A Buyer's Guide
Guide to Retail Scheduling Software
Retail scheduling software is evolving. The digital revolution has transformed the retail industry, leading to the evolution of omnichannel retailing, and thus changing requirements for the way retailers manage their workforce.
A survey by McKinsey & Company found that during the pandemic, 75% of U.S. consumers tried a new shopping behavior, such as buying products online that they previously bought in-store. Of these consumers, 60% said they planned to continue the new behavior after the pandemic.
Today, retailers offer customers multiple channels for purchasing items, including in-store, online pick up in store, drive-through, home delivery, and phone orders, all of which must be staffed appropriately. According to Gartner, the physical store has become multifaceted and, in many cases, a fulfillment hub for online ordering. Increased in-store activity has led to a significantly increased focus on improving store productivity while decreasing overall costs.
This fully integrated approach provides shoppers with a unified experience across online and offline channels. As a result, the complexity of managing an effective and efficient workforce has been amplified. Retailers provide frictionless experiences to consumers, but this has added increased complexity with staff scheduling across different customer touchpoints. With changing consumer behavior, retailers face new challenges that their legacy systems may struggle to overcome.
This guide is designed to provide insights into selecting a suitable scheduling software for retail stores capable of addressing retailers' challenges with scheduling and staffing requirements.
The Challenges of Retail Scheduling
While increased flexibility appeals to consumers, it introduces various workforce management challenges:
Inconsistent Staffing: Different channels have different peak times and customer flows. Integrating online and offline channels requires coordinating schedules across various customer touchpoints, often leading to overstaffing or understaffing if not appropriately managed, affecting service level and labor costs.
Cross-Channel Integration: A seamless customer experience across all channels requires staff members to be trained and scheduled to operate effectively in all areas.
Optimize Employees Across Locations - With the ongoing labor shortage, retailers need to optimize capacity and share employees across locations to fill gaps. Employees get greater schedule flexibility and earnings potential, and having the ability to choose their primary work location and others—makes it easier to balance personal and work commitments.
Skill-Based Scheduling: Different roles or channels may require distinct skill sets. For instance, employees in distribution centers must be adept at inventory management and logistics, while in-store staff need customer service skills.
Unexpected Demand Fluctuations: Consumer behavior is increasingly unpredictable in the omnichannel era, leading to sudden demand surges or decreases that complicate scheduling.
Real-Time Changes: Online channels allow for potential demand and staffing impacts during hours when stores are closed, necessitating a system that can automatically adjust in real-time.
Outdated Legacy Scheduling Systems: Traditional scheduling systems may need to be improved to manage the complexity of omnichannel retail, leading to manual processes, inefficiencies, and errors.
Unique Staffing Requirements Across Channels
In-Store: Brick-and-mortar stores require personnel knowledgeable about products, good at face-to-face customer interaction, and skilled at managing cash registers. As a result, staff schedules are needed for different roles, such as cashiers, customer service representatives, and store managers, while considering peak hours, staff breaks, and unexpected absences. It is also important to align employees to roles based on their skill level. For example, newer employees can be scheduled on the register during slower periods, and highly skilled employees during peak periods. Training is also essential to ensure staff can handle in-store technology and provide excellent customer service. This is challenging to achieve without retail scheduling software.
Distribution Centers: DCs require staff proficient in inventory management, warehousing, packing, and shipping, ensuring efficient product selection, packing and dispatching, and managing peak demand periods, such as during sales or the holiday season. They often operate 24/7, requiring around-the-clock coverage.
Online Channels: Staff must have skills in customer support via chat, email, or phone, and order management, and often need to be technologically savvy.
The Role of Workforce Management in Automating Forecasting and Scheduling
Intelligently automated workforce management software allows the creation of optimal schedules, seamlessly matching business needs with employee preferences and skills. This eases manager burdens, increases employee retention, and assists retailers in addressing the challenges and requirements of delivering a frictionless experience across all retail touchpoints. Key functionalities include:
Data-Driven Forecasts: AI-powered workforce management tools use historical data, trends, weather, and more to forecast demand and predict future staffing needs across all channels. A more accurate forecast improves scheduling, ensuring the right number of employees with the right skills and availability are scheduled at the right time.
