Creating an optimal staffing plan for your retail locations calls for more than just making sure you have enough people to meet scheduling needs. It requires having the necessary data to accurately predict future staffing demands, and the technology to create schedules that align individual store needs with corporate budgets.

It's especially challenging for large organizations with multiple locations to create accurate schedules and budgets. Since one-size-fits-all schedules don't consider factors unique to a location, they often result in greater than necessary labor costs, dissatisfied employees, inconsistent customer service and can leave sales on the table. They can also cause conflict between managers and the corporate office.

Use a Data-Driven Approach

According to McKinsey & Company, leading retailers with an effective staffing plan use analytics to better predict the number of employees and skill sets needed at each store, each hour of the day. In fact, McKinsey & Company reports that a data-driven approach to scheduling and budgeting can improve customer service and produce between 4 and 12 percent in cost savings.

Although many organizations use automated tools to schedule their workforce, computer-generated schedules can create their own set of problems. These systems can't always account for fluctuations or variation in demand or customer traffic. Employers can capture historical data to forecast future scheduling needs during certain seasons, months, weeks or even hours of the day. They can also use more refined forecasts that account for the time it takes to complete individual tasks. The bottom line is that using these tools without the insights of related data could lead to schedules that are not fully optimized.

Take for example, a specialty retailer with a mall-based location and a downtown location. The two stores could have similar sales figures, and that might lead corporate and store managers to believe that the labor budget and staffing levels should be the same. But a closer look at traffic counter data might show that the mall-based location has significantly higher traffic, which would mean that its conversion rates are lower. If this demand data could be used to drive a staffing plan that delivers the same service levels across stores, then perhaps the mall location's conversion rates and sales could increase substantially.

Combine Managers and Software

The most effective types of scheduling systems balance human needs, customer needs and business needs in a fair and transparent way. "The best kinds of scheduling systems involve both managers and software, not for the purpose of more tightly controlling workers, but to inform them on how optimal schedules stack up against predicted forecasts," Harvard Business Review reports. This approach can upgrade not only workforce management efficiencies, but can lead to more predictable and accurate needs in other areas, like onboarding, training and compensation programs.

Having a business process and the tools in place to support collaboration between the managers at the store level, and those in a region or at corporate headquarters, is essential. Store managers bring important knowledge about the store, location, team members and external factors that are unique to the store and important to effective scheduling, budgeting and forecasting.

Use Mobile Apps for Scheduling

New technologies like mobile applications allow managers to more efficiently work with staff to improve schedules. For example, scheduling apps let managers react to an event like an unplanned absence quickly, communicate open shifts and confirm schedule changes with employees. They also help employees view their schedules when they come out, rather than having to go to a computer or even into the store to see a schedule that's been posted. Conveniences like mobile time off requests help managers plan better, because employees can request time off when they first think about it, rather than putting it off or waiting until they see their supervisor next. Being able to clock in and out from a mobile device also allows for more accurate data, because employees aren't lining up at a clock, or delaying customer service by using POS systems for this purpose.

Match Employees to the Right Jobs and Shifts

Employers need systems to account for individual performance, such as how long actions take, or which employee delivers the best service or sales per labor hour. This is why an employee-specific approach that matches employees to the right job and right shift can improve efficiency. Using this technique to improve processes and reduce costs is nothing new, but advances in technology now allow businesses to more easily search for and consider a person's preferences, competencies and skill levels when scheduling.

With the right mix of technology, data and input from managers, organizations can create optimal schedules that bridge the gap between individual store needs and corporate budget constraints.

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