April 12, 2018

Are your stores staffed for online fulfillment and returns?

retail staffing online fulfillment returns


To say retail scheduling is a headache is an understatement. In my retail days, we had a fairly sophisticated system for scheduling that took into account stocking time, previous months sales trends, previous year same week trends, holiday lift, week of the month, average sales per customer, customer count trend, time to transition to or from holidays, and much, much more. But in the end it’s at best 90 percent science — the rest is instinct, a little bit of luck, and looking for opportunities in unexpected places.

Stores are becoming endpoints for online shopping

In a time when shoppers expect a frictionless shopping experience no matter how they’re buying from you, brick-and-mortar stores are enjoying a renewed importance in the retail landscape. But services like “buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS) and “buy online, return in store” (BORIS) can have a significant impact on store labor, and it’s up to you to optimize labor and make sure all your customer experience bases are covered.

A 2017 JDA study revealed that nearly a third of shoppers had used BORIS services in the last year, compared to only 20 percent the year before. Desire to return items purchased online in stores is getting so strong that it’s spawned companies like Happy Returns that are dedicated to giving online shoppers a face-to-face return experience. As the number of online returns increases, you need to make sure you’re prepared to handle that traffic in your stores.


Half of shoppers surveyed by JDA had used the BOPIS option – up 44 percent from 2015. While 40 percent of shoppers in JDA’s 2015 survey had experienced problems with employees when they tried to pick up their online orders, 58 percent in the most recent survey said they hadn’t had any issues.

Clearly, well-trained employees paired with the right technology make a big difference in customer experience in your stores. But many retailers still struggle to staff appropriately to handle both the day-to-day tasks of operating stores and the rigors of omnichannel fulfillment.


Analyze store tasks to realign labor

Retail consultant Adam Meiras addressed those labor challenges in Chain Store Age, noting, “Four-wall sales and customer traffic alone cannot determine a location’s true labor needs.” Meiras advises retailers to analyze the value of the tasks performed in a store and the skills required to perform them. Retailers should ask key questions about each task, Meiras says, including:

  • Who should be performing this task?
  • What type of wage should they earn to remain competitive?
  • Where do training and retention efforts have the most impact?
  • When does the activity need to happen?
  • Which processes need to be simplified, eliminated or automated?
  • Why is that process being completed at all?

Cash handling often ties up top staff

Retailers should take the opportunity to ask these questions about tasks related to handling cash. Most retailers dedicate the longest-standing, most trusted employees in their stores to cash-handling tasks, and with good reason, as there is significant opportunity for loss through errors or fraud if they’re entrusted to the wrong employees. But because they’re generally so knowledgeable, these trusted employees are even more valuable when they provide service to your customers. All retailers can benefit from getting them back out to the sales floor as quickly as possible.

IHL Group’s 2018 data on the cost of accepting cash revealed that retailers can save 50 to 80 percent of their cost of cash by reducing labor at the store level, freeing employees for BOPIS- and BORIS-related tasks. Automating reporting and streamlining tasks like reconciliation, deposit preparation, and pickups and loans means your best employees are free to help and sell on the floor.

The time to rely on old labor methods and data points is over. In competition not only with online retailers, but the store down the street, only the strongest-performing stores will survive. The key to survival is excellent customer experience combined with tight operational efficiency. Retailers should seek out technologies that help them achieve both.