Putting employees first to keep the supply chain moving

By Jane Liston, Retail Strategy Lead at CDW

Throughout the pandemic, retailers have battled to keep their supply chains moving as obstacles have been thrown at them from every angle. The latest obstacle, the so-called “pingdemic” had industry bosses warning that supply chains are “starting to fail” because of how many workers are isolating due to alerts from the NHS COVID app. These types of disruptions seem to be coming more frequently, with Brexit throwing another spanner in the works. Demands are higher than ever and retailers must prioritise their staff and keep them safe while keeping the country moving. Technology can offer a way to do this.

Keeping front-line staff in the know

If the last year has shown us anything, especially as we re-emerge from isolation, it is how important staff are for keeping companies afloat particularly in the retail space where so much can change so quickly. For those in store, how companies keep them updated with how their work is being affected has been and will continue to be vital. As convenient as they are in our personal lives, tools like WhatsApp just aren’t for managing teams. Retailers must, if they haven’t already, invest in purpose-based tools to keep staff empowered as well as engaged with their brand.

Empowering people with technology

Technological advancements not only offer powerful productivity gains by improving speed and accuracy, but they have a key role to play in enhancing the employee experience. AI and machine learning robotics are becoming more intelligent and flexible, now with the power to work truly collaboratively with the retail associate. While the worker focuses on more important tasks, a robot can do the rest. With voice technology, workers can move freely around the warehouse, as they receive real-time instructions from the hands-free system. Employees, additionally, can feedback necessary information into the system.

In a time when we are rapidly losing staff for days at a time due to isolation, being able to give remaining employees more flexibility and clear instructions that improve productivity is vital. Furthermore, by investing in barcode scanners with cutting-edge features, employers can reduce human errors while employees gain access to time-saving information and connection to inventory management software. In better equipping employees, retailers can relieve the mounting pressures on them for more accurate and rapid results.

Navigating changing restrictions

Nothing is certain and retailers are increasingly aware that they must have contingency plans in place for future disruption, including the possibility of a fourth lockdown or further restrictions. Retailers will need to ensure they have the right distribution and last mile model, so many are investing in mini distribution centres and utilising empty store space to enhance this. At the heart of being able to do this effectively is the ability to accurately predict demand and adapt to localised changes. Retailers must continue to invest in data and IoT solutions to optimise their processes and understand consumer behaviour, thereby improving customer experience and employee confidence.

Retailers have shown incredible resilience over the last 18 months and much of this can be attributed to their employees and the technology they have invested in to empower them. While the virus continues to adapt and change, retailers will have to do the same thing. By investing in technology which truly makes the employee experience better, retailers will support their staff while continuing to deliver a top experience for customers. It is a win-win situation.

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