In a 2022 survey for Modern Retail, 62% of retail associates said that working during the holidays had a detrimental effect on their mental health. This is a sad state of affairs, but one that will come as no surprise to anyone in the retail industry.
From mammoth queues to abusive customers, the holidays can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Managers and associates often resign themselves to the chaos, shifting their focus from improving the situation to simply making it through to the other side. This creates a poor customer experience, not to mention a stressful working environment. Luckily, there’s a better way.
Rather than viewing the holidays as a single, impossible challenge, we prefer to think of them as a series of smaller, more manageable problems. By addressing these issues individually, we can start to bring some order to the chaos. Here’s a look at retail’s biggest seasonal challenges, and how we can help you to take back control.
Squeezed from all sides
There are three perennial problems for retailers during the holiday season- more customers, fewer permanent associates and an influx of seasonal hires. On top of this, a fourth problem has emerged since the pandemic- a spike in shoplifting and customer aggression. Let’s start by taking a closer look at these in turn:
1. Increased customer volume
The most obvious seasonal challenge for stores is the sheer number of customers. Despite widespread economic hardship, holiday sales reached a record $936 billion in 2022. With inflation cooling and employment on the rise, all signs point to an even busier holiday period this year:
- 20% of consumers plan to spend more than last year
- Total holiday spending is expected to reach $1.1 trillion
- 38% of consumers plan to start their holiday shopping in October
This is great for business, but it creates a number of practical problems. Checkout lines get longer, stock depletes faster, breakages and spillages increase and associates are faced with more customer queries. All of this means extra work for associates and, in many cases, longer waiting times for customers.
2. Associate shortages
Unfortunately for stores, this spike in customer numbers comes at a time when associates are most likely to be off work. The holiday season is exactly that-a time to take a holiday, and this goes for retail associates as much as anyone else. Many choose to take the bulk of their vacation days around Thanksgiving and Christmas, leaving stores short-handed at a critical time.
Winter is also a time of unexpected absence. Up to 11% of Americans get the flu every year, and the majority of these cases occur in fall and winter. With COVID-19 settling into a similar seasonal pattern, absences due to illness are likely to be especially high this year.
3. Seasonal hires
With permanent associates in short supply, retailers rely on seasonal hires during the holidays. Target recently announced the hiring of 100,000 temporary associates, while US retailers as a whole are expected to create 410,000 seasonal jobs. Although this is low compared to previous years, it still represents a significant influx of new team members.
Temporary workers are vital, but they also present stores with a problem. Seasonal associates need to be trained, and this is a lot to ask when stores are busy. Some may choose to forego classroom training in favor of “shadowing”, but this is not without its problems. An associate who is being shadowed will have to stop and explain each task to their trainee, making them less productive at a time when efficiency is crucial.
4. Crime and customer aggression
The first three problems are logistical, but stores are also affected by cultural changes. Since the pandemic, there is evidence that customers have become less patient and more prone to aggression:
- 60% of associates believe that customers have become more irritable since the pandemic
- 80% of retailers have noticed an increase in customer aggression in the last two years
- A third of associates experienced a violent situation between October 2022 and March 2023
This is a particular problem during the holidays, when busier stores and longer waiting times have the potential to trigger angry outbursts. A 2021 survey found that 59% of retail associates experience more abuse during the festive season.
To make matters worse, the holidays are also peak time for criminals. 37% of all shrink occurs during the holiday season, and over half of small retailers say that shoplifting increases around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
As well as being expensive for stores, shoplifting can be a flashpoint for further violence. Across the country, instances of violence linked to shoplifting have risen by 35%, leaving many associates afraid to go to work at a time when their presence is needed the most.
Four problems, one solution
As we mentioned earlier, the best strategy is to address these problems one by one. We can’t reduce customer numbers or stop associates from taking time off, but we can make these situations more manageable. The key to this is communication.
Our headsets allow associates to have hands-free conversations from anywhere in store. This may not sound like much but, when used correctly, it can have a huge effect on the four issues mentioned previously:
- Headsets allow associates to answer customer queries more efficiently. If a customer has a question about stock levels or pricing, associates can contact the relevant department without having to walk there. This saves each associate around 1500 yards of walking per shift, giving them more time to help customers when stores are busy.
- Checkout associates can use keypads to call for help without leaving their position. This makes a huge difference during the holidays when even a small delay can cause checkout queues to get out of hand.
- Headsets are hands-free, allowing associates to deal with customer queries at the same time as restocking shelves. This kind of multitasking is essential at a time when stock depletes far more quickly than usual.
- Hands-free multitasking also helps to make up for seasonal labor shortages. Performing manual tasks while answering customer queries can improve task efficiency by 105 minutes a day.
- Headsets can be used to train seasonal associates. Rather than pausing to explain each task, experienced team members can work as normal and explain the process as they go. New associates can work independently, knowing that help is always just a button press away.
- Associates can use their headsets to warn security of shoplifters. This is more discreet than a PA announcement, reducing the risk of a violent altercation. Headsets also act as a visible deterrent to aggressive behavior. Associates report feeling 54% safer when wearing them.
The holidays will never be easy, but they don’t have to be unbearable. By improving communication, we can give you the tools you need to face the coming months with confidence. Talk to our team to find out more.