Efficient Workforce Utilization Drives Profitability

NEW YORK -- Not only do retailers need to contend with a turbulent economy, but technology advancements have given way to heightened competition as shopping is no longer confined to brick-and-mortar operations with defined store hours. With technology at their fingertips, consumers now explore their options and shop at their convenience, at their preferred price point -- thumbing through a catalog late in the evening, browsing product choices on the Internet or handheld devices while at the airport, and stopping at the mall or price advantage club on their way home.

Amidst pressure from this new breed of customer, retailers of all sizes, from mid-market enterprises to small-format retailers to big-box operations, have been forced to make major business overhauls, strategy adjustments, and cuts to operational and workforce costs in order to remain competitive throughout the economic downturn.

Now, with recession concerns slowly subsiding, 2010 is giving way to another shift in retail -- this one positive. According to the most recent information from the U.S. Commerce Department, consumer spending increased $52.4 billion, or 0.5 percent, in January alone. This means that as customer spending continues to rebound and competition increases, retailers need to deliver exceptional customer service, while balancing labor costs so that workforce resources can be used to grow sales and differentiate the shopping experience from the competition.

While retailers are gradually recognizing that a key driver of profitability is efficient utilization of the workforce, many are still contending with cumbersome and time-consuming manual processes to schedule and deploy employees. Instead, retailers need to rethink how they regulate their workforce and consider an automated labor management solution. Misdirected workers, overstaffed or understaffed stores, and manual scheduling processes create inefficiencies that no retailer can afford. An automated workforce scheduling solution increases employee productivity, improves the bottom line and contributes to a positive in-store customer experience.

Sales volumes, distinct employee skills, projected foot traffic and seasonal peaks are just a few of the factors retailers must consider when creating daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal schedules. An automated workforce software solution provides visibility into workforce movement and metrics, and drives scheduling success. Automated processing is based on each retailer's unique criteria, and uses historical trends, merchandise mix, sales and holidays to develop optimum schedules and staffing plans for each unique retail environment.

With an automated process, retail managers can track key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide real-time visibility into the status of cost, sales metrics and staff productivity, ensuring the proper mix of associates are in the right department and location to maximize profits.

Eliminate Errors and Improve Employee Satisfaction
A growing number of workplace regulations, government mandates and union rules can hinder a manager's ability to properly schedule his or her workforce. Automated solutions eliminate error-prone processes, provide business intelligence, ensure adherence to rules and regulations and facilitate compliance with internal and external policies. Through electronic data entry, time and attendance miscalculation, time theft from extended breaks, unnecessary payroll costs from tardy arrivals, early departures and "buddy punching" are virtually eliminated.

Automated workforce management solutions simplify the scheduling process, allowing retailers to easily track and maintain employee schedules and identify unnecessary overtime, hours worked beyond what is considered safe or within contractual guidelines, accruals, paid time off and leaves of absence. With an automated workforce system, retailers can uncover turnover patterns correlated to a particular manager or shift, and gain insight into shift schedules and departments, enabling them to take action and minimize turnover.

Retailers know that accurate labor forecasting and scheduling to meet demand has become a strategic advantage. With unpredictable customer demands, intensifying competition and retailers striving to be leaner and more efficient, an automated workforce and expense management solution is a critical tool for business success.

Automated workforce management solutions give retailers the power to take control of time, attendance and scheduling requirements, ensuring the right staff with the right skills is available at the right cost, while enabling greater operational efficiency and improved customer service.

Morne Swart is vice president of product management at CyberShift, which helps organizations of all sizes to reduce costs, mitigate compliance risk and increase productivity through employee spend-management solutions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of
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