Mark Price - Human Touch

  • The human touch: Employee engagement critical to retail’s post-Covid recovery

    May 2020

    If retail businesses are going to achieve the level of change needed to survive into the next decade, the career development and empowerment of staff must be a central pillar of their recovery roadmap, said former Trade Minister and ex-MD of Waitrose, Lord Mark Price.

    But despite covid-19 highlighting the critical role staff play in ensuring business as usual for the UK’s £394 billion retail industry, most workers feel they receive less career development than people in other industries.

    Delivering the RetailEXPO Virtual Conference keynote session, Price said retailers must be laser focused on delivering business efficiencies as high costs and difficult trading conditions look set to continue while the post-covid-19 recession also eats into profit margins.

    “Business clearly need to think about that as a matter of survival today but given that flow of costs that will come in the future, because I can’t see anything reducing in terms of costs which are going to be imposed on businesses, then you are going to have to think again and again about the efficiency of the operation and how you improve it.”

    “To do that, you have to have your people absolutely with you – and your people have got to feel empowered, whether it is dealing with service, whether you are asking them to act locally, whether they are creating IP or innovations for you. Your people are critically important.”

    This is borne out in original research of 2,000 UK consumers in the 2020 Vision: how retail’s continued transformation will look in 2020 and beyond from RetailEXPO which revealed that over 64% of UK consumers say highly skilled store staff that deliver better service and in-depth product information make them more likely to visit a retail store or site, with 75% of consumers saying good customer service encourages them to spend more.

    But Price, who runs Engaging Works, a platform that aims to gauge employee happiness, and match them with the most appropriate jobs while offering relevant professional support, says fewer than half of 35 to 44-year olds feel like they are being developed at all in the jobs they are in.

    Price said he balked at the idea of retail staff being ‘low-skilled’ and recognised making the investment into staff education was a challenge – but one that should be turned from a challenge into an opportunity. Take for example Richer Sounds, which has an ongoing commitment to staff training, in which it regularly closes stores to allow for staff product briefings. While closing the store for a period could be seen as a lost revenue opportunity, such investment not only motivated and upskilled employees, but also contributed to enhanced customer service delivery. Improved product knowledge from staff increased the likelihood of a sale, whilst also driving up customer loyalty and lifetime value.

    Citing recent research from Engaging Works, Price revealed that non-management colleagues in retailing feel 35% less empowered than the managers, and they feel 20% less trusted.

    “Pay doesn’t rank as one of the highest issues, and in fact non-managers and managers both feel the same about pay – it ranks 6th or 7th in their rank of hierarchy of things they would most like.”

    The research also revealed a marked gender split with men feeling more empowered, better rewarded, and informed and respected, showcasing the need female employees and improve their contribution to the industry.

    When asked whether covid-19 would fast-track the use of robots in retail, Price said he felt blending human interaction with technology was a better alternative. Citing the Dixons Carphone ShopLive initiative, Price said IT could never replicate the trust and bond created through human to human contact.

    You can watch the whole of Mark’s presentation at RetailEXPO Virtual Conference on-demand here.