider this: If a checklist is good enough for NASA, why can’t it be good enough for your retail operation? The best and the brightest minds, arguably in the U.S. and maybe even the world, use a checklist to get the job done. Checklists keep the mission on track. Checklists account for deficiencies. Checklists are smart!


Not All Checklists are Created Equal

When NASA uncovers a problem during its pre-flight checklist, what follows is a predetermined sequence of events. The outcome is determined by the type of issue and its severity. The team knows how to respond accordingly. So must it be for the checklists you use in your restaurant or retail operation. Don’t send the results into outer space—follow up to keep your team accountable!

Go paperless with a process. Gone are the days of pencil and paper. The world moves at a digital pace, and no one has time to transcribe written survey responses. That time is better spent addressing the inefficiencies you and your team have uncovered.

All Systems Go

Check everything, but don’t make it overwhelming for any one manager. NASA scientists have specialties. Consider making your managers specialized. For instance, if you were to conduct a weekly retail audit of specific locations with a checklist, you could assign specific tasks to managers in the field. Have one manager check property, another check retail promotions, and a third check kitchen sanitation. Next month, switch responsibilities among managers to gain fresh perspectives and to compare previous results. This could also help with employee engagement. Managers will gain a more well-rounded view of your operation, and it will hopefully keep them engaged in the team’s efforts to identify and resolve problems.

The most effective checklists go beyond simple yes, no, or maybe answers. Take on the role of a survey, they garner actionable insights. You can optimize the fields of your checklist by using a sliding rating scale or requiring a photo. Senior management can also be alerted to exceptions, all on the same platform. For instance: “Rate the cleanliness of the floor from 1 (very poor) to 10 (very clean).” Anything falling under a 5 could alert senior management that there’s a cleanliness issue at that particular store. The visiting manager could use their smartphone to take a photo of what they see. Resolving this problem could drastically improve sales.

Blast Off!

Above all, let your imagination soar when brainstorming how to develop your checklist. A nimble platform like Zenput allows your management team to edit surveys and respond in real time from their preferred device. Zenput also provides a way to measure industry best practices and develop your own over time, all while improving operations and building your team’s confidence to respond to real-time challenges.  

Topics: Retail, Restaurants

Your Sales Are Falling: What Next?

By Brian Harris


Marketing and operations: In your organization, do they work together like peanut butter and jelly? Or are they more like oil and water?

If they’re the latter, you could have a problem on your hands when your sales fall or when they “hiccup.” A hiccup is temporary. You make an adjustment—drink some water, hold your hands above your head—and it eventually it goes away. But a persistent hiccup is a more serious condition that may require medical attention. In the world of sales, this attention may come in the form of a retail sales audit. Or, it may just be a matter of looking at both marketing and operations at the store level.

The “Dos” and “Don’ts” of Diagnosing the Problem

DON’T throw more money at a program without a way of measuring ROI

What change did you make in marketing? Look at changes in your loyalty programs or couponing. Although this may seem like backdoor data analysis, the success of marketing programs is very much tied to store-level processes. For instance, a change in your marketing program must be communicated at the store level in order to be successful.

DO make adjustments in the field

Once it rolls out across your network, a marketing program isn’t a framed portrait hanging on a wall. It’s living, breathing, and changing. Gathering store-level insights helps you respond to real-time challenges. Communicating those challenges to staff in a timely way is just as critical.

DON’T mistake an operations problem for a marketing problem

Let’s reconsider the hypothetical loyalty program rollout. Have your employees received proper training to explain the new program to a customer who has questions? Preparedness doesn’t have to involve a face-to-face customer interaction. With the arrival of warm weather, many convenience stores are rolling out fountain drink beverage programs. If those machines aren’t prepped and ready for higher volume, the results of that program could be disastrous. C-store shoppers pair snacks with beverage purchases, so the loss can be felt across multiple categories.

DON’T blame your staff

True, some employees are prone to underperformance. But preparation, training, and accountability are on their managers. Employees will become disenfranchised when they aren’t given feedback or if they don’t think a manager is responding to their specific needs. Listen to your staff—they’re your eyes and ears in the store.

