All retailers know that store personnel are simultaneously one of their biggest cost centers, comprising up to 15% of turnover, and one of their most valuable assets, delivering the high service levels customers have come to expect. Planning work shifts in the dynamic retail environment has traditionally been a heavily manual, often inaccurate process, drawing from previous plans and experience rather than forward-looking, data-based predictions of actual store needs.
With a modern, AI-driven workforce optimization solution in place, today’s retailers are able to use workload forecasts to automate and efficiently improve the accuracy of this vital planning work. In September, retail experts from RELEX held a panel discussion, Unleash the Potential of AI-Driven Workforce Optimization in Retail Stores, and shared their insights on this emerging retail technology, including:
- The impact of optimized workforce planning on operational efficiency, with case examples
- The significant cost savings that can be achieved
- How to automate shift planning processes and reduce manual planning time
- How to provide better shift flexibility and visibility for store employees
Douglas Auvinen, Solution Expert at RELEX, shared some of the many complexities workforce planners face, such as accounting for the intricacies of local labor laws or union contracts and managing the preferences and availability of every single person on staff. On top of these normal considerations, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented an entirely new challenge for workforce planners struggling to cope with the impact of new demand patterns on store operations.
RELEX’s Workforce Optimization Business Area Lead Mika Halme dove into how workforce optimization helps address these challenges in ways traditional workforce management software cannot. “A workforce optimization solution,” Halme says, “is a strategic tool to not only manage the workforce, but also to improve the performance of the company.”
It does this by taking in enormous amounts of retail data and leveraging AI algorithms to automate and improve planning, parsing millions of options to “find the most optimal shifts that not only comply with legislation, contracts, and employee skills and preferences, but also match workload needs as closely as possible,” according to Halme.
The solution uses multiple data sources to generate accurate workload forecasts, which can fluctuate seasonally (consider the December holiday rush), by day of the week (the weekend big shop), and even within a single day (when do your deliveries need to be shelved?). These forecasts are used to automatically optimize shift plans for each store’s specific, task-based workload needs, ensuring stores are neither overstaffed (driving up personnel costs) nor understaffed (hurting service levels and employee experience).
Jussi Suvanto, Project Manager at RELEX, shared real-world feedback on how workforce optimization has improved employee satisfaction—for example, offering improved visibility into their upcoming shifts and tasks through a mobile interface. More importantly, he said, employees benefit from a far more stable, balanced workload and an improved ability to impact their own schedules. As retailers compete to hire and retain talent, improvements to employee experience will only become more and more critical to operational success.
Retailers using a workforce optimization solution to match shifts to projected workload can reduce manual planning hours, increase sales, and slash workforce costs by up to 10%—while improving their employees’ satisfaction and capacity to deliver high customer service levels in stores.
To learn the nitty-gritty details of how workforce optimization actually works and what it looks like when implemented in retail settings, watch the full panel discussion on-demand.