Is WhatsApp putting your retail operation at risk?

Posted on: November 6, 2020Updated on: June 20, 2023By: JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how critical frontline communication is in retail. Health and safety guidelines changed by the day. Store policies changed by the hour. Traditional tactics, such as bulletin boards and pre-shift huddles, proved insufficient. Retailers that had already prioritized digital frontline communication were able to respond more proactively to disruption and keep their people up-to-speed, even if they were furloughed.

If you haven’t solved your retail comms problem yet, this is the time to do it. Store associates, fulfillment workers and delivery drivers will need help keeping up with your evolving operational strategy. Most of them have smartphones. They already use mobile apps to trade shifts and share opinions on their workplace. You should be able to take advantage of this technology to get your messages out too.

However, WhatsApp is not the solution for your retail comms problems.

Mobile phone with Whatsapp logo displayed

The problem with WhatsApp

Informal channels fundamentally limit your retail comms strategy. When they don’t have a formal option, store managers often try to solve the comms problem on their own by establishing their own channels, such as WhatsApp and Facebook groups. People may be able to talk and share freely with one another, but you’re missing several essential components of a solid comms plan, including:

  • Delivering a consistent message to your entire retail workforce or specific teams
  • Making sure the right people receive the message
  • Securing proprietary company information and data
  • Protecting your brand with reporting that confirms the message was sent to and reviewed by the right people

Plus, once your managers start using WhatsApp to share company info, these informal channels become company-sponsored tools. That means you’re liable for what’s shared, even if you don’t administer the technology. You can see how fast this can turn into a real mess.

Finding a WhatsApp alternative

There are plenty of workplace communication tools available in the marketplace. But which best fits the unique needs of your frontline team? Here are seven criteria you should use when selecting a retail comms tool.

  • Easy access: Smartphone. Handheld. Kiosk. POS. Associates must be able to access important messages via the devices they already use
  • Total security: You must protect your associates, customers and business by making sure only the right people are sending and receiving messages. Single sign-on, detailed tracking and dynamic targeting are essential comms features. 
  • Simple experience: Associates don’t have time to scroll through news feeds or browse channel lists. They have to be able to get the information they need and get back to helping customers ASAP.
  • Media-rich delivery: Sometimes a text message is appropriate. Sometimes you need a video to tell the full story. Your comms tool must give you the flexibility to share information in the right format. 
  • Management tools: Support team messages from executives, marketing and training are just one part of the retail comms story. Frontline managers also need to push timely, consistent information to teams and individuals, whether they’re on-shift or not. 
  • On-demand options: Associates will not remember everything you send via messaging. They need a place where they can quickly and reliably look up information in the moment of need. Two clicks, ten seconds. 
  • Meaningful reports: Are people getting the message? How long is it taking for every store associate to watch? What did they think about it? Your comms tool must provide insights that helps you understand how associates are interacting with your messages so you can improve your strategy. 

There’s nothing wrong with a store manager texting an associate to check on them when they call in sick or ask them to pick up an extra shift. However, with the pace of retail change accelerating, you need the ability to push timely, proprietary information directly to your frontline. WhatsApp isn’t the right tool to solve this problem. Prioritizing frontline communication and finding the right solution can mean the difference between unmitigated business risk and getting ahead of the next big disruption. 

Will you help your retail operation find the right digital messaging tool to keep your frontline employees up to date?

Be safe. Be well. Be kind to the frontline.


JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect's Headshot

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

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