DO audit your staff

You’ve heard the saying that your team is only as strong as its weakest link. Your regional manager doesn’t have to interrogate staff on his/her next visit to the store. But asking employees a few questions at the point-of-sale, observing their ability to assist a customer, and generally noting their whereabouts in the store (staffing behind registers, at the food ordering counter, etc.), can be helpful in understanding sales performance.

DON’T blame outside competition for stagnating sales

It could be that there’s a new competitor in the market, but their presence shouldn’t sabotage your business suddenly. Strive to perfect your greatest strengths, but also address your weaknesses. With the rise of channel blurring and added competition from quick-service restaurants and drug stores, there’s little room for error in providing “the basics”—a clean, inviting store with friendly staff.

DO create checklists to make sure the basics are being met

Use a checklist to ensure that daily operational tasks are met. Also note where expectations are exceeded. Reward managers and employees for a job well done. These recognitions incentivize employees and can do wonders for morale.

“There’s an App for That”

DO look at how technology can help your network improve.

A mobile solution like Zenput provides store-level insights and accountability. Track the progress of a marketing program rollout. Create checklists to strengthen your core operations and identify weaknesses. Upload a photo or video to get the point across faster and with clarity.

We started out with a basic question: What do you do next when sales are falling? Well, where do most people turn when they have a question or need? Nowadays, a lot of them reach for their mobile device to look up an answer! That’s what Zenput provides—real-time answers at your fingertips, readily accessible through a user-friendly platform.

Topics: Retail

Successful Marketing Programs are Living, Breathing, and Changing

By Brian Harris


Scott Gerber has been referred to as the “Simon Cowell” of young entrepreneurship. He gives folks a kick in the pants to get their ideas off the ground. I find common ground with Scott in his concept of the one-paragraph startup plan. Essentially, Scott wants entrepreneurs to take your entire business plan and boil it down to a digestible format.

The one-paragraph startup plan is based on 5 points:

  1. Answer key questions about your business
  2. Write checklists designed to move your business forward.
  3. Execute your plan.
  4. Revise your draft plan based on the information gathered while executing the checklists.
  5. Continue to update your plan.

The one-paragraph startup is a living, breathing document based on what you observe and test in the field as you launch. For this reason, the concept easily carries over to marketing programs.

The one thing that all successful marketing programs have in common is the ability to follow up. Your marketing team can spend hours writing the most brilliant plan. But it needs to be tested, verified, and adjusted in the field. Results need to be measured and reported. Like fine art, the best marketing programs aren’t created in a vacuum. If you don’t have real-time insights, then frankly, what was the point of the hours spent planning?

The ‘One-Paragraph’ Marketing Plan Based on 5 Points

I’m not trying to undermine the importance of planning, but there’s something to be said about executing programs without the fear of perfection. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Zenput customers, it’s that things go wrong in the retail environment and they go wrong often. That shouldn’t deter you from rolling out your plan with confidence and knowing that if something goes awry, you’ll be able to recover quickly.

Compose Your One-Paragraph Marketing Program

1. Answer key questions about the product/promotion

There are many sub-questions:

  • How will customers know the product is in your stores?
  • What is the best location for this product in the store?
  • How long will this promotion run?
  • As a CPG company, what materials will I need to provide to a retailer?
  • As a retailer, do I need to train my staff in advance?

2. Write checklist designed to move plan forward

Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could create a series of tasks to prepare each store for the next big program? For instance, if you’re a retailer and you’ll need floorspace, you could create a task for store managers to adjust the planogram and verify with a photo. If you’re on the CPG side, you could deploy your field reps to discuss the program with the managers of high-traffic stores. This is smart preparation working with your team in the field.

3. Execute the plan, while still utilizing checklists

Example checklist:
  • Materials are set up according to instructions.
  • Display is placed correctly in store.
  • Product quantity/facings are correct
  • Take a photo to verify. (Plus, it truly is worth a thousand words.)

4. Revise The draft plan, based on Your Checklist Results

Real-time results enable a remote marketing team to respond to questions/concerns prior to launch. Plus, it enables store managers to be your eyes and ears in the field. They know their store environment best, so give them a way to share their observations.

5. Continue to update your plan

Remember: The marketing plan can be living, breathing, and changing based on your ability to gather and respond to new information. Don’t worry about perfection from the onset. Strive for perfection by adjusting as needed.

