HR in the Retail Industry

Milly Christmann
Milly Christmann
You are an HR professional in the retail industry. Maybe you’re a team of one. Do you ever wonder “What should I be focusing on?” “What are my biggest priorities?” “What am I really supposed to be doing here?” Well, wonder no more. To learn the answers to these questions and understand the responsibilities of HR in the retail industry, read the article below.

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What Is the Role of HR in the Retail Industry?

Human resources professionals’ primary focus in the retail industry is people in order to serve the company’s customers better. For the HR professional, this means having the right amount of talent, developing plans to attract talent, ensuring talent is trained, engaged and retained through policies and processes that put people at the forefront in a customer-centric culture. Ultimately, the employee experience will impact the customer experience.

Why HR Is So Important in the Retail Industry

Retail wouldn’t exist without customers. This concept is ingrained in every aspect and role of retail and HR is no different. HR can set the tone for the customer experience through maintaining a base of service-oriented, trained and engaged employees. Here are the three C’s that HR shapes for the retail industry:

  • Customer experience. When a customer is shopping for either a product or service, the experience they have will most often determine not only if they buy but also if they return to buy again. The people with whom the customer interacts often define their experience.
  • Culture. Creating processes and policies that support employees and enable them to perform their jobs with minimal barriers will encourage employees to create an environment where the customer experience is optimized.
  • Capability. Getting a team of people quickly up to speed and able to serve customers’ needs includes training in both soft skills (communication, customer service, conflict resolution, coaching) and technical skills (point of sale systems, inventory systems, financial metrics, merchandising).

Challenges of HR in the Retail Industry

Retail is fast-paced, customer-facing and ever-changing. The nature of retail itself drives significant challenges for HR professionals. The paragraphs below detail just a few of the challenges specific to HR leaders in the retail industry.

Managing a Seasonal Workforce

Many retailers experience “seasonality” in their sales. For example, there is typically a peak for the three months preceding Christmas followed by a sharp decline in sales. As a result, many employers elect to hire “temporary” or “seasonal” workers.

Engaging and getting the best out of employees that know they will be gone in three months can be very different from working with employees who intend to stay year-round. Many employees can be hired part-time and work shifts that don’t coincide with yours. Create ways to connect with employees you may not see regularly through technology where possible or maybe a written note to ensure they are doing well and are appreciated.

Retention and High Turnover

Turnover is the number of terminations divided by your average number of employees during a specific period of time. Retail stores can experience well over 100% turnover rates on an annual basis when part-timers and seasonal employees are a significant portion of the employee base. Turnover is costly because it means needing to recruit, hire, on-board and train the next round of employees all over again.

Managing an Often Inexperienced Workforce

Retail work doesn’t often require much experience. Frequently, in fact, there is no experience requirement. Retail is often an employee’s first job. This adds a certain complexity to the role of the HR professional in terms of on-boarding. You will be responsible for teaching the employees expected behaviors at work (how to show up on time, how to dress, how to greet a customer or answer a phone) that extend beyond the tasks associated directly with the actual job they were hired to do.

Theft

“Shrinkage” is the term retailers use for theft. Theft can happen either internally or externally. According to Shopify.com, shoplifting is the single largest cause of theft. Other types of theft include return fraud, employee theft and administrative errors.

Safety

Safety is everyone’s role. HR’s role is to ensure that it’s addressed as a part of on-boarding and that the policies and practices to maintain a safe working environment are upheld at all times. Many retail employees have lifting requirements and simply move around more than employees in other lines of work, so the chances for injury in retail tend to be higher than in office or administrative capacities. Failing to manage safety in the workplace can lead to costly workers’ compensation suits and, worse yet, serious personal injury.

Tips To Be an Effective HR Leader in retail

When prioritizing tasks, focus on how you can impact the three C’s: customer experience, culture and capability. Attracting and hiring the right talent will have the greatest impact on the three C’s so begin by making it as simple as possible for candidates to apply.  What is your application process like? Is it quick and easy? Then, once you get new employees through the doors, pay attention to the following elements of their employee experience.

Make Onboarding Matter

Make employees’ first day special. Make sure they have everything they need to start confidently. If you provide name tags, make sure they are ready. If you have any merchandise or give aways with the company logo, make a welcome goody bag. Everyone loves free swag. If benefits selection is a part of on-boarding, ensure someone is present to answer all of their questions. Provide lunch and a lunch buddy if you can.

Remember, the new employee will likely know no one on their first day and that can be awkward. Be sure to make proper introductions to the larger team. Make sure seasonal workers have a reason to want to make their stay a permanent one. Make sure you maintain an open door policy and are easily accessible.

Stay Current With Technology.

Learn from your vendors the easiest method to train on the systems you use. Provide your employees with helpful “cheat sheets” on how to perform common or frequent transactions and include who to call for a list of commonly occurring issues. This may include return or exchange processes or shipping merchandise. It may also include how to sell or redeem gift cards or remove merchandise from inventory.

Have a Robust Training Strategy

Create a short training plan for what the employee should become proficient in during their first week, two weeks, month and beyond. This can be done in the form of a checklist and provided to the employee. Assign them a training “buddy” and provide the checklist to them as well.

Get Feedback Early and Often.

Don’t wait for 90 days to have your first check-in with a new employee. Do it as early as possible. Consider an informal chat at the end of their first full shift or first full week. Create a written 30-day check-in that includes questions like “Have you been provided with the tools you need to do your job?” “What are you enjoying about working here?” “What can we do better?” How they experience their job will be mirrored in how customers experience your store.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About HR in the Retail Industry

What is the goal of HR in the retail industry?
To attract and retain a fully trained workforce that provides the best customer experience possible in order to maximize sales and profits.
What is the salary of an HR position in the retail industry?
There is a very wide range. It depends on the level of HR position you are seeking, but data from Salary.com report that HR manager roles typically fall between an average range of $95,024 and $119,647 (2021). Expect this range to vary widely depending on many key factors including education, years of experience, certifications, geographic location and additional skills. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the 2021 Occupational Outlook section report that the average salary for a human resources professional is $56,641.
Milly Christmann
Milly Christmann

Milly Christmann is a high energy, operationally oriented talent management leader with extensive expertise in human resources, sales management, service and operations. She is recognized for collaborating with leaders to achieve their business goals by unleashing the power of an engaged workforce. By using process improvement, technology and strong, impassioned people skills as well as by attracting, developing and retaining top talent, Ms. Christmann drives change that matters.

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