5 common retail communication problems and how to solve them
Internal communication problems have always existed in retail, but these problems have become especially pronounced over the past couple of years as store teams have been forced to contend with changing workplace realities. If you want your retail business to thrive, it’s important to understand what the problems are, why they exist and how to overcome them.
The top 5 retail communication problems
There are a lot of communication problems that retail businesses face, and the specific issues can vary from one business to the next. But any one of these problems can have significant consequences for productivity, output, employee retention and customer satisfaction.
1. Overwhelmed managers
Managers are overwhelmed. According to Gallup research, more than a third of managers report feeling burned out, and they’re even more likely to feel overworked than the people they employ.
Effective communication can help lighten the load by providing each employee with direct access to information rather than forcing managers to be the gatekeepers of that information. The problem is that many retailers are still in a world where communication is largely email-driven, meaning updates are only received by personnel with email access and who regularly review their inbox.
For frontline workers who are less likely to rely on company email (or may not have it at all), information isn’t delivered as reliably. That means the responsibility falls on the manager to maintain the flow of information. But the manager has all types of information coming their way every day, so it’s difficult to ensure that the right people get the right messages. Quite often, important information slips through the cracks.
Workplace communication can be risky business. For instance, there are still a lot of frontline managers who introduce their own version of digital communication via WhatsApp and Facebook groups. The approach is understandable since managers want to establish one central communication tool that anyone can easily access, and an online interactive electronic forum makes that easy.
The problem is that this approach opens up risk and liability because your organization doesn’t control the tool and it’s easy for employees to establish their own sub-channels and hidden chats. And even if you do have certain administrative permissions over the channel, your ability to monitor and moderate content is still inherently limited because you’re using someone else’s real estate. If something goes sideways, your company is liable.
3. Difficulty managing promotions
There is an inventory problem in retail right now. For instance, there are massive overstocks of items (as we’ve recently seen with companies like Target and Abercrombie), and lots of retailers are pushing discounts and sales to get rid of items to make way for more in-demand inventory. These promotions can change rapidly, but employees are often the last ones to know what’s going on. And the last thing you want is for a frustrated customer to be asking about a discount that the associate is unaware of.
It’s critical that retail employees have the latest, up-to-the-minute information about timely sales, discounts and recalls, but traditional communication channels don’t often support these kinds of real-time updates—at least not effectively.
4. Lack of connection between store associates and the brand
Most common communication channels fail to connect people to the larger mission and vision for the brand. Retail workers may never see corporate teams or executives, and most store communications are delivered by a direct supervisor on a need-to-know basis. It’s easy for the average employee to feel like they’re just following orders and collecting a paycheck.
But effective communication should ensure consistent messaging, and it should be tailored to make every team member feel like a part of something meaningful. Communication shouldn’t just come from supervisors, and it shouldn’t all be delivered in the form of directives and workplace feedback. It should reinforce everyone’s shared goals, the company’s recent wins and how the organization is making a difference.
5. Low retention
If you’re constantly dealing with employees who suddenly quit, communication might be part of the issue. Poor institutional communications can affect your turnover rate. For the employee, it’s frustrating to always be playing catch-up, relying on peers for updates and not receiving information outside of work.
Removing friction from the employee experience is critical for attracting and retaining talent, as good communication is an expectation for any employee. You want your team to have the information they need when they need it.
How to promote more effective retail communication
Once you understand the problems, the next step is to take action and ensure that your retail organization enjoys seamless communication for everyone on the team.
One solution is to establish a dedicated company-wide communication tool that allows any member of the workforce to connect with the right people. So the CEO can reach the entire workforce, and a department leader can reach out to members of their department. The right tool can solve most of your communication issues:
- Close the communication gaps and take some of the responsibility off the manager so they don’t have to be in charge of every update. They can just reinforce important timely information or take responsibility for the information most relevant to their role or team. Rather than being solely in charge of the flow of information, managers can contribute to the dialogue. The communication network allows for a collaborative and process-oriented flow of information.
- Two-way communication. Instead of being thrust upon the team, information can go both ways. Team members can ask questions, engage, react, share ideas and provide feedback. This is especially valuable for large teams because communication can be managed at scale. So even if you have 300,000 employees and one CEO, you can maintain a productive dialogue rather than just broadcasting. This can make a big difference for employee engagement.
- Keep everyone on the same page. If an employee works every day and has email, they’re up to date. But if they’re part-time and don’t have email, what happens if they’re not working on the day when the manager makes an important announcement? How do they get the update? There’s an inherent lack of equity in frontline/retail communication that technology can help solve. Even if an employee isn’t working on a particular day, they can still get the update on their smartphone if they so choose. It levels the playing field across the entire retail workforce.
- Reduce risk. A dedicated internal communication platform eliminates the liability associated with third-party chat apps. Formal channels keep proprietary information contained within the company, ensure that privacy rules are followed and help to ensure that people get added and removed from channels in a timely way. All your IT requirements are satisfied, including user authentication and whether or not you want to enable functionality outside of work.
Axonify Communicate is a leading employee communication solution that satisfies these needs. It’s available right alongside the Axonify retail LMS tools, so people can log in and see the latest company updates as they complete their training for the day. Training and communication are part of the same story; it’s about ensuring that everyone has the most current, relevant information they need to do their job better and exceed customer expectations. Axonify brings that story together functionally. It’s information delivered the way you would expect it, with familiar functionality, no training required.
Bring your retail communication strategy into the 21st century
What’s the purpose of effective communication in retail? Yes, it’s about getting the latest update and having the information you need to do your job well and keep everyone informed. But it’s also about connection, belonging and feeling valued as part of the organization. A good communication strategy should incorporate all of these factors.
The good news is that this type of strategy is within reach. Start with the right centralized communication tools, and ensure that your internal communications are consistent, collaborative, easy to access and always in line with the company’s vision. Not only will this improve the flow of information, but it will help to strengthen customer loyalty and drive flawless store execution.