Approaching marketing programs this way may require a cultural shift in your organization. But if you see room for improvement, dare to be the voice of change!

Topics: Retail

Your Out-of-Stock Problem Runs Deeper Than an Empty Shelf

By Brian Harris


In your common retail “nightmare,” customers come into your store looking for a hot product, and you don’t have it. They walk out and you lose the sale. That’s the most basic definition of an out-of-stock. But the reality is that the out-of-stock problem runs much deeper than lack of product.

Out-of-stocks can occur for numerous reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Inventory reporting inaccuracies – a mismatch between basic supply and demand
  • Customer can’t find the right item – a planogram compliance issue
  • Customer can’t find the in-store promotional item – lack of product or lack of communication about product placement/materials
  • Poor customer service - inadequate staffing or lack of customer service knowledge

In other words, if the customer is not leaving with a purchase, it’s the equivalent of an out-of-stock.

How to Eliminate Out-of-Stocks

Retail out-of-stocks are not a new phenomenon. They’re an age-old industry problem that cost billions of dollars in lost sales every year, detract from customer satisfaction, and inflict costly damage on brands. But what has changed is the retailer’s ability to do something about out-of-stocks.

All of the previously mentioned scenarios have something important in common: They can be prevented with timely and accurate information, otherwise known as actionable insights.

Monitor Your Retail Programs

New merchandise programs take time and energy to roll out. Don’t let the effort of your planning go to waste. Checking for compliance throughout your network ensures that you’ve optimized store conditions, your employees are knowledgeable about the new product, and you’ve addressed any issues that may arise in the stores.

  • Verify planogram compliance to ensure products are placed correctly on the shelf and in the store.
  • Verify in-store displays and signage with a photo.
  • Verify compliance by region and individual location.

Now, do something with the information you’ve collected. More importantly, do something that goes beyond email or phone calls. In real time, you’ll be able to view important metrics concerning the product rollout. Have managers check in once the product hits stores and ask them to share a photo to verify the display.

Basically, don’t just say a prayer and hope that each store got it right. When you have the ability to pop into your stores from anywhere, you’re bound to see greater returns.

Sample Planogram Implementation Form

Topics: Retail, CPG

5 Ways to Get More from Your Merchandising Audits

By Scott Hill


So, you’ve revamped the way your field reps conduct merchandising audits. Now you’re using mobile software to track compliance from product facings and out-of-stocks, to planogram and promotional verification. You’re accounting for all of the merchandising variables… or so you think.

But what about those other store variables that may affect your bottom line? Are your field reps accounting for those as well?

Here are 5 things your reps should document while conducting a merchandising audit.

  1. Neighboring Products
    Two things don’t exist in a vacuum: Art and CPGs. What products are next to yours? This is another variable to account for when determining the best shelf location for your product. Don’t forget to snap a photo!
  2. Marketing Materials
    These materials go beyond the in-store promotions your team created. It can include promotional displays, stickers, posters, signage and radio spots. If you’re paying for this extra exposure, make sure your retail partner is in compliance. A feature like GPS is especially helpful for gathering individual store feedback.
  3. The Premises
    Maybe you’re a company with a food product or beverage, and you’re relying on the retailer to keep it clean and orderly. You have every right to monitor their compliance. Is the floor or restrooms dirty? Are the refrigeration and lights working? Property inspection should be part of your merchandising audit. Problems that extend past your company can be communicated in a professional way, so long as they are reported with photographic evidence.
  4. Knowledge of Average Store Employee
    Just out of curiosity, does the average employee know your product? Can they direct a customer to the correct promotion? Again, this could be more of a retailer issue than a merchandiser issue, but it could be affecting everyone’s bottom line. Be sure to ask your retail partner if you can question their employees in the field. There’s no need to make it the inquisition either—a couple of simple “yes” or “no” questions in your custom-built form will suffice.
  5. Follow Up
    You’ve complete the merchandising audit, so now what? It’s time to assign tasks from your findings. Hopefully your software as real-time exception notifications as well as the ability to assign tasks based on those notifications. Compliance becomes much easier when tasks are assigned to specific stores and senior management can track their progress by region, district, or team.

To watch a video overview of Zenput and learn how the mobile app integrates with CPG operations, click here.