Automated Scheduling: Modern WFM solutions enable intelligent automation for instantly generating optimal schedules that match business needs with employee preferences and skills, including the most qualified employee for a shift based on skills, performance, labor rules, budget constraints, and compliance rules. For example, using Artificial Intelligence (AI), automated scheduling helps you find the right employees to fill open shifts and roles. Managers can prioritize shifts to fill the most critical ones first, and employees can be shared across locations.
Labor Optimization: Tools that automatically create optimized labor plans enable retailers to deliver a consistent and high-quality customer experience across all touchpoints while managing labor costs and ensuring compliance with labor laws. As the retail landscape evolves, an adaptive and data-driven WFM solution becomes even more crucial.
Real-Time Adjustments: Workforce management tools that use machine learning to adjust schedules based on unexpected changes in demand, employee availability, and absenteeism minimize the impact and potential of understaffing. Intelligent automation enabled by modern WFM makes it easy to meet predictability requirements, improve the employee experience, and ensure schedules are posted at a set time, notifying all affected employees of changes to eliminate delays and lost communications.
Employee Self-Service: Many workforce management solutions allow employees to manage their schedules, reducing administrative burdens and improving employee satisfaction. For example, employees can share their preferences on when, how much, and where they work. Providing a modern mobile app makes it easy to access schedules, request changes, pick up shifts at other locations, swap shifts, receive and respond to open shift requests, and request time off.
Compliance Management: Workforce management systems should automatically track state, federal, and local labor regulations, policies, and union rules to ensure schedules are compliant and all compliance requirements are met and reported on.
Integration with Other Systems: WFM solutions must integrate with other systems such as HR, payroll, task management, and point-of-sale (POS) systems, providing retailers with a unified view of operations and simplifying data management.
What is Needed to Create Optimized Schedules?
Retailers must select a product that utilizes mature data science to achieve the most accurate demand forecasting results. Intelligent WFM solutions can automatically predict demand across all customer touchpoints and locations while easily adjusting to dynamic business changes, modeling what-if scenarios, such as adjusting total budget hours, easily changing inputs, and enforcing operating labor models. To improve accuracy, forecasts should be able to be tailored to your specific business needs at-the channel, location, or SKU level, in 15-minute increments. As new data is available throughout the week, a system that automatically recomputes labor, reforecasts, and regenerates data to compare an improved forecast and labor plan to what was previously published will allow you to adapt and react quickly to business changes. An accurate, granular forecast is the foundation of a good labor plan. Please read "AI-Powered Demand Forecasting: A Buyer's Guide."
Optimizing scarce labor resources is imperative for retailers, and scenario planning can be critical. Retailers must optimize their resources by balancing customer demand, budget constraints, staffing rules, and labor model requirements while meeting all compliance rules. The most advanced retail workforce management software leverages intelligent automation to build an optimal labor plan.
Questions to ask:
Does the solution support the automated creation of granular, down-to-the-minute task-based labor modeling across all channels?
Can the solution automatically compute optimal labor hours based on precisely forecasted demand and customer labor standards?
Does the solution include pre-loaded, automatically updated compliance templates and business rules to help ensure schedules follow labor laws?
Can the solution automatically account for flexible workloads, such as restocking or inventory, in the labor plan?
Can the solution automatically optimize labor by skill and day?
Does the solution seamlessly integrate external data from warehouse management, point of sales, task management, and other systems?
Providing options for employees to increase or decrease their hours, allowing them to work at other store locations, and giving them more control over how their work gets done is critical. The most innovative frontline retail employers are "investing in technology to automate activities, freeing time and energy for more meaningful roles in the store."
You can automate and simplify routine activities using retail scheduling software to improve productivity, increase engagement, and stem the tide of workers leaving the industry.
Questions to ask:
Can scheduling be fully automated but still allow for manager input?
Do the schedules continuously learn and adapt based on preferences, changes in compliance rules, and manager edits?
