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Workforce Management Techniques for Today’s Fashion Retailers


Employee turnover is a big drain for fashion retailers. When one part-time sales associate resigns, it costs more than $3,000 to replace them—and that’s often more than 15% of one worker’s annual salary. Retail employees often quit due to issues around unpredictable scheduling, insufficient training, low pay and benefits, and lack of advancement opportunities, Cisco notes. So savvy retailers are prioritizing overcoming these obstacles to improve employee retention. Specifically, emphasizing onboarding and training is paying off for leading fashion brands revamping their retail workforce management strategy. Some are tapping into external technology solutions to boost retention and enhance employee engagement.


Better Workforce Management Through Onboarding

In most cases, the onboarding process lasts only 2-3 days after a new hire joins the team. But top retailers are upping the game by spending more time getting newbies up to speed. There’s nothing quite like a first impression, and these retailers find that investing in employees with a robust onboarding strategy right off the bat pays.

In recent years, executives at Gap recognized a unique opportunity to improve employee retention (and public image) by promoting Gap as a progressive employer, according to The Washington Post. Furthermore, Gap found that today’s technology-enabled stores require higher caliber employees than in the past. To attract candidates capable of doing more, Gap revamped their onboarding initiatives.

Considering that much of their employee base were young workers entering the workforce for the first time, Gap developed Gap Inc. for Community Colleges. Students who enroll in the educational program are treated to workshops that cover management and job skills, and then get a leg up in applying to work at Gap. The program is a success and, since its inception in 2010 Gap has hired 20,000 community college students and awarded $270,000 in scholarships.


Continued Excellence in Ongoing Training

For many large chains, part of the retail workforce management strategy centers on ongoing education through technology. After fashion conglomerate PVH bought the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, the company’s workforce grew from 5,000 to today’s tally of over 36,000 employees around the world.

A challenge, CEO Emanuel Chirico tells The Business of Fashion, was to keep the diverse culture of each brand, while also bringing this massive workforce up to the level of performance expected of employees who represent a multi-billion dollar business. “We want to get the most out of our associates, so creating an environment in which they feel comfortable is critical to our success,” he says.

To streamline training, Chirico launched PVH University. The online classes, available to staff across the globe, encourage flexible thinking and leadership skills, and equips PVH staffers for career success. Because PVH University is totally digitized, managers can continue to focus on the most pressing matters without neglecting training initiatives.

Other fashion retailers find that laying out concrete goals and checking in with sales associates often pays off. Again, Gap stands out. Gap’s employee retention strategy prioritizes regular check-ins between associates and managers to ensure collaborative problem-solving. Rather than relying on pressure-filled annual reviews to sing an associate’s praises or work through challenges, these regular meetings give associates a platform to provide feedback and feel heard.


Empowering Employees to Serve Customers

“The most respected retail employers help co-workers feel they make a real contribution to those they serve,” consultant Elizabeth Stocker of Great Place to Work tells Fortune. So, as part of their retail workforce management strategy, forward-thinking fashion brands are lending associates a voice and giving them the tools to meet their customers needs, which is in turn boosting the bottom line.

At the fast-fashion giant Zara, management encourages retail staff to send information about what they’re hearing on the sales floor up to executive management. When they place biweekly orders, Zara managers include feedback from associates on products customers requested that they couldn’t find in store. Zara’s merchandising team can respond to these requests by producing their desired items in short order.

Employees feel valued when they are part of the decision-making process, and in at least one instance, having engaged employees on the selling floor paid off. When customers at Zara stores in several major cities “almost simultaneously” requested pink scarves (which weren’t part of their assortment), sales associates felt empowered to send the request up the chain. Thanks to Zara’s internal feedback loop, just seven days later, Zara dispatched 500,000 pink scarves to 2,000 Zara stores—and sold out in just three days. This win would have been impossible had Zara’s management not been committed to on customer experience, employee satisfaction, and the technology to make it happen.


Some External Technologies That Can Help

There are many technology solutions that can serve as cost-effective change agents in fashion retail. For instance, you may consider a project management software can target fast-changing retail needs. Opterus, for example, allows users to create detailed plans with steps assigned to different associates, some of them working in tandem. Flexible workflows enable close project monitoring, spotting potential issues before they become problems on the floor. Beyond this, managers using Opterus create surveys that can be constantly updated to gain a deeper understanding about strengths and weaknesses in their associate’s product knowledge and training, as well as their overall satisfaction in their roles.

While not all retailers are set up or want to have a feedback chain as advanced as Zara’s, other lighter-touch technologies can help employees feel empowered. Cloud-based platform WorkJam lets employees comment on scheduling and post messages to management. Managers have a top-down overview of labor costs and schedules in the very platform where they can review their employee’s notes.


In Summary

Retailers, even for those for whom resources are thin, find that investing time upfront in a retail workforce management strategy pays off. Creating digital onboarding and training collateral frees up time for your store managers, ensures processes are streamlined, and messaging is consistent across your entire chain.

Managers’ time can be quickly devoured by tasks like scheduling and monitoring team engagement. But software focused on retail workforce management and can support retailers’ bottom line by promoting employee retention and ensuring well-staffed stores. If a system saves 100 part-time employees from leaving, that’s potentially $300,000 saved in turnover costs alone, outside of any workflow, ordering or scheduling benefits from streamlined processes.


Learn how CB4 improves the efficacy of your retail workforce by focusing their efforts on fixing the issues that generate the most revenue in their stores.


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