What a difference a year has made.
In the summer and fall of 2020, retailers were forced to go into semi-hibernation, shedding experienced staff and trying out new fulfillment options in an effort to stay afloat, through any means that they could.
Now, as we enter the fall of 2021, consumers are thawing out and getting more and more comfortable returning to the stores they shopped at pre-pandemic. In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts that retail sales will grow between 10.5% and 13.5% this year as the economy continues to accelerate its pace of recovery.
But there’s a problem: Retailers can’t flip a switch and regain all of the qualified, experienced staff that they had before COVID-19.
So how can you quickly and efficiently hire the right people to run your retail store so you’re ready for the back-to-school and holiday shopping rushes?
In this article, we’ll look at the three biggest hiring challenges that retailers are facing in the wake of COVID-19, along with suggested talent acquisition solutions to hire the best candidates possible in a timely manner. We identified these top challenges by surveying more than 700 retail owners and managers to learn more about their experience during the retail industry comeback of 2021 (Software Advice’s Retail Comeback survey methodology below).
Challenge #1: Expand your scope to find candidates with the right skills
More than one-third of the retail leaders we surveyed agreed that simply finding candidates with the right skills was one of their top three hiring challenges in the past three months. As the economy continues to rebound, competition for top talent will intensify even more.
The solution: To get good employees in your store fast, you should strongly consider expanding your definition of what qualifies as relevant experience. For example, if you have an applicant with no experience in retail, no experience operating a point of sale (POS) system, and no experience managing other employees, you might be quick to write them off as just another under-qualified candidate.
But this mindset could be costing you valuable assets. Let’s say that same candidate had years of experience in customer service, expertise in multiple software applications, and proven leadership qualities. A candidate like this might not have the “right skills” at first glance, but could potentially become a top performer with a little on-the-job training and instruction.
Instead of focusing so much on hard retail skills and experience, keep your eyes open for candidates with experience working with customers, managing finances, and being a dependable part of a team.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself (or the prospective hire in an interview setting) to suss out intangible qualities:
- Has this person shown an ability to learn new skills quickly?
- Does this person exhibit a positive attitude and the ability to work on a team?
- Has this person displayed an aptitude for solving problems efficiently?
Challenge #2: Offer perks to stand out in a competitive hiring environment
According to the retail leaders we surveyed, the competitive hiring environment is as much of a challenge as finding candidates with the right skills. And as the economy continues to rebound and accelerate, the retail hiring environment is only going to get more challenging for businesses as qualified candidates are hired by other businesses and the talent pool shrinks.
The solution: If you really want to stand out from the competition and quickly nab the best retail candidates, you may need to offer a more attractive wage than the other retailers in your area. Instead of thinking about how $2 per hour per employee will affect your bottom line when it comes to payroll, think about how getting the right retail talent working in your store as soon as possible will enable more sales (and more revenue) now, and potentially save you money on replacing bad hires down the road.
Because paying more than the competition isn’t a viable strategy for many businesses, there are other ways to make your store more attractive in a competitive market. For example, an exciting job description can boost applicants by communicating that your store is a fun place to work.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Offer an employee discount on merchandise in your store
- Highlight your safety protocols to let prospective employees know that their health is a top priority
- Offer flexible scheduling, if possible (scheduling software can make this a breeze)
Challenge #3: Tap into online shopping to manage work/life balance expectations
While not as much of a concern as the top two challenges, more than 10% of the retail leaders that we surveyed said that managing work/life balance expectations was one of their biggest recruiting in retail challenges in 2021. It’s not hard to understand why. Quarantine and work-from-home restrictions reminded many of us how nice it is to spend time at home with pets and loved ones.
While many consumers (and retail workers) are eager to get back out into the real world, expectations have changed when it comes to work/life balance.
The solution: Embrace online shopping and hire accordingly. Just as expectations have changed around work/life balance, they’ve also changed for online shopping options. Consumers have become much more accustomed to shopping online, curbside pickup, and buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) options. Most of these options require fewer in-store retail staff to assist customers, so the more you beef up these options, the more flexibility you can offer your workers. For example, if you optimize your online store front, you can give more employees the option to work from home in roles such as online customer support or order fulfillment.
Of course, in retail jobs there will always be busy times with long hours. But the more efficient you can make your operations, the more resources you can save for payroll, recruiting, employee benefits, expansion, and more.
The right retail recruiting tools can help you hire and retain the right talent
The right retail management technology will not only help you find the right talent and run your store more efficiently, it will also make your retail employees more effective and successful, and thus more likely to want to stick around.
Recruiting software helps businesses manage the hiring process from posting job openings all the way through to getting your new hires fully onboarded, all in one easy-to-use platform. In addition to applicant tracking (which streamlines correspondence with candidates, interview management, background checks, and more), recruiting software typically includes reporting and advanced HR analytics as well.
The Software Advice Retail Comeback survey was conducted in June of 2021. We surveyed more than 700 retail leaders to learn more about their challenges, goals, and strategies amid changes in the market. Respondents were screened for their employment and experience in retail leadership.