After two years of unprecedented challenges, uncertainty seemed to be the new normal in the retail industry. In April 2021, with the pandemic still in full swing and online sales accelerating even faster than they had been before, 80,000-150,000 store closures were predicted by 2026. But the brick-and-mortar world proved to be quite resilient in the toughest of times.
In the summer of 2021, retail foot traffic actually showed a 6-9% increase over 2019. Even as a new covid wave hit during the 2021 holiday shopping season, sales increased significantly from the same time period the year before. When a new prediction for closures over the next five years was released in April 2022, the number had dropped to 40,000-50,000. Retail sales are now expected to grow 6-8% this summer.
Great Employees Help Drive Great Customer Experiences
Retailers worked hard to keep customers satisfied and engaged during the pandemic. They were understandably short-staffed and turnover was naturally high, but an age-old lesson helped steer them through the storm. They were there for their customers and did everything they could to keep providing a great experience for shoppers. In fact, they stepped up their game even more. Investing in great customer experiences, driven first by great employees, always pays off.
And now with things looking up, the opportunity to create lasting impressions, drive sales, and increase brand loyalty is even greater. Consumers are choosing brands that deliver happiness and comfort today. Seventy-nine percent of consumers now consider the experience a company provides as important as the product itself. So, as retail companies continue to battle against a talent shortage that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, they’re putting more emphasis on hiring workers that can help them provide differentiating customer experiences.
A New Kind of Candidate
The retail industry netted 49,000 jobs in March 2022 alone. It’s a unique time in the industry. Not only are retailers consistently working their way back to pre-pandemic staffing levels, summer traffic is on its way, and with it a holiday level of eagerness from shoppers free of covid mandates for the first time in three years and stores looking to provide experiences that will keep them coming back.
Retailers like big box chains and grocery stores are looking for candidates with customer service skills. There’s more need for problem-solving, return resolution, and savviness with the technology that drives customer experiences. Recruiters need the expertise (and time!) to vet for hard and soft skills, and to hunt down transferable skills. It’s tough for companies to do in-house, especially today, without a ready-to-go pipeline of proven talent.
Omnichannel and Personalization
One of the biggest trends in retail today is the focus companies are putting on instilling an omnichannel strategy and creating personalized customer experiences. The pandemic rapidly accelerated this mindset. More consumers than ever shopped online out of sheer necessity. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults shop online regularly, and online sales are expected to grow 11-13% in 2022.
As the evidence above clearly shows, this doesn’t mean consumers don’t want to shop in stores anymore – 45% want to do both. What it does mean is that retailers have tremendous opportunity to capture consumer information and intent in real-time online, draw them into stores, provide great experiences, and drive sales in digital and physical locations simultaneously.
To do this, retailers need workers with great customer service skills to help consumers coming into the store prepped and motivated to buy. Workers that are experts at quickly installing new displays tied to marketing are also valuable today. Personalization like this is what omnichannel is all about. It’s one of the surest ways to build long-term loyalty in a complex retail marketplace. Thirty-nine percent of loyal customers will actually spend more on a product even when they know there are cheaper options.
Warehouses and the Supply Chain
It may be behind the scenes from the consumer perspective, but the customer experience is greatly affected by warehouse workers as well. The supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic the last two years have illuminated this even more. These skilled workers go a long way in determining the success of a company’s logistics and keeping customers happy.
With 93% of executives saying they intend to make supply chains more flexible, agile, and resilient, and 98% of businesses emphasizing customer satisfaction in 2022, warehouse workers are in huge demand. Warehouse employment has grown over 30% since the start of the pandemic. With the positive signs in both brick and mortar and online sales and an ever-increasing focus on omnichannel strategies, this trend will only continue – millions more warehouse workers are expected to be hired in the next few years.
Opportunity is Knocking
The retail industry is changing, but that evolution is helping it rebound from its biggest challenge ever. Brick and mortar stores are pulling out all the stops. Foot traffic is increasing. Summer is on its way. To optimize the opportunity, retailers will need the right talent in place. It’s no longer just about filling positions fast, it’s about filling them with workers that can help deliver a differentiating experience.