There is much discussion about how COVID-19 has reshaped the retail industry. Yet, it’s important to consider the unique pressures and challenges convenience stores (c-stores) have experienced – and continue to deal with today:
- Pandemic-related stress and uncertainty: C-stores typically remained open during the pandemic given they were providing essential goods and services. However, customer demand dropped as commuting levels plummeted and fewer people traveled. Now that foot traffic is growing once again, c-stores having been struggling to staff accordingly. Yet, many of the same issues that troubled c-stores a year ago remain today, with COVID-19 spiking in some regions and decreasing in others. Associates still need to manage how the pandemic impacts their health and private lives, including providing care for loved ones. For example, if a child has to quarantine because of a positive case at school, the employee may need to take unscheduled time off.
- C-store demand spikes: Through the summer, the public has been releasing pent-up demand for travel and activities and workers have been resuming their pre-pandemic commutes. This in turn has boosted demand for fuel, coffee, and other drinks, as well as quick meals. This puts more demand on existing employee resources, who must help customers, keep shelves stocked, and more.
- Smaller associate pool: Although customer demand has grown, hiring for retailers in general has been difficult. Many associates who left the workforce during the pandemic have yet to return. Some are rethinking their careers; others will wait until salary and other demands are met. As a result, there are fewer associates covering more shifts and taking on more tasks. Now, with the holidays approaching, the demand for the most reliable and skilled associates is only going to grow – with major chains seeking to fill thousands of open positions. With competition for labor rising, c-stores are having to join other retailers in offering more benefits, greater work-life flexibility, and raises to recruit and retain qualified associates.
- Increased complexity and responsibilities for associates: Associates have adopted new roles such as having to enforce social distancing and mask policies in-store, fulfilling curbside pickup orders, frequent store sanitization, and more. This has required associates to learn new skills and accept new responsibilities, all while providing an excellent customer experience.
These are unprecedented challenges, and it’s not clear how they will play out in the long run. But many retailers are finding that increasing pay isn’t enough to attract and keep workers. Employees want to feel cared for, empowered, safe, and useful. They want retailers who will invest in them. So, given these various obstacles and drivers, new strategies are needed to succeed in this uncertain and competitive environment.
Facing The C-Store Labor Challenge
There are several ways to give your front-line c-store employees with the support they need. For example, intelligent workforce management solutions and employee self-service tools are proven to boost morale and retention by improving efficiency and productivity for all tasks, scheduling included. Just keep a few things in mind when evaluating solutions:
- Managers should be able to create accurate and equitable schedules. An intelligent workforce management application can assess historical staffing and store performance data, create a labor budget, and then generate an optimized schedule that is shared as far in advance as possible with the associates. Just be sure the solution you choose can balance available employees with customer demands so scheduled associates aren’t overwhelmed with too much work.
- Workers’ preferences need to be accommodated. The system should be able to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to factor in both historic traffic patterns, such as seasonal demand or weather, as well as each associate’s personal work preferences. This boosts morale and engagement by showing associates they’re valued as people.
- The goal is to avoid staffing shortages. Given the unpredictability of associates’ new responsibilities at home, they may need to call-in suddenly. Using an employee self-service solution, they can use their smartphones to access and modify schedules, put in for vacation, swap out a shift, or pick one up (within corporate guidelines). This flexibility helps to improve employee engagement, morale, and retention without putting the burden on management to cover when an employee can’t come in.
- Workers need to be fully utilized. A robust workforce management solution can actually schedule associates to work at multiple locations within a given region or network to better accommodate demand – much like fitness instructors rotate between area gyms. This allows you to maximize your current workforce, especially when staffing would otherwise be lean at certain stores. And associates can pick up extra shifts where and when they want (as a potential reward).
A Final Thought
There’s no doubt this labor shortage is straining existing resources, making it difficult for store associates to complete critical tasks and provide a fantastic customer experience. Plus, if workers start to burnout, turnover rates will likely increase – the opposite of what you need right now.
It may seem as though workforce management and employee self-service platforms are most beneficial to store managers. But associates will value them just as much when they feel they have more control over their schedules and the ability to prioritize personal needs without repercussion as the pandemic lingers. Plus, they won’t have to do the jobs of multiple people once schedules are adjusted to reflect customer and operational demands. You’ll just know to schedule more people during those peak periods.
If you’re interested in learning more about how intelligent workforce management can optimize labor at your c-stores, visit our website or contact our team. We’ll be happy to discuss the unique challenges that your stores are facing and what we can do to help you succeed.