It’s time for retailers to rethink their staffing models

Fierce competition from online retail, fast changing consumer preferences and relentless margin pressure continue to heavily affect retail businesses. With much loved brands including Marks & Spencer and Debenhams are continuing to close stores, it’s becoming clearer that there will not be a single magic bullet that will revive the ailing high street. With that in mind, it’s time to look at how other sectors have transformed the way in which they hire staff to drive efficiency. 

The high street needs to adopt a new staffing model

The concern around the decline in both footfall and sales has led to retailers tightening their belts in an attempt to stay afloat. While decisions to reduce staff and close stores have made headlines, retail could become much more efficient by adopting a similar staffing model to that of the hospitality industry. For years, hospitality has been making use of temporary workers in order to cut back on full-time staffing costs, meaning they are able to increase their staff levels during busy periods, without having to keep them during quieter times. While retailers may hire additional part-time staff during the likes of Christmas, they are yet to adopt a fully flexible staffing model throughout the year, which would drastically improve their efficiency. 

Dealing with peaks in demand and having the ability to hire flexible workers as and when the business needs them has been the bugbear of many retailers across the years. The difficulties associated with attracting a large number of high-quality workers for short-term projects negatively impacts customer experience. Black Friday is just one example where retailers require a large number of temp workers across multiple sites and job functions for a very short period of time. These peaks in demand can best be covered with the use of a flexible workforce strategy. This allows them to focus on the delivery of quality service whilst reducing the overhead and recruitment costs that are too often associated with one-day events. 

Hiring temporary staff doesn’t mean compromising on quality 

Nonetheless, there is a reluctance amongst retailers to use temporary staff, especially in customer-facing environments. The stigma around temporary staff having less experience than permanent staff is now outdated. The quality of services across the business often improves with the recruitment of temporary workers as there are a lot of highly trained workers looking for jobs that fit around their lifestyles and that can contribute invaluable knowledge from a variety of backgrounds. For years, the hospitality sector has capitalised on temporary workers whilst maintaining high levels of customer service. It’s time for the retail industry to do the same by using staffing platforms to find the most talented workers. 

People today increasingly want greater flexibility, whether that's full-time or temporary employment, in order to better balance work and personal commitments. This includes parenthood, studying and training. Some people also want greater flexibility in order to increase their income during retirement. We have seen an increase in gig workers in the UK, which now has a total of over four million temporary staff, and they have become a core part of providing a large number of different businesses with high-quality work. No different from traditional permanent staff, flexible workers have the ability and willingness to deliver great customer service, especially when working for an employer with an established brand and a great working culture.

Build strong staff relationships 

This way of recruiting staff is becoming increasingly popular because retailers want to reduce costs. It's essential, however, for employers to remember that temporary workers should not be treated as second-class citizens. Very often temporary workers combine high levels of skills with strong motivation to show their worth during their assignments. Learning to treat temporary staff with the same respect afforded to permanent ensures loyalty, retention and higher productivity. 

Adopting a flexible staffing strategy with the help of technology could be the difference between retailers keeping their heads above water or following in the footsteps of the many who haven’t been so successful. This, by no means, will single handedly save the high street but it will allow retailers to become much more agile and cost-effective, without hindering on their all-important customer experience.