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How the right technology can help workers stay in the holiday spirit all season long

BY Jeff Warren

With rising wages, a healthy economy and record unemployment, the competition among retailers to attract seasonal talent is as intense as it has been in decades, with prospective employees having their choice of employment options this holiday season. An overlooked aspect many job hunters are now prioritizing is their workplace experience, which is no longer just tied to the brand but the technology they interact with.

When weighing multiple job offers, a prospective employee often considers a retailer’s culture of innovation. Specifically, innovation priorities include faster onboarding and training, improved efficiency from new technology access and working more closely to how they live with improved user experiences and mobile capabilities. This is true not only for long-term positions but for seasonal hires as well. In addition, the holidays create an environment of heightened expectations.

Consumers are eager to get what they want, when they want it (not to mention at a great price) and retailers don’t have the luxury of time to invest in long training processes. New hires need the right tools to hit the ground running: mobile, intuitive applications that deliver accurate information in real-time. This will ensure job satisfaction and success which trickles down to the consumer. Because if associates don’t feel set up for success, they will accept employment elsewhere or they will inevitably deliver poor customer service – and this holiday season, neither outcome is acceptable.

Using technology to improve employee onboarding
In today’s technology-driven shopping experience, the role of the store associate can make or break the customer experience and overall perception of that store. This is especially true in a retail environment that enables shopping convenience outside a store atmosphere, such as a pop-up shop or offsite order pickup/return center. Because of these new and shifting formats, store associate roles are evolving to include a mix of being a salesman, brand ambassador and e-commerce fulfillment. In fact, according to our latest research, The New Topography of Retail, 74% of consumers rate knowledgeable in-store staff as important to their overall brand experience. What many people miss is that workers who can thrive in complex roles, such as handling shipping and fulfillment, aren’t just arms and legs; these workers have specialized skills that are harder to find.

Investing in technology that can reinforce important procedures will ensure associates are ready for any task. But equally important is the need for associates to have a solid sense of inventory availability and promotions, in real-time. The need for instant contributions from new employees is especially crucial during the tight holiday sales window, occurring over a matter of weeks. To keep associates up to date as the season progresses, retailers must have a seamless flow of data across core systems from customer to inventory – and they must make that information actionable for employees.

Modernizing the employee experience
Looking beyond the peak season, not only does technology serve to differentiate retailers in the war for talent, it also offers a strong selling point for associates who want to work the way they live – with accessible technology right at their fingertips. This benefit may be hard to come by, as less than half of retailer respondents say they empower employees with mobile capabilities, according to a recent Oracle study, making this a unique selling point when attracting talent that will differentiate your brand both on the sales floor and at HQ.

Along with the need for more seasonal employers during the holidays, retailers would be smart to increase their mobile POS devices. The integration of a mobile POS will allow for diffusing long lines during the holiday rush, and with real-time inventory and customer data on hand, associates can offer a better customer experience for shoppers. It’s important to keep in mind that a multi-format POS environment that offers associates consistency across devices will ensure seamless experiences for both employees and consumers regardless of their location in the store.

Finally, standout employees should be recognized for their contribution to the team. The right technology can ensure employees receive credit for their specific contributions to any sales gain by tracking the performance of each individual store in real-time.

Looking forward to 2019: the power of voice technology
As mobile has become ubiquitous with our daily lives, so soon will voice technology. Voice-enabled artificial intelligence technologies like Alexa and Siri guide them through their daily routines away from the office and soon they will expect that same experience at work. Retailers can capitalize employees’ increased reliance on AI by implementing this technology where relevant within their stores, serving as a positive selling point when comparing multiple retailers’ offers.

For instance, offering associates AI technology from mobile devices that provide access to customer history and preferences, accurate inventory data and the entire range of shipping and fulfillment options, will greatly improve associates’ overall efficiency, and in turn, will aide in their success serving customers. Similarly, this technology can also assist with regular updates on inventory and store sets, helping employers better manage potential out-of-stock issues, and providing the right balance of inventory for customer demand — two important, yet often overlooked, aspects of an associate’s job.

For potential employees, technology platforms that minimize inconveniences within a busy holiday shift and make their work experience feel more familiar can be the ultimate determinant when selecting a place of work for the holiday season and beyond. Simply put, empowering employees to work the way they live won’t only be a present for them but will be the gift that keeps on giving for retailers by helping them succeed all season long.

Jeff Warren is VP of retail strategy and solutions, Oracle Retail.

