Why Retail Digital Transformation Begins with Employees

A happy workforce leads to happy customers. Do retail employees have the technology tools they need to learn their jobs quickly and grow their careers?

Retailers have gotten increasingly innovative about how to better serve customers—mobile payments, in-store movement and behavior tracking, social media responsiveness, and even checkout-free shopping. Yet in the rush to improve the customer experience, are retailers overlooking another critical component of their digital transformation strategies—the employee experience?

In an interview with Inc., Virgin Group founder and retail innovator (and keynote speaker) Richard Branson says he puts employees first, customers second, and shareholders third. “If [an employee] is not given the right tools, is not looked after, is not appreciated, they’re not going to do things with a smile and therefore the customer will be treated in a way where often they won’t want to come back for more,” Branson said.

Making sure employees have tools to manage the details of their working lives and job benefits—and managers have the tools to engage and develop employees—is key to achieving digital transformation in retail.


Let’s start with onboarding new employees and transferring current employees into new roles. Such transitions represent an important time in someone’s career—research suggests that proper onboarding can lessen turnover and lead to happier, more productive employees. And, today’s employees expect their relationship with a company to begin and continue online, with the same friendly experience they have on the devices used in their personal lives.

There are several things successful onboarding should accomplish:

  • Ensure employees feel welcome, reinforcing that they’ve made a good decision in joining the company.
  • Help new hires understand their job priorities and their company’s mission.
  • Efficiently handle the compliance and paperwork aspects of the hire.
  • Allow employees to begin contributing in their roles as quickly as possible.

Successful onboarding also entails personalizing each new employee’s experience, including information on people they should engage with and learn from within the company, contacts in HR or within the store that can help them navigate their new surroundings, operating procedures in their job or store, and goals for their role.

Retailers are also wise to get employees started with learning videos ranging from an introduction to company culture to specific role-based training and best practices. Better yet, if your learning system supports user-generated video content, other employees can share their tips for success that are automatically recommended by the system based on factors such as role, location, or new-hire status.

“Pulse” surveys can help assess the quality of employees’ experiences or gauge their reactions to changes in management, procedures, shift patterns, and more.

Employee Engagement and Development

As a retailer’s employees settle into their new roles, it’s important to make sure they remain engaged—a key factor in retention, especially with younger people. You can increase employee engagement with targeted communications to keep your team motivated with goals, check-ins, and recognition.

For example, quick “pulse” surveys to test the sentiment of the workforce by asking one or two questions on their mobile device can help you assess the quality of employees’ experiences or gauge their reactions to changes in management, procedures, shift patterns, and more. And, if you’re able to target your surveys to employees in a certain department or region, they can provide great insight into what’s going well—or not—and allow you to quickly take corrective action.

A robust performance framework supports an ongoing dialog between managers and employees, and with mobile capabilities, employees can request or receive feedback anytime, anywhere. When it comes to keeping top performers and encouraging their growth, a good career and development planning tool can empower employees to explore internal opportunities at their organizations and recognize possibilities for movement. That includes understanding the skills and experience needed to succeed in desired roles and perhaps receiving the names of employees already in those roles who are open to talking about their career journeys.

Further, if learning is integrated with career development, workers can understand new opportunities better with help from suggested, bite-sized content delivered on their mobile devices. This could revolutionize the way people advance through an organization: Instead of accepting a new position and then learning the role, employees could better understand the skills and knowledge a position requires, helping them decide if it’s truly a good fit and possibly shortening the time needed to ramp up in a role.

And, as employees move throughout a retail organization, creating vacancies in their wake, others in the workforce should be able to easily make referrals, track the status of those referrals, and perhaps receive bonuses or other recognition for great hires. Happy, successful employees are often your best recruiters, and by working with them to keep your hiring pipeline full, you’re reinforcing that the company values their recommendations.

Reaping the Rewards

Some may think that a robust, modern HR system is overkill for an hourly workforce, but many of the moments that fuel customer satisfaction are delivered (or not) by hourly employees. As Kohl’s found, information on and attention to every worker gives the agility and insight needed to thrive in a world where retailers must continually adapt to survive.

As McKinsey researchers note, “Creating great customer experiences requires having an engaged and energized workforce, one that can translate individual experiences into satisfying end-to-end customer journeys and can continue to improve the journeys to maintain a competitive edge.”

In other words, make taking care of your employees a central part of your digital transformation plans. In turn, your employees will help you take care of your customers.

To learn more about reducing unwanted turnover, improving speed-to-hire, and getting useful insights into your retail workforce, visit Workday in booth No. 554 at Retail’s BIG Show 2017, Jan. 15-17, in New York.

More Reading