Online retailers have caused brick and mortar retailers to get more creative, rethink their marketing practices, and realign their employees to better increase sales and compete with internet stores. The redesign of stores and the improvement of online presence is only producing minimal results so many of the retailers left alive are turning to improving customer service experiences as well. Unfortunately, and particularly in retail environments, most employees are part-time and part-time schedules fluctuate frequently giving employees only a few days notice of when they are scheduled to work. For employees requiring some flexibility, or at least a longer notice to arrange daycare, school classes, and other life necessities, the scheduling caused disruption and decreased employee morale as well as engagement stifling positive customer service.
Thankfully, change to a more stable scheduling practice is on the rise. Since 2015, many cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Seattle have passed legislation requiring retailers to implement more stable schedules and to post them in advance. Additionally, 15 retailers have implemented a policy that employees' scheduled work shift can no longer be canceled at the last minute, with some exceptions. One of the retailers leading the way in the changes is The Gap, headquartered in San Francisco, CA.
One of the first things The Gap did to improve the scheduling process for hourly employees, and therefore ultimately improve customer service, was to eliminate what is known as "on-calls," when employees are scheduled to work a shift that can be canceled at anytime, even up to two hours before they begin their shift. This late notice can obviously disrupt the quality of life for the employee, especially for those with children and for anyone counting on the work that affects their living budgets.
The second thing The Gap did was to require that the employees' schedules be posted two weeks in advance. Both of these steps were implemented in all of the company's almost 2,500 stores. These changes, studied in a Harvard Business Review article, produced extraordinary results. It was found that sales in stores with more stable scheduling increased by 7%, and this in the retail industry that normally hovers around 2%. In addition, productivity of The Gap employees increased by 5%, with an industry average of 2.5% per year recorded between 1987 and 2014.
A study conducted by the Wharton School of Management found that retailers tend to understaff during peak hours and that if a retailer would increase staffing, sales and profits would increase. The Gap took the study to heart and increased staffing appropriately based on traffic patterns while staying true to its stable scheduling practices. After conducting an initial 35 week experiment before rolling out to all of the company's stores, the Harvard study estimates that The Gap earned $2.9 million as a result of more-stable scheduling.
The Gap's App
The Gap's employee app, Shift Messenger, is one of several available smart-phone apps that allow workers to post a request for a shift swap with other employees. The app allows employees to let other Gap associates know of shifts that conflict with their life schedules and request the opportunity to switch shifts with others. This gives employees the chance to change their schedules when something comes up and gives managers someone to fill the shift rather than having to scramble to get someone to fill the empty position.
The initial rollout found that, "95% of the 200 respondents to a survey of part-time associates agreed or strongly agreed that the app makes it easy for associates to adjust their work schedules to fit their needs." Since The Gap typically attracts younger workers, they are used to communicating on their phones and Shift Messenger, (62% are using it), is just another platform for them to use. There was some concern in the Harvard Review study that workers of the age of 50 might not take to using the app, but studies show that about 46% of those workers are using it.
A platform for shift swapping is new to the retail industry and is obviously benefiting The Gap. With the stability of schedules and the opportunity for hourly employees to get their shifts covered when needed, morale and engagement is improving for the retailer and the company is attracting employees in a marketplace where other retailers and other industries are struggling to find hourly employees for their business.
The Gap took a chance during a trying time for brick and mortar retailers and put its efforts into improving employee's schedules and increasing a better life-work balance for all of the company's team members. The strategy worked and created a two-fold benefit. First, it is not a mystery that happy, content employees provide a better customer service experience. Currently The Gap is the largest specialty retailer in the United States, and ranked third in total international locations and much of the company's success can be attributed to engaged employees looking for better ways to improve store service.
The second benefit is that the more stable scheduling and the Shift Messenger app improved company loyalty. Just as with the Hawthorne experiments in the early 1920s, employees notice when a company is paying attention to them and care about their well-being. The Gap employees' loyalty cause them to be more creative and innovative and that helps to improve the company's bottom line. In fact, it was employees who realized that customers were leaving the store frustrated because 40% of the time, a product that a customer wanted wasn't on the shelf, but was in the stockroom. Because of diligent employees observing this problem, another app, the "In Stock on Shelf" was created generating realtime replenishment reports and improving customer service.
Businesses using hourly employees can take a page from The Gap's innovative strategy to employee scheduling. By giving employees stability in their schedule and allowing them to make choices on shift swaps when needed, The Gap continues to increase sales and profits regularly and even breaking previous company records.
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