Does the scheduling solution automatically approve or deny time-off requests, shift swaps, and claims based on rules?
Does the system make automated recommendations to the manager? (ex. recommended team members for open shifts, auto-fill open shifts, targeted offers for specific people to fill particular shifts, etc.).
Can you automatically schedule the right employees with the right skills and proficiency at peak times?
Can you automatically offer open shifts to employees available for the time and location-ensuring peak-hour shifts are given priority and share employees across all of your locations?
Does the system let employees change their schedule by updating their scheduling preferences?
Does the system find the best places to schedule task work that might need to fit around the dynamic customer-based demand?
Can you view a schedule score to assess if it meets your objectives while creating it, including how edits improve or reduce the schedule quality? For example, they can see how the schedule scores against the business's key goals, including accuracy at peak times, accuracy at non-peak times, compliance, budget, or meeting employees' availability needs.
Can schedules be automatically posted at a set time to meet predictability requirements?
Engagement is more than a buzzword; it can demonstrably impact your business. Gallup's ongoing engagement survey found that companies with highly engaged workforces are 23% more profitable and 18% more productive. Typically, the top reason (other than pay) employees leave their jobs is due to schedules that don't meet their availability or provide them with the necessary flexibility. An employee-centric approach ensures you can simultaneously meet the needs of your business and employees.
Questions to ask:
- What percent of automated schedules match business needs with employee skills and preferences?
- Does the employee scheduling solution learn from manager edits to continuously improve schedules?
- Does the solution support using badges to reflect skills, certifications, or seniority?
- Can the solution schedule employees by the skill or set of skills required for each shift?
- Can scheduling rules be configured to schedule employees with specific skills or attributes first?
- Can employees automatically be scheduled and shared across locations?
Luxury Retailer reduces scheduling time and increases sales
As a result of using Legion AI-based Automated Scheduling, SMCP, a luxury retailer, saw a 50% reduction in time spent creating and maintaining schedules, from 7 hours to 3 hours, with no more scheduling outside of employee availability. This saved time is now spent on talent development or training. SMCP also saw a 22% increase in manager-driven sales.
Channel or Industry-Specific Schedule Challenges
Retailers, stores, and distribution centers have unique scheduling approaches. The common and ultimate goal is to balance customer and employee satisfaction and operational efficiency. A solution maximizing labor efficiencies and employee engagement across all these approaches and challenges is critical for a unified retail employee scheduling system.
Distribution Centers typically use fixed, flexible, and shift-based scheduling systems. A key feature is balancing workforce requirements, including skill and certification requirements, with volume fluctuations. Automation also often plays a significant role.
Retailers commonly use flexible, demand-based, part-time scheduling approaches. Stores are often near each other, and sharing staff may be a key way to ensure employees get the hours they want.
Convenience stores typically use shift-based, flexible, and part-time scheduling.
Intuitive Mobile App
Intelligent, employee-centric scheduling, communications, and on-demand pay capabilities that turn your employees' mobile devices into powerful tools for managing their work lives are a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees. However, many WFM solutions require employees to log into multiple apps or are outdated and lack an intuitive interface.
Questions to ask:
- Is it easy for employees to manage schedules, shift offers, time-off requests, shift trades, and clock-in on the app?
- Can employees define when they are available to work, how much, and the locations where they want to work?
- Can employees seamlessly view schedules and expected pay for their shifts or shift offers?
- Does the mobile app share all the same configs, master data, and integrations?
- Are communications and on-demand pay tightly embedded with automated scheduling and time and and attendance?
- Are schedules, time and attendance, and communications clock-aware to prevent off-clock communications or punches?
- Does the mobile app provide geo-fencing? Geofencing is useful to ensure employees are clocking in at work rather than en route or from home.
- Does the employee have to pay for the app?
- What's the app store rating of the app? Over how many reviews?
- Does the app require training and is it easy to use and intuitive?
- Can employees download an app to get their schedules, making it easy to find what they need?
