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

Hitting sales targets. Increasing average sales value. Boosting basket size benchmarks. 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, 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 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.

Store Employee Behind Desk

Retaining employees is good for business

The good news? You don’t have to accept extremely high turnover as the norm. Here are the top six changes you can make today to keep your frontline associates engaged, happy and performing in a way that delivers on your operational goals.

1. Onboard smarter

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 firehosed with information they soon forget?

Better onboarding delivers only the most relevant information associates need to get started, then continues to feed them personalized bite-sized learning over time. 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 employees, check this out.)

2. Help them feel confident. Every day.

A big part of reducing turnover is making sure associates always feel confident on the job. 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 an employee out the door quite as quickly as feeling disposable. Engaged frontline associates 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 highlights employee achievements. Since REI executives are active participants, listening, sharing and engaging, employees get the message that the brand cares about what they think and feel. The store also give employees paid time off, twice a year to just go outside and be inspired in nature, but also on Black Friday. REI is set to close its doors for a fifth year this Black Friday, encouraging staff and customers alike to #OptOutside and join a nation-wide clean up effort.

4. Reward and recognize contributions

You can also make your associates feel valued 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 culture that praises and recognizes employees is immeasurable. Recognition increases productivity, reinforces brand values and, most importantly, improves 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.

Grocery chain Wegmans Food Markets nabbed the number three spot in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For thanks 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

It’s time to ditch the bulletin board and game of broken telephone. 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 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. 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. Mentor and show them 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, most associates choose 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 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 employee engagement and what it can do for your business, check out this page to learn more.

Caily is our resident retail whiz with a passion for CX. She’s spent more than a decade partnering with industry leaders to ensure success in strategic planning and omnichannel execution of national programs—so she knows the deal when it comes to the retail industry.

Let’s work together to drive frontline performance in all the right ways.