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5 frontline work challenges facing retailers in 2022

  • Posted on November 15, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes
5 Retail frontline work challenges

This blog post was co-authored by Microsoft’s Anya Minbiole

Say the word “experience” to a retail leader as recently as a few years ago, and the chances are they immediately thought about their customers. While experience will forever be tied to the customer journey, today the term is more multifaceted.

High caliber experiences are no longer the sole preserve of shoppers. They’re now in demand from employees, and specifically the frontline workforce – whose expectations have escalated dramatically in the last few years. Store associates want their workplace experience to match the level of the customers they serve.

Avanade’s 2022 global workplace study of business leaders explored the key workplace challenges organizations faced as they sought to create a more people-first workplace. From a retail perspective, one of the findings that became immediately apparent was frontline inequity – with only a third (33%) of retailers believing their frontline and office-based employee experiences are at parity.

The research also established a link between this inequity and a series of workplace challenges that have been left unresolved for far too long. I recently reviewed the data with Microsoft’s Anya Minbiole and below we’ve highlighted five of the key retail frontline work failings emerging from the study.

#1: Access to applications and knowledge is being impeded
One theme that immediately jumped out to us was the frustration that frontline workers in retail are likely to face when attempting to access the information or applications they need.

The data highlights that just 30% of retailers have embraced a virtualized workplace platform, which would provide access to applications and data anywhere, from any device. Meanwhile, only 35% of retailers said they’d simplified knowledge management and sharing for their employees by embracing cloud-based platforms, AI, and automation. And perhaps most frustratingly for frontline employees, only 39% of retailers have streamlined their employee experience ecosystem and workplace applications to help workers access what they need more easily.

#2: Failure to address flexible working demands
Anya emphasized how unfavorably retail compares to other sectors when it comes to flexible working: “Maybe it wasn’t shocking that only 38% of retailers say they’re able to offer their employees choice around how, when, or where they work. We know there’s plenty more that can be done to realize the potential of truly flexible working – especially for frontline workers. But retail seems to be lagging behind other industries. Compared to retail’s 38%, nearly half of insurers (47%), 45% of energy and utilities companies, 44% of public sector organizations, and 43% of manufacturers said they offer truly flexible working.

Avanade’s research also discovered that security is a prominent hurdle standing in the way of greater frontline work flexibility. Less than half (44%) of retailers that responded to the study said they’d embraced a security model that enables their employees to work securely wherever they’re based.”

#3: Automation remains a distant dream for many
We also discussed how the majority of frontline workers in the retail sector won’t be able to count on automation technology to make their working lives easier. Less than half (46%) of retailers told us they’ve embraced automation to lessen manual processes and free up employees to focus on higher value work, like providing better customer service.

#4: Collaboration ambitions are running into roadblocks
Anya called out that seamless collaboration remains a challenge for many retailers – which is likely to significantly impact frontline workers. “I was surprised that, on average, only around a third (37%) of retailers reported they had empowered their employees to collaborate frictionlessly through a cloud-based workplace platform. And less than half (49%) said they’ve embraced a modern cloud voice solution, to enable their employees to communicate wherever they’re working.”

#5: Frontline employees are left yearning for learning
The final key theme that stood out to us was the challenges store associates are likely to encounter as they seek to develop, learn, and grow their skills. Less than half of retailers (42%) embraced a hybrid learning approach (with L&D taking place both virtually and physically) for store associates to develop new skills and capabilities.

What does this mean for you?
The good news is, if you’re wrestling with these frontline work challenges, the data makes it clear: you’re not alone.

Want more good news? Avanade and Microsoft are partnering with retailers across the globe to address the very same frontline work frustrations outlined above. And these organizational journeys always begin by taking the same first step – with data.

In fact, that’s something a huge share of retailers who responded to this survey are failing to do right now. Less than half (46%) said they’ve adopted workplace or employee analytics solutions to improve their EX by designing around specific moments that matter – particularly critical for frontline workers, due to the diversity of tasks they encounter.

Avanade and Microsoft work with leading retailers to harvest workplace insights and harness them to reinvent frontline work. That includes designing experiences around key frontline work “moments that matter,” such as communication, well-being and support, upskilling, onboarding, task and shift management, knowledge sharing, clienteling, and more. And it extends to refining those experiences moving forward, by gaining real-time insight into what’s working and what’s not.

By doing this, we’re able to generate significant impact – both for the employee and the business. For example, in this video we explore how we’ve helped leading European retailer El Corte Inglés to provide their employees with a modern platform which enabled them to achieve a significant sustainability goal.

We’re here to help you empower your frontline workers and achieve a similar impact.

Learn more about how Avanade and Microsoft can help you reimagine work for your store associates – talk to our retail team today about our frontline work accelerator program.

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