Topics: Retail, CPG

The Case for Routine Hardware Security Audits and Inspections

By Vladik Rikhter


Part of modern day security is a company’s ability to combat scams that aim to take advantage of customers. It’s in the best interest of any company because a brand’s success is often built on basic trust. When customers shop at a store or eat at a restaurant, they expect a secure transaction.

For some companies, changing technology has made it more difficult to keep up with scammers. The problems for a company’s image are two-fold:

  1. Scams display weaknesses in security systems.
  2. Reports of customers being scammed spread rapidly around the Internet.

It’s now more important than ever to make sure that your business is up to date with technology auditing, and keep customers informed of breaches in security.

How Skimming Works

Most of the scams that occur inside retail locations require inside knowledge of the company’s mechanics. The thieves open the card processing terminals at a checkout lane and install a skimming device that sits underneath the keypad. The apparatus then steals account data when customers swipe their cards at the register.

Sometimes, thieves place a hidden camera in order to record personal identification numbers. The camera may be hidden in the ATM, or even just to the side inside a plastic case holding other items. Other skimmers install a fake PIN pad over the actual keyboard to capture the PIN directly, so a camera is not needed.

Regardless, employees and managers should be trained on how to detect ATM tampering. It comes down to knowing what to look for when inspecting machines. PC Magazine offers more specifics here.

If a breach is confirmed, companies must be fully transparent in notifying customers. Here’s a case-in-point:

Safeway Loses Safety Points

In some parts of Colorado and California, the grocery chain Safeway recently had issues with scammers who “skim” for PIN and credit card numbers.

The company released a statement concerning the fraud:

"Like all responsible business owners, our store teams routinely inspect all point-of-sale devices and discovered the three skimmers during these inspections. When our store teams find evidence of criminal activity like this, we have been able to pinpoint with surveillance video when the devices were installed and how many transactions were processed.”

To Safeway’s credit, the breach was detected during a routine audit. However, the company chose not to notify customers immediately, deferring the problem to banks. A spokesperson said Safeway’s internal security team did not want to alarm customers and possibly compromise the investigation. However, that decision backfired with some customers.

“Oh boy does this tick me off!” wrote Larry Taylor of Lakewood, Co. “I've been shopping at the Safeway at Garrison and Colfax for about 15 years. I'm stunned that they found skimmers and didn't bother to let any of us know. Looks like it’s Soopers from now on!”

Many customers saw a company trying to protect themselves—not their security.

The Takeaway

  • Companies should make sure their ATM security is up to date and audited on a regular basis to detect fraud.
  • Tampering is detectable and employees should be trained to detect when an ATM has been tampered with.
  • Regular, routine auditing means less risk for your brand in the long run.
  • Be sure to have a plan for how your company would react in a security breach, keeping in mind that full transparency with your customers is a priority.   

Topics: Retail, Grocery

Drone vs. Ground Delivery: Where Does Convenience Retail Stand?

By Scott Hill


You may remember the classic line from “A Christmas Story”: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid! A 2015 version might be, “You’ll take a power line down, kid!”

Drones are increasingly in demand, in fact topping eBay’s list of The Hottest Holiday Gifts of 2015. They’ve captured the imagination of kids and adults alike. Now, these remote-controlled flying devices are also on the radar of today’s largest companies.

Amazon delivery drones will soon be taking a test flight in the city of Chiba, Japan, where the government declared the city’s airspace a deregulated zone. Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, wants to begin delivering packages via drones to consumers by 2017, while Walmart has applied to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery.

These companies will have to overcome many hurdles, given the Federal Aviation Administration’s strict regulations on American airspace’s. Drone delivery may be a reality in Europe first where companies will find a more relaxed regulatory environment. But according to one aerial vehicle interviewed by Time, U.S. customers shouldn’t hold their breath. He foresees drone delivery being as common as Fedex or UPS by the late 21st century. In other words, he doesn’t think we’ll be alive to see it!

It also raises the question, by the time drone delivery becomes legal and regulated, will customers still care? Will some new innovation have taken its place?

