Axonify Pandemic Survey – Retail’s Frontline Heroes are Left Behind

Frontline workers have been called heroes since the COVID-19 pandemic. The backbone of communities was the grocery and retail store associates, who ensured that businesses were able to withstand the crisis.

Businesses are failing frontline workers despite their appreciation. Retail workers feel unsafe, unprepared, or undersupported by their frontline colleagues.

These are the results of Axonify’s Global Status of Frontline Employee Training Study, which was released recently. It included responses from 2,000 frontline workers from Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. who were asked about their training experiences in the workplace before and after the outbreak of the pandemic. This study examines responses from professional sales agents, contact-center agents, and grocery store associates.

Retail industry should pay more attention to their employees’ training needs, according to the results of the survey.

Pandemic Pandemic: Retail employees

It is important to recall the chaotic environment that retail workers faced in the first days of the pandemic, when looking at the survey results. While grocery stores were still open, their status varied. Some were opened but only with limited hours or capacity. To accommodate increased curbside and online pickup orders, some retail stores were closed and converted to temporary warehouses or distribution centres. Some retail workers were furloughed (49% of frontline employees surveyed) and others were forced to work reduced hours due to these transitions. Others took on additional responsibilities in order to meet the unique customer service or delivery needs of the pandemic.

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Communication during the Pandemic lacked job relevance

Information changed quickly during the initial days of lockdowns at both state and local levels. Retailers had to react quickly to changes in information and communicate these changes to employees. Sixty-six percent of frontline employees in retail said that their employers provided timely information on the company’s response to the pandemic. Only 38 percent of frontline workers claimed that the emails and texts they received were relevant to their jobs. The communication was not as timely, reliable, or relevant as employees expected.

Customer-Facing Employees Felt Unsafe

Groceries and retail associates couldn’t work remotely. They had to travel to work, which could have led to COVID-19 exposure. It was hard to feel secure with the new and often conflicting information about how the virus was transmitted.

The survey results show this: Only 68% of retail associates and only 65 percent of grocery associates feel their employers keep them safe. Safety culture must go beyond threat prevention and safety management to include the well-being of employees.

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Training was missing during the Pandemic

Nearly half (46%) of frontline workers took on additional responsibilities during the pandemic. 23 percent also moved into new roles. Despite being asked to do more by frontline workers, only 28 percent received training.

The problem is that the training received by employees was not effective. Only 34% of the training received by frontline employees was simple to comprehend and remember. 39% of frontline workers felt unprepared for their jobs.

Employees were asked which type of training they preferred. Only 33% of retail workers said they would like more online training. This includes interactive models, practice questions, video and interactive models. Retail employees might not have access to training on a regular basis, so current training methods may not be sufficient.

According to retail employees, they want training that is fun and engaging. Only 14 percent of retail workers said they receive this type of training. After training, they also desired to be able to access more information about the topic. Only 17% of retail workers felt that they could do this now.

Retail employees are eager to acquire job skills. Retail employees want to be able to take on new and challenging responsibilities. They need to be able to trust their employers to provide them with the job-specific training they require.

To provide support, training, and a safe environment for frontline employees, businesses cannot wait until the crisis is over. They will lose their employees if they don’t. Employees who leave will not be equipped to adapt to the new environment, which will impact their customers as well. Companies must not lose sight of the people who are fighting for their survival.

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Retailers need data to make informed retail real estate decisions.

All companies are scrambling for answers as COVID-19 makes it difficult to predict the future of their business. Brick-and-mortar retail is the most important part of a retailer’s business. Many are now asking how to proceed if the country faces an longer lockdown. Do you shutter certain stores? Is there a right balance between offline and online commerce? Are consumers likely to return to shops with the same frequency?

Retailers had been exploring experiential commerce to increase consumer interest. To encourage customers to spend more time in retail stores, they often have bars, restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, and spas.

Retailers are having to rethink their concepts due to the pandemic. The shopping experience becomes more transactional rather than experiential if consumers are looking to be in and out of stores as quickly as possible. The coffee bar does not encourage consumers to browse. It’s convenient.

So where do retail decision-makers go?

Data and Its Role in Retail Real estate

Data can bring some peace to the chaos. Data should be used to inform retail strategy, especially in the context of commercial leases. Retailers, regardless of their size, must have a systematic approach to tracking financial, legal, and critical date information regarding commercial lease agreements.

For example, a business owner should be able to understand whether a commercial lease contains force majeure, termination or act of God language. These clauses are often hidden in dense text within a PDF lease document. However, you will need to organize this data to make sure you stay ahead of the events and identify potential opportunities to reduce risk.

However, leasing information should not be your sole focus when considering the future of retail realty. When deciding the next steps for your company, you’ll need to consider many other factors. These are the most common places to begin:

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1. Collaboration across departments on real estate decisions

Every aspect of a retail store’s business can be affected by its location. Problem is that many retail real estate decisions are made without input from others.

Employees who are closer to customers could offer valuable insights that can influence brick-and mortar real estate decisions. Establish a system that is accessible to all stakeholders. It can be used as a connective tissue between departments, and can help you pinpoint your commercial realty needs moving forward.

2. Addition of customer data.

Customers will tell retailers anything they want in a store. It is enough to simply ask them or observe their behavior. As an example, take the BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) model. BOPIS was growing in popularity since before COVID-19. It was actually tested by 83% of consumers as of January 2019.

Customers might have given you some useful advice. It may be worth looking into technology, but also exploring brick-and mortar real estate. Is there a commercial lease or location that allows for this option?

Some retail real estate properties may be heading towards ” dark shops,” which is where certain retail locations function as distribution centers that fulfill online orders. Many retailers have used this strategy throughout the pandemic: they turned their real estate properties into warehouses and then used in-store stock to fulfill orders online.

3. Leverage digital tools.

Paper workflows are not sufficient in a world where a pandemic and major regulatory changes have made it difficult to account for lease expenses. single source of retail real estate data is essential.

It doesn’t matter if you are evaluating a commercial lease or ensuring compliance to FASB ASC-842 and IFRS 16, having the right data at your fingertips is extremely helpful. Software that streamlines administrative tasks and gives you immediate access to all the data necessary to make timely decisions about commercial lease management can help reduce this burden.

COVID-19 has helped to answer many questions about the retail sector, including what the future holds for retail real estate. You can make informed decisions about what to do with physical space if you bring together your entire organization and use the data available.