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Empowering retail’s real superheroes: Frontline workers

Woman holding Open sign in a small business boutique shop after Covid-19 pandemic

Like so many of you, I got my first job in a retail store (after babysitting) and like many around the world it was my first introduction to the workplace. Retail always has been and always will be a people business with many employed on retail’s frontline. If ever there was any doubt about the importance of retail’s frontline, then their herculean efforts during the past 18 months have put those doubts to rest.

These superheroes shouldered much of the change we’ve seen and experienced, with minimal training and astonishing grace. Some of those changes are here to stay. Today, we see in-store workers shopping among us for orders placed online for curbside pick-up or delivery. We interact with grocery clerks that manage the growing number of self-checkout stations while answering our questions and a whole lot more. Yet, a recent Forbes survey found that fewer than 1 in 4 frontline workers indicate they have the right technology to do their job.1 With this amount of change, and ever-increasing customer expectations, retailers are asking Microsoft to help them identify innovative ways to improve the frontline employee experience, focus on well-being, provide their associates with the flexibility and certainty they need, speed up on-boarding, democratize access to learning, and help reduce unsustainable employee turnover rates (the average turnover rate in retail is slightly above 60 percent according to the National Retail Federation).

So, what can retailers do? We see leading retailers investing in empowering, engaging, and continuously re-training the frontline as they automate routine tasks and manual processes. Retail leadership is finding new ways to shift towards employee-centric business models to ensure they are the employer of choice for many, while simplifying processes, reducing effort, and increasing productivity.

“During this time when talent is hard to find and equally hard to retain, retailers are finding it challenging to meet the expectations of both employees and customers. It’s time to reimagine the retail workforce—where it’s done, how and by whom. Retailers also need to invest in order to turn their workforce into an adaptive workforce that is digital, data fluent and diverse.”2 Jill Standish, Global Lead, Retail at Accenture.

Today, many retailers are doing just that. They are investing in new frontline capabilities to grow the loyalty of their employees and customers:

  • UK retailer Marks and Spencer is using technology to streamline work and free up time so that associates can serve more customers: “We have built a culture around serving our customers how they want to be served. Today, a huge part of that is developing digital capabilities in our physical stores,” Sacha Berendji, Group Property, Store Development and Technology Director.
  • Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is digitizing vital workflows for Boots opticians “to create a culture of relentless customer care” according to Cahir Mullan, Franchise Partner and Optometrist.
  • The 500-store strong Canadian Tire launched curbside pickup to many customers’ delight.
  • Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) customers can now schedule online Virtual Outfitting sessions to assemble bikes, find the right hiking boots, gear up for camping trips, and more.

Lastly, I love this quote from Pamay Bassey, Chief Learning and Diversity Officer at Kraft Heinz: “The real value we see is that Microsoft Teams is inclusive and democratizing.”

Microsoft Teams brings information workers and frontline workers together on the same platform, enabling them to be aligned on achieving company goals. Teams enables retailers to recognize their frontline heroes with Praise badges, give them flexibility in their schedule with Shifts, and empower them with clear executional details with Tasks. Teams also democratizes access to learning, giving everyone the chance to thrive and grow. Another benefit of Teams for retailers is the ability to connect corporate head offices to frontline teams – whether it’s a CEO video of the week, communications about new store policies, or sharing opportunities for associates to contribute ideas and feedback. Now, with the general availability of Viva Connections mobile coming next month, this connection will be easier and more inclusive. Viva Connections delivers a single, company-branded destination for frontline workers to access company news, tasks, resources, shifts and more in the flow of their work. This helps give the entire workforce the ability to access news and join in company culture like never before.

graphical user interface, application

To learn more about exciting announcements on how Microsoft is supporting the frontline in a hybrid world, please check out the news from Emma Williams, Corporate Vice President, Modern Workplace Transformation.

I recently chatted with Corine Vives, Avanade’s Executive Global Retail & Consumer Goods Industry Lead about trends in the future of work that retailers can capitalize on today. We discussed flexibility in recruitment and retention to elevate the customer experience, seizing the opportunity to rethink retail operating models by modernizing workplace technology, and continuing to blur the line between the online and in-store customer experience. Read more about the trends and how you can engage Avanade to help you think through your own frontline transformation.

The millions of retail frontline workers are the human face of every retailer. I’m incredibly proud of our work to innovate with retailers as they seek to reimagine how retail frontline employees experience their work. I learned early in my career that every good and bad decision we make in retail shows up in the store somewhere. It’s time we took really good care of its most important asset, people.

Follow Microsoft Retail on Twitter and visit our Microsoft Cloud for Retail website to get the latest on how Microsoft and our partners are helping retailers deliver a seamless experience across the entire shopper journey.



2Reimagine the Future of Retail Workforce Management | Accenture