The Immediate Future is Better Logistics

The other day, a friend of mine posted on his Facebook, “Should I tip the Prime Now driver for delivering a $1.89 Powerade?” I read, laughed, and knew that the future had arrived. (If you research this topic, you’ll see this is up for debate. )

In the immediate future, ground logistics take precedence. Instead of looking to the sky right now, c-store retailers would be better positioned to keep their eyes on the road. They should start to study companies like UPS, who are investing big money in technologies like Orion that mathematically determine the most fuel efficient ways to deliver goods.

7-Eleven has taken an early lead on home delivery, partnering with startups DoorDash in five cities and Tapingo in college markets.

Here are two important questions convenience retailers need to consider when thinking about delivery:

  1. If you were to offer a delivery service, would you be able to move goods from the floor quickly and complete the order accurately?
  2. Even delivery services from Amazon Prime Now take an hour or two. Is it going to be possible to reduce that window to the amount of time it takes an employee from the corner store to deliver?

That’s where convenience stores are uniquely positioned and can profit in the short and long term. Geographically, they have more locations and can beat larger retailers, Internet or big box, in a foot race.

If your convenience store network can handle it, you may want to start weighing your options for local delivery. Buy the drone for the office this year, but consider buying into technology that can help you understand your operations better.

Topics: Retail, C-store

3 Things to Remember When Managing Seasonal Staff

By Brian Harris


It’s a time of year when the retail world kicks into high gear. More registers are open, lines are longer, and more customers need assistance. As a result, more labor is hired around the holidays.

This year, the number of hires by companies has risen. According to a recent survey, 67% of retailers said they are hiring more workers than last year. In addition, 83% of the seasonal hires will be located in brick-and-mortar stores to accommodate the uptick in customer demand.

That’s good news for the industry. The other good news is that employers are hiring at a higher wage. Wal-Mart started the trend earlier this year by raising their hiring wage to $9.  Target and TJX Companies Inc., owner of both T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s, followed suit.

So, if you’re a retailer paying more for a larger staff, how do you make sure you get the most bang for your buck?

Here are 3 tips to remember when managing seasonal staff:

1. Train your staff to adhere to branding and customer service standards

  • Just because some of your staff may only be with you for a few weeks, doesn’t mean you should toss out your employee training. Just make it relevant to your short-term goals in the holiday season.
  • Get to the point: What is the core message of your brand? What do you expect of your staff when they are walking the retail floor or helping a customer?
  • Customer service is key. It’s reflective of the company in the larger sense. If customers don’t get the respect that they feel they deserve, they won’t come back.  

2. Prioritize transparency/communication to ensure everyone is on the same page and employees aren't overlapping or idle.

  • Evenly distribute your staff through your store and assign specific tasks to each employee. You may also want to post your store’s employee schedule in common areas like the break room.
  • Managers should regularly check for compliance. Check that each employee is completing their assigned task, whether it’s manning cash registers, stocking shelves, checking inventory, or preparing food.
  • Report individual problems and address them as they arise. Don’t say, “Ah, well this employee won’t even be here in a month. Why bother?” That managerial attitude can big cumulative losses across multiple stores. If you’re holding up your end of the deal as an employer, make sure employees are giving you their best effort.

3. Smart planning to ensure you have extra staff on hand to clean bathrooms or keep up with rearranging high-traffic displays for the influx of shoppers.

  • Part of running the front of a store is the back of the store. Your employees know when you are disorganized; it’s a quality that can disenfranchise some. Organization should come from the top down. It starts with keeping track of your staff’s schedule and activity and trickles down to the “little things” like keeping a tidy breakroom.
  • Don’t neglect your restrooms, both for employees and for the public. Especially if you’re in the foodservice business, nothing damages a brand faster than a disgusting restroom.
  • Follow your store’s planogram. Hopefully, it has been organized in a way that accommodates for higher customer traffic. If a fire exit is blocked, or a store is above capacity, the store may get fined or, worse yet, it could get shut down as a result of an impromptu audit.

The Takeaway

The holiday season should be a time of growth and prosperity, and for retailers, it’s often the most profitable time of the year. When hiring employees it’s important to recognize the challenges that come with an influx of both customers and employees.

Even if you’re a large big-box retailer, there are ways to operate your store like a small business with heightened accountability. It’s a matter of having the right tools.

Explore Zenput and learn how our service can raise the bar on retail operations.

Learn more about our customers and our mobile app. Give us a call and ask a question, or schedule a live demo today.

Topics: Retail