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by Jat Sahi, retail consulting lead, Fujitsu UK
The real irony of the Covid pandemic is that it has taken us all to be locked in, to come together.
Pre-March 2020 retail businesses were beset with well-intended ideas and innovations that were taking a long time to implement, or at times disparate and siloed when deployed. That has changed completely. Suddenly, the advent of Covid means things are just getting done.
Excelling in crisis
In the blink of an eye, retailers were faced with a major threat and no business or sector was immune. Of course, we’ve seen casualties and, unfortunately, are likely to see many more. But there are others that have excelled. Most notably the supermarkets. I work with UK supermarket chain Morrisons, where a single focus of feeding the nation has delivered amazing outcomes in record time. These include; hiring tens of thousands of new staff, opening thousands of new deliver slots and developing tremendously successful new customer propositions like the £30 food box.
It was able to deliver because it had something that was so compelling for its business that it cut across all the silos without delay, bureaucracy or over-analysis. The mission was clear, and the results have been incredible.
Staff productivity – the beating heart of operations
This is all well and good as a reaction to a one-off event, but what about the future? As was covered in the guest blog from Insider Trends, actually not much is going to change, certainly on the surface. Businesses still need to deliver three key components to survive – make money, save money and reduce risk. All three are simple when you think about it. Making money requires new services and innovations, just like Morrisons’ £30 box. Saving money means reducing waste and improving efficiency, and risk reduction comes in the form of maintaining brand standards.
However, these three major pillars of business success have historically been siloed. Addressing that is what’s got to change. And I can give businesses the recipe for being able to do that – staff productivity. From compliance, to stock management, to risk reduction, productivity or sales, the role of staff in a business is the beating heart of an operation. As you can see, they’re connected to everything and without seeing this connection, businesses are in serious trouble.
To do new things, staff have to be more productive. To cut waste, businesses need people who are able to identify where their savings can happen and be able to action it. To reduce risk, staff need to be aware of compliance and process. The list is almost endless but for many retailers, they simply don’t see it until it is mapped out in front of them. And in a way, that’s far scarier than Covid.
Solving the productivity puzzle
From diary management to decreasing complexity of processes, productivity comes in a whole manner of forms. But much of it revolves around data that retailers have access to via people on the shop floor gathering insights about consumer behaviour and business processes. The specifics will vary from brand to brand but, industry-wide, solving the productivity puzzle is the number one leadership issue today.
I recently asked a supermarket, ‘what are you focused on?’. The response was seven areas. That’s six too many. Historically, the answer to the question has usually been, ‘the customer’. After all, apparently, they’re always right. But I disagree. Retailers should be focusing on the lead indicator that creates that customer experience, that creates the new services, saves money and that reduces the risk. That lead indicator is staff productivity of the people in the business.
The Covid mindset reset
The Covid pandemic has forced businesses to get things done and has created a mindset change that will last long after the pandemic has passed. Staff, at every level, have had to dig in and do what’s needed to keep the business running and in a lot of cases, retailers have been taken aback at how responsive, purposeful and motivated their teams have been. It’s been the collision of necessity and desire with technology enabling people to do the right thing with the right tools to deliver an experience that’s been both required and appreciated.
Walmart’s Sam’s club is a great example. In all its stores, staff have a device loaded with an app where assistants can answer any question from customers at the moment they come into the stores. This isn’t revolutionary. The only difference between then and now is that previously staff were staying in the areas where they had expertise instead of being available for any questions.
This one small example only goes to show that, giving the right tools to people can significantly increase productivity and improve customer experience.
If we take anything from the struggles of the last few months, it is that we absolutely must place an emphasis on staff productivity in retail. Unless we can make staff more productive in what they’re already doing, businesses are falling at the first hurdle.
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