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CSA Regulatory Wrap-Up
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Regulatory Wrap-Up: Weekly review of judicial, legislative developments – Nov. 19

BY CSA Staff

Wages

Federal – Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) introduced legislation that would ban large companies from buying back their own stock unless they meet a few criterion: pay all employees $15/hr, provide seven days of paid sick leave and prevent executive compensation from rising above 150 times the median employee pay. The senator named the bill the “Stop Walmart Act.” The bill has no chance of becoming law but certainly will serve as a talking point for Sanders over the coming months.

Michigan – The legislature is in post-election recess but once it returns, legislators are likely to address minimum wage. Ongoing discussions are focused on adjusting the provisions around the tip credit as well as the phase-in period. It remains to be seen what specific changes gain enough support. The Republican-led state is likely to move on the issue during the lame duck session, before the new governor, a Democrat, takes office in 2019.

New Jersey – The Assembly Speaker declared his support for passing a $15/hr minimum wage increase in the next few months. The state legislature has generally supported the increase and passed a bill in 2016 that then-Governor Christie vetoed. Negotiations are ongoing and focus on issues such as exemptions for certain industries and whether to include a tip credit and/or youth training wage.

Texas – Senate Democrats introduced legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.85/hr to $10.10/hr. The bill faces an uphill climb. But, given that the legislature is also likely to address preemption of local laws on paid leave and benefits, there may be an opportunity to advance a comprehensive legislative package that could include a moderate increase.

Denver, CO – The city is considering legislation to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $15/hr. Also under discussion, is extending the increase to city contractors, vendors and tenants which could impact a number of private companies. The mayor’s office has requested an economic impact study prior to action on the bill, which is expected to be completed early in 2019.

St. Paul, MN – The city council passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage for city businesses to $15/hr over a period of several years, depending on the size of the business. Importantly, the definition of franchises was adjusted and is now based on the total number of employees at locations owed by a single franchisee, as opposed to earlier language that classified franchisees as based on the size of the entire franchise system. The ordinance does not establish a tipped wage but does exempt youth workers in city-approved training programs. The first increase will go into effect in 2020.

Paid Leave

Michigan – In addition to scaling back the pending minimum wage increase, the legislature is also likely to adjust the recently-passed paid leave bill during its lame duck session. Adjustments to the amount of advanced notice employees must provide and employer record keeping provisions continue to be part of the discussion.

Etsy – The handmade goods marketplace updated its employee benefit policies to include some innovative offerings. Etsy currently offers up to 26 weeks of gender neutral paid parental leave and employees can now elect to trade in up to 14 weeks of that leave for a cash payment. The company will also offer subsidized backup childcare services beginning in 2019.

Scheduling

Philadelphia, PA – The city council was scheduled to continue debate on the city’s “fair workweek” legislation this week but postponed that action pending ongoing negotiations with the business community. The bill will likely be taken up at the Nov. 26 meeting and a final bill could be voted on as early as Dec. 6.

Walmart – The retail chain is expanding the use of its scheduling app to all stores nationwide by the end of Nov. Following a successful pilot launch earlier this year, the app incorporates employees in the scheduling process. It allows them the flexibility to add or swap shifts as well as establishing a “core hours” of standard weekly shifts. The app also benefits managers who have reported saving upwards of eight hours per week as a result of the automated process.

Labor Policy

EEOC – As a result of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission actions, employers paid about $505 million to nearly 70,000 workers in fiscal year 2018. Due to a combination of factors, the EEOC reported a 30% increase in filed complaints.

Google/Facebook – Facing public pressure campaigns, both Google and Facebook announced that they will eliminate mandatory arbitration to resolve allegations of sexual harassment.

H&R Block – A tax preparer hit the company with a proposed class action lawsuit in Illinois federal court, claiming the company’s non-compete clauses for employees and “no-poach” agreements between its corporate offices and franchises have illegally stifled wages and career advancement of thousands of workers. The lawsuit follows months of enforcement actions and lawsuits targeted at restaurants and is indicative of the momentum of the issue as it moves to other sectors.

Taxes

Federal – As Congress reconvenes for the lame duck session, the tax writing committees will continue to debate potential technical changes to the landmark tax reform law that passed earlier this year. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady indicated his office would soon release language addressing many of the technical concerns that have been raised. Of great interest to retail is the drafting error that now requires companies to write off certain investments over decades, rather than over one year as intended.

