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Q&A: Reflexis founder and CEO, Prashanth Palakurthi

Essential Retail (ER): What key trends can we expect to see in retail workforce management, over the next 12 months?

Prashanth Palakurthi (PP): Retail workforce management will experience four trends over the next 12 months.

First, product offerings, price, and customer service are becoming increasingly localised. Retailers will recognise that attempting to execute localised strategies using a one-size fits all model is incorrect.

Second, retailers face many disruptive influences, including digital commerce. They will have to better grasp how to forecast the labour needs stemming from sales on a digital channel so that the customer experience is not compromised.

Third, retailers will focus more on store level execution. Strategy must transform into action in stores. Unless that is kept square within the eyesight of labour modelling, it will produce suboptimal business results.

Fourth, stores will begin to prepare for real-time retail. They will implement technologies to monitor store systems and external events that impact customer traffic, sales, and store performance in real time. This will give stores the ability to respond to changes in the moment. Ideally they will have a system that provides managers and associates with lists of actionable information, allowing them to fix problems on the fly instead of having to read through and decipher reports.

ER: How do you see retailers changing the way they deploy staff to cope with modern retailing requirements?

PP: Labour efficiency is the new premium in retailing. With the growth of online pure play competition, labour is one of the biggest differentiating factors for brick-and-mortar retailers. Labour is potentially the single biggest advantage for retailers with physical stores, and they must schedule to support exceptional execution. This is accomplished in two different ways:

Streamlined applications make it easier for associates and managers to execute on corporate tasks. Better mathematics help generate better schedules, which accurately forecast labour based on real-time needs instead of past data.

ER: Which retailers stand out for their innovative workforce management techniques?

PP: Three retailers that stand out for their innovative workforce management techniques are Target, Giant Eagle, and McDonald's. Target has implemented Reflexis StorePulse, our real-time store execution platform. Using StorePulse, Target can notify associates whenever key KPI metrics miss the mark or critical tasks must be urgently completed. StorePulse then provides associates with step-by-step directions on how to remedy the issue. For example, when a recall is issued, the point of sale system will be able to send an alert to StorePulse whenever a recalled item is scanned. StorePulse then alerts the cashier that the scanned item is being recalled and to notify the shopper that the item is unsafe and that they can go replace it with an item of equal value.

Giant Eagle similarly has implemented StorePulse in an effort to aggregate all of their store systems information into one, unified dashboard. The company's store systems feed data directly into their StorePulse dashboard, allowing associates to have a one-stop-shop for alerts instead of having to log in and out of 20+ different store application systems. McDonald's UK won the Personnel Today Overall Winner and Award for Excellence in HR through Technology for implementing Reflexis Workforce Manager which helped them reduce company labour while increasing sales, increase employee commitment scores by 400 basis points to 95%, and improve hourly sales projection efficiency by 12.5%.

ER: What would be your advice to retailers considering which workforce management solutions they should invest in for 2016?

PP: Retailers should look to the vendors who specialise in retail workforce management software. There are many vendors who have re-purposed their software from focusing on other verticals (government, medical, warehousing, and so on) to fit retail. Retailers need a software solution that is retail operations centric.

Reflexis was built from the ground up to focus on retail operations and has partnered with top institutions, such as MIT, to bring the best mathematics to retailers. Our focus on retail operations drives a different culture within our company and that is why retailers have rated Reflexis above other workforce management software companies, and in many cases, #1 in the world, in ROI, Innovation, Reliability, and most importantly, Recommendation — how strongly they would recommend us to their peers.

ER: What can we expect to see from Reflexis over the next 12 months? What are your key focus areas?

PP: More of the same that we embarked upon last year:

Improved mathematics that will allow retailers to forecast labour needs in stores based on internal and external influences. This is better than predicting labour needs based on past data, which smooths over spikes resulting from unpredicted events that occur on a day-to-day basis.

Improved simplicity at stores – our goal with Reflexis StorePulse, our real-time store execution platform, is to create one interface for all applications for stores so that associates are not burdened with having to learn multiple systems. We think that it is time for retailers to reduce the number of applications going into stores – by creating one platform that hides complexity. Retailers will be able to implement best practice actions, which StorePulse can provide to associates. Mobile-enabled associates can respond to surprise customer traffic, late truck arrivals, recalls, and other events in real time without having to go to a desktop for instructions.

By achieving these two goals we will give retailers a platform to provide the best possible customer service and compete with online-only retailers.

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