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With workforce management solutions, retailers can nip issues like absenteeism in the bud, while managing existing manpower and provisioning for new talent effectively.

The season of sales usually translates to overcrowded malls, long queues for parking and a hustle and bustle at most retail outlets – something that retailers crave for. On the flipside, this can also result in chaos. Customers entering overcrowded stores hardly find any sales associates around to attend to them. The merchandise they are seeking is either not in stock or is difficult to hunt in the winding aisles and overflowing shelves. Shopping is meant to be a pleasurable experience, where customers can inspect products, try them out, and buy them with ease. In case they need assistance, they expect a sales associate to answer their queries or direct them to the area where they can get the product they seek. But come the sales season and the tide turns. As stores unleash heavy discounts during these period, either the item is unavailable or sales associates are ill-equipped to handle their queries, or worse, absent on the shop floor. This results in an unsatisfactory shopping experience. All this, merely because of employee absence on the shopfloor. In any retail environment, the impact of absenteeism is felt keenly, as this business operates on having face-to-face engagement with customers. Hence, controlling absenteeism can have direct impact to the business, as well intangible ones.

Ultimately, what constitutes a happy shopping experience? It is when products are at within a customer’s reach and desired assistance is promptly provided to them. A salesperson on the shop floor is, therefore, crucial in taking care of this. According to Sunil Goklani, Founder-Director of Indifusion, an ethnic fusion womenswear brand, the ideal strategy is to have customer care associates (CCA) as per the store’s sales and area. “Generally it stands as one CCA for INR 5 lakh and 400 square feet. It can vary as per the brand’s potential or requirement. The store manager, assistant store manager, tailor and helper(s), in case of an apparel brand, remain static, while the number of CCA can keep changing,” he stated. Workforce management by retailers is mostly situational with deployment of additional salesperson to manage the rising demands always on the cards. For a retail chain, a salesperson is roped in from a nearby outlet to the location where the requirement is more. However, as Goklani revealed, in the Indian retail scenario, temporary trained staff is a far say. “Keeping untrained staff leads to more damage than help,” he cautioned. USING TECH FOR BUSINESS INSIGHT
The future of retail workforce management will see effective use of artificial intelligence (AI) without overburdening a retailer’s budget, thereby not affecting the bottom line. Sophisticated scheduling tools will be in use to ensure the availability of right employee at the right time.  While speaking on application of technology in workforce management, Priyan Nair, CIO, Future Lifestyle Fashions commented, “We are constantly in pursuit of process automation and process re-engineering to increase the productivity. Hence, we do not only look at managing workforce, but look at the entire ecosystems for optimizing efforts and reducing the time to process. We have invested heavily on analytics as well as ERP systems for predictions and planning. Accordingly, we ascertain the amount of workforce required for smooth operation during sales period. We also mobilize our staff based on the requirement across geography.” Technology is playing a crucial role with the rise in demand and frequency of sales in a year. “Automation of manual process and seamless process orchestration are the key to handle such high volume of sales,” he noted. WHEN MOBILE COMES IN HANDY
Given the connectivity that mobile phones provide, technology is aptly leveraging this platform to come up with numerous apps for workforce management. Apps like Teamviewer and Fieldaware are helping retailers better manage their workforce through mobiles. These are inexpensive and cost effective, empowering retailers to digitalize their operations. Ram Prakash, Head – IT, Liberty Shoes, explained why mobile apps are increasingly used for managing workflows today. “Mobile apps today help us to track tasks accomplished right from setting up a store at the project level to everyday running of a store,” he pointed out.
Liberty Shoes has an in-house developed software to monitor merchandise movement, prepare checklist for sales managers and tracking the employee register. “And all these can be done remotely,” Ram added. The dashboard of these applications also have features that assist in future prediction. MANAGING UNPLANNED ABSENTEEISM
Business disruption often arises from unplanned absenteeism, a common problem that every retailer has to regularly cope with. Over the years, many have found their own ways to deal with this issue.  “The best way is to have one or two additional staff for every four to five stores depending upon the volume of business. This works very well and takes care of the same,” suggested Goklani. Prakash preferred using technology to help in this aspect. “For rapid fill in, technology triggers alert message and the management takes over,” he commented.  Nair too concurred with the use of technology and explained, “A proper system of tracking real time availability and staff movement through an efficient tracking tool help us mobilize people across stores / warehouse on real time basis. We do this provisioning excess staff at a specific location and making them available through proper transportation mechanism. This eventually helps reduce the negative effect of absenteeism.” With the sales season on in full gusto, no retailer would want a situation of unhappy customers leaving stores merely because they were not attended. Goklani captured this scenario with a brisk observation, “During the sales period, a customer accepts a certain amount of waiting period and comes with a preconceived mindset that the experience will be diluted and is more focused on deals and, hence, self-service too.”  This summarizes the mood of Indian shoppers. Most seek good deals in a comfortable shopping ambience. Yes, it is a tough task for retailers to manage this combination, but they are doing their best to reach the expectations that their customers have.
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