Top 6 tips to reduce turnover and keep retail store operations humming

Hitting sales targets. Increasing average sales value. Reducing inventory shrink. Keeping overhead costs down.

These are just a few of the crucial business objectives that weigh on the minds of retail operations leaders. But the one thing you simply cannot afford to overlook is retaining your frontline employees.

While it may seem like this should be more of a human resources concern, reaching operational targets is virtually impossible without a stable, high-performing workforce. That’s because disengaged frontline associates aren’t motivated to deliver the stand-out customer experiences that drive sales. They’re also higher flight risks. So you’re not just missing out on potential profits, but you’re facing the inflated staffing costs that come along with low engagement.

And with labor being the highest cost after cost of goods sold (COGS), high employee turnover can seriously jeopardize profitability. This is a sobering fact when you consider that retail employee churn reached an all-time high of 81% in 2018 and can cost stores upwards of $3,000 per associate.

And things have only escalated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In September 2021, a record 4.5 million Americans walked away from their jobs in a trend that has come to be known as the Great Resignation.

Research shows that turnover rates are especially high in industries with large numbers of frontline workers, such as retail and healthcare. At the start of the holiday shopping season, retail turnover was 5.4% higher than in the previous November.

Retaining your retail employees is good for business

 

Retaining your retail employees is good for business

The good news? There are ways to slow down the accelerating turnover and increase your employee retention, thereby reducing your hiring/training costs and improving your organizational capability.

Here are six tips to decrease employee turnover and keep your frontline associates engaged, happy and performing in a way that delivers on your operational goals.

1. Onboard smarter

Once the hiring process is complete, the real work begins. Giving recruits a strong start can stop the bleed and help you develop top performers that stick around. With a good onboarding experience, new employees are 69% more likely to stay longer than three years. So, if that’s the case, why do most retail associates spend their first few days or weeks sitting in front of computers or in stuffy, windowless back rooms being fire-hosed with information they soon forget?

Better onboarding delivers only the most relevant information associates need to get started. After all, you hired them because you need them in the operation ASAP. Associates put their new learning into practice right away, and information gets reinforced through ongoing training that allows them to remember and develop the consistent behaviors you need to drive top- and bottom-line benefits.

(If you want to dig deeper on how to build a successful onboarding experience that will help you retain high-performing retail employees, check out our simple employee onboarding guide, The 7 C’s for Success.)

2. Help them feel confident. Every day.

A big part of reducing employee turnover is making sure associates always feel confident on the job, even if they just started. You can nurture this confidence by giving them the information they need to do their jobs well, through regular training and communication.

This may seem like common sense, but a lot of retailers get it wrong by pushing too much information out, too infrequently. While the intention behind the information sharing is good, this approach can overwhelm associates and make them question whether they’re doing the right thing on the floor every day.

Reinforcement breeds confidence, so look for a training solution that lets you reach them with daily updates and refreshers delivered to the places where they work. If they use tablets in store to look up inventory for customers on the spot, consider that your delivery platform. Does it make sense to tap into the mobile phones in their pockets? Is POS the only system they touch during their shift? Whatever makes the learning easiest to access is best.

You should also keep the learning short so it’s easy to remember and fits into their shift. And make sure it’s customized to help you achieve specific targets–whether that’s reminding associates about the value of loyalty card signups or giving them practical tips for increasing basket size.

3. Make sure they feel valued

Nothing pushes a frontline associate out the door quite as quickly as feeling disposable. In fact, lack of appreciation is second only to burnout as the most common reason frontline workers quit. Engaged employees know that the company’s needs complement their individual needs, and vice versa. They have a clear picture of what your brand is trying to achieve and how their strengths, skills and values fit into the big picture. And that makes them feel more connected and motivated.

Outdoor adventure company REI lets frontline associates know their opinions matter through the Company Campfire, a virtual discussion board on their intranet where executives and employees can share their opinions. The blog features posts by executives, monthly questions for employees to answer, company news and employee achievement highlights. Since REI executives are active participants who listen, share and engage, employees get the message that the brand cares about what they think and feel.

The store also gives employees paid time off twice a year to just go outside and be inspired in nature. In addition, REI recently closed its doors for the seventh Black Friday in a row, encouraging staff and customers alike to #OptOutside and join a nation-wide cleanup effort.

4. Reward employee performance and contributions

You can also improve employee satisfaction by offering kudos in a variety of ways. In fact, Gallup recently found that “employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”

The value of building a company culture that praises and recognizes employees is immeasurable. Recognition increases productivity, reinforces brand values and, most importantly, can increase employee retention. Ideally, rewards are also tied into the training process, so associates are incentivized to keep gaining skills that make them more competent in store. This approach rewards everyone who’s making an effort to improve instead of recognizing only the top performers who consistently deliver the best sales results.

Grocery chain Wegmans Food Markets nabbed the number three spot in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For thanks in large part to its rewards program that doles out praise and gratitude for things like work anniversaries, high performance, learning milestones, professional growth and acts of service. Employees are also empowered to reward their colleagues with $5 store coupons for living company values.

5. Keep the lines of communication open

Information moves too quickly on the frontline to rely on bulletin board postings and pre-shift huddles. Digital communication apps allow you to push out timely, consistent messages and make sure everyone on the frontline has the information needed to do their jobs. Using a modern communications platform to push out regular messages ensures everyone on your frontline gets the same information at the same time, preventing confusion and keeping behaviors consistent across all your stores. And that leads to a better customer experience.

Just ask Festival Foods. After the Wisconsin-based grocery chain changed the way they communicate with their associates throughout the state of Wisconsin, they saw the first jump in OSAT scores in over two years. They even merged digital communication with training into a single solution to simplify the employee experience and offer personalized support.

If the communications capability is built into your training platform, even better. Making associates access information from multiple locations just introduces more opportunities for confusion and omissions.

Don’t forget the importance of the human touch, too. Schedule check-ins between frontline associates and their supervisors to keep a pulse on employee engagement. Use these opportunities to see how they’re feeling and get any questions or concerns tabled before they morph into retention risks. Couple this with employee surveys that facilitate two-way dialogue – ideally, also baked right into your training and communications platform so it’s easy to deliver information and request employee input.

6. Offer a career path

Retailers and employees both benefit from designing clear pathways for career advancement, rather than replicating the typically flat trajectory of frontline associates. When they see a rewarding, long-term career ahead of them, they’re likely to stay longer and perform better. There’s also great value in matching every new team member with a mentor who can provide support and help them improve their skills on the floor.

Remember, many people choose to work in retail because they love a stimulating, fast-paced role with lots of interpersonal interaction. So capitalize on that energy by encouraging them to seek out new challenges. Every year, HEB follows this philosophy by giving its employees a pre-emptive raise, challenging them to go out and earn it by generating innovative new ideas.

As an operations leader, you have direct oversight and responsibility for the profitability of your stores. When all your associates perform at higher levels, you enjoy both top- and bottom-line benefits. Nothing disrupts the continuity of associate behavior quite like employee turnover. By implementing small changes, you can drastically reduce turnover and retain employees longer, for the good of your bottom line.

If you believe in the value of engaging your frontline team members and what it can do for your retail business, check out our Employee Engagement page to learn more about reducing retail employee turnover.

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