Fast Go-Live and Widespread Adoption
For retailers to address their unique challenges, they must select the right technology and invest in training to ensure employees adopt and use the system effectively.
Retail workforce management software should not take years to implement. Modern solutions should offer implementation services that enable the first set of locations to go live in weeks, followed by a rapid rollout to additional locations. A WFM solution that uses a templated approach can speed your rollout across all your sites and reduce the time to go live from years to months or weeks.
The successful implementation of workforce management solutions requires a strategic approach.
Questions to ask:
- Are there templates and self-service tools that speed up implementation and reduce the resources required?
- What time savings can be achieved with full schedule automation?
- How do I demonstrate ROI from investing in a retail scheduling solution?
- What support and tools should be considered to help drive the adoption of the solutions? Are there:
- Best practice guides
- Resources to support adoption
- Support beyond launch
- Embedded role-based training
- Tools to measure/monitor adoption
Why AI-Powered, Automated Scheduling is Important
Retail scheduling solutions, like Legion enable intelligent automation for scheduling instantly generating optimal schedules that match business needs with employee preferences and skills, including the most qualified employee for a shift based on skills, performance, labor rules, budget constraints, and compliance rules. Automated Scheduling makes it simple to generate an optimal schedule automatically with just one click.
The Legion scheduling engine automatically applies rules and constraints such as scheduling policy rules, minor laws, meal and rest breaks, availability, and work role assignments. And, managers automatically receive warnings if an edit they make violates configured rules.
When managers have confidence that coverage and compliance are right and employee needs are met, they can focus on driving revenue, creating a culture that retains employees, and delivering excellent customer service instead of focusing on administrative tasks.
Legion WFM also enables intelligent automation to turn your employee's mobile devices into a powerful tool for managing their work lives.
- Schedules, shift offers, time-off requests, shift trades, clock-in, modern communications tools, performance, and instant access to their earned wages, all within the same employee mobile app.
- Employees can define when they are available to work, how much, and the locations where they want to work.
- All are built into the same easy-to-use mobile app employees use daily to access their schedules-no new apps to learn or IT projects.
- With a 4.8 rating and an adoption rate of 90% or more among our customers, the Legion mobile app is highly adopted.
Because these powerful tools are all built into our WFM solution, they share all the same configs, master data, and integrations. They are tightly embedded with Automated Scheduling, Time and Attendance and are clock-aware to prevent off-clock communications or punches.
Leading Convenience Store chain has seen employee engagement grow
"There's not an employee that's not in love with Legion, and especially the app because [employees] didn't have that visibility and ability to start seeing what other shifts are available themselves instead of asking a manager before."
- Executive Director of Information Systems, National Convenience Store Chain
By understanding the challenges of retail scheduling and the benefits of workforce management solutions, you can be sure to select a tool that improves services, cuts costs, and improves employee satisfaction. Choosing a solution that aligns with your business needs, existing technology investments, and future growth plans is also critical.
Workforce Management that enables intelligent automation becomes increasingly vital. By automating forecasting and scheduling, WFM can help retailers meet the diverse needs of different channels, adapt to unexpected changes, optimize staffing, and increase employee engagement. This ultimately leads to improved operational efficiency, enhanced customer service, and better business outcomes.
Legion delivers workforce management that's intelligent, automated, and employee-centric. Legion maximizes labor efficiency and employee engagement simultaneously. Legion's AI-powered Demand Forecasting precisely predicts demand by location across all customer touchpoints every 15 minutes. Legion automatically creates optimized schedules that match business needs with employee skills and preferences. Employees get gig-like flexibility, modern tools, and instant access to earned wages. To see Legion WFM in action, request a demo.
Legion Technologies delivers the industry's most innovative workforce management platform. It enables businesses to maximize labor efficiency and employee engagement simultaneously. The Legion WFM platform is intelligent, automated, and employee-centric. It's proven to deliver 13x ROI through schedule optimization, reduced attrition, increased productivity, and increased operational efficiency. Legion delivers cutting-edge technology in an easy-to-use platform and mobile app that employees love. For more information, visit https://legion.co and follow us on LinkedIn.