Data Privacy

U.S. Senate – Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced internet privacy legislation modeled after the European Union’s recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The bill will get more attention in the next Congress but the proposal indicates the direction the U.S. House may take on the issue. While internet data privacy regulations have been long-debated, the ongoing public concern regarding the manipulation of consumer data and the effect social media networks have had on political dialogue makes regulatory action in this space more likely than ever.

Trade

U.S. International Trade Commission – The independent federal agency held two days of hearings to assess the potential economic impact of the proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as it prepares to make recommendations to Congress. The commission heard from labor groups, industry representatives and leading house Democratic lawmakers who will control the proposal’s fate when the new Congress convenes in Jan. Democrats and labor interests in particular indicated that improvements may be needed in order for the proposal to successfully pass the House next year.

China – The Trump Administration reiterated its intent to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent effective Jan. 1, 2019. The announcement comes after reports that key U.S. officials had intimated that the increase was on hold pending a meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi at an upcoming G-20 meeting in Argentina.

Key Takeaways

  • Walmart’s announcement of a new scheduling app for its workers further isolates the industry on this issue and undercuts its traditional political arguments against a mandate. Brands are going to have to solve this issue for themselves because the likelihood of controlling the issue through the political process continues to diminish.
  • Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz continues to lay the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run. Brands should be prepared for the industry’s business model to be front and center if that happens. While the nomination of Andy Puzder provided a similar forum for examination, Puzder was a fervent defender of the restaurant business model and also of franchising. In contrast, Schultz is often characterized as the defender of his company’s progressive culture, standing apart from the rest of the industry. Starbucks turnaround under Shultz’s leadership is often characterized by a string of decisions or actions that bucked industry norms, often times portrayed as sacrificing short term gains in order to “do the right thing” by the company’s employees. In this way, Schultz’s growing national profile may increase the expectations of other brands, casting some practices in a negative light.

Legislature Status for Week of 11/19/18

  • The United States Senate is in recess this week
  • The United States House is in recess this week
  • Two state legislatures are meeting actively this week:
    • GA & MA

Podcast

Check out our Working Lunch podcast each week that includes further analysis into these legislative issues, policy, politics and much more. You can find Working Lunch on the Nation’s Restaurant News website, or by clicking here, and when you download the podcast and subscribe on iTunes here.

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Deloitte: 71% of consumers plan to shop during Thanksgiving weekend

BY Marianne Wilson

It looks like retailers will have plenty to be thankful for this holiday — online and in stores.

Seventy-one percent of consumers plan to head to the stores and online during the Thanksgiving weekend (Thanksgiving Thursday – Cyber Monday), according to a new survey from Deloitte. People expect to shop almost evenly online and in stores throughout the weekend: Eighty-nine percent plan to shop in-store and 91% plan to shop online.

The busiest day for brick-and-mortar will be Black Friday, with 70% of respondents planning to shop in the stores (and 50% online). Most Black Friday shoppers say they’ll be early birds: Seventy-two percent intend to be in the stores before 9 a.m. Top shopping destinations for in-store shoppers include mass merchants (45%), department stores (43%), and electronics/office supply stores (33%).

Cyber Monday also continues to gain momentum, according to the survey. Nearly three-quarters (73%) plan to shop online Cyber Monday, which is also poised to take 47% of all online spending that occurs over the course of the weekend. Cyber Monday is also gearing up to take the most dollars at an average of $170, higher than all other shopping days.

In other findings:

• Holiday shoppers say they’ll spend an average of $420 between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, and 88% expect to spend more or the same on the holiday season than they originally intended.

• The No. 1 reason respondents said they shop in the stores on Black Friday is to take advantage of the deals (82%).

• On Thanksgiving Day, 26% of weekend shoppers plan to head to the stores, and 29% will shop online. The main reasons people plan to shop in the stores on Thanksgiving is to get a jump on the deals (68%) and because they enjoy shopping with family and friends or it’s become a Thanksgiving ritual (55%).

• Fifty-one percent of shoppers say they’ll go to another retailer if a site has technical issues; 41% indicate they would buy something online while in-store if they get better pricing; and 27% would check out while using their mobile device in the store to avoid long lines at the register.

“The signs are in retailers’ favor heading into the weekend, with traffic spread over multiple shopping days and both online and in-store channels,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. retail and distribution leader. “We’re finding that people who plan to start shopping earlier on major shopping days tend to be those who spend more, which should encourage retailers to connect with people early and often with information people want most this time of year: promotions. That can also make a difference with undecided shoppers. This year, 45%, or nearly half, of people in the survey told us they remain undecided which retailer they’ll shop over the weekend.”

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