Are Retailers Doing Enough for Their Employees?

Associates Say There’s Still Work To Be Done.

June 17, 2021

The pandemic upended retail. Everywhere you look, signs that the industry is evolving are apparent. From stores adapting to curbside pickup or incorporating more in-store technology, all aspects of the shopping experience have been impacted. 

As brands strategize how to provide the best in-store experiences post-pandemic, consumers and employees alike are holding retailers to new standards. We commissioned a survey of 500 retail associates to understand their feelings on the changing state of retail, workplace environments, and how they connect with customers amid the pandemic. 

The key takeaways from our 2021 Labor of Love Report show breakdowns in communication and engagement and overall concerns about the ways retailers are bringing the love back to stores and their workforce. 

Where Is the Love? 

Retail associates see investments from their employers to enhance the in-store shopping experience, but don’t feel that these same efforts are being made to improve the workplace. With  many associates feeling underappreciated, our report found that 42% of retail associates said they are considering or have already decided they are planning to leave the retail workforce after the pandemic.

Amid a challenging year of shutdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic, retail associates want to feel valued and that their employers are invested in their careers.  Our report shows that only 24% of associates said retailers were doing enough to retain talent and build an ambitious retail workforce. 

What’s more, only 52% of associates were satisfied with the investment stores are making in their professional development, and 1 in 4  associates responded they want more upward mobility training when asked how retailers should reward their employees. 

Breakdowns in Communication

Employees want to be heard, and feeling as if their opinion doesn’t matter can create discord and negatively impact the workplace environment. Our findings show that almost half (43%) of respondents say they don’t feel consistently heard when making suggestions to retail headquarters about in-store changes and improvements.

Failure to Communicate Strategic Initiatives

To put a fine point on the scope of communication breakdown between management and retail associates, we looked at one major initiative that many retailers embraced in 2020 – – the 15% pledge. A massive 54% of associates did not know whether their employer took the 15% Pledge, which offers 15% of their shelf space to products made by Black-owned companies.


Following a year of isolation and civil unrest that saw consumers & employees holding brands accountable, retailers must prioritize stronger two-way communication to ensure associates feel heard and have insight into the initiatives brands are supporting.

Retail’s Growth Opportunity 

While retail associates want to see more investment and recognition from their employers, they also think retailers should make more efforts to revitalize the in-store shopping experience — 33% of associates don’t think retailers are doing enough to bring back the excitement and emotional connection that customers have missed. 

However, 94% of respondents are optimistic about the future of retail, saying that the industry is not dying but rather evolving and reinventing itself. This viewpoint is consistent with the great emphasis that associates believe retailers are placing on improving the consumer experience, as more than half (51%) think their brand is pioneering new ways of engaging customers in physical stores. 

Many retail associates reported their employer is incorporating new technology, products and services to enhance the retail experience, including: introducing digital payment systems (35%), offering new promotions within the app that can only be accessed while in the store (28%) and installing touchscreens and connected mirrors (27%).

As retailers make in-store improvements to enhance the customer experience, they also need to consider making similar investments to streamline communication with their employees, create a better work environment and ensure associates feel valued and heard. 

Communication Through Technology

Effective communication where employees know they can provide input to management is a must, and management needs to consistently communicate tasks and messages to employees at the drop of a hat. This two-way communication keeps employees on the same page with management and improves overall workplace morale.  

At Zipline, we believe the key to a successful workplace is communication. If employees feel their voices are heard, they will take better ownership over their jobs and execute daily tasks with more pride, which will then create a more positive customer experience. 

Not only will organized, free-flowing two-way communication lead to a better in-store experience, it will also reduce employee turnover. Instead of retail associates viewing their day-to-day responsibilities as just another job, they will begin to believe that they are contributing to making the brand stronger and more successful. 

Zipline was built with the complexities of retail in mind. Through our centralized retailops communications platform, we created a system that improves not only efficiencies but also employee attitude and brand buy-in. Reach out to learn more about how you can improve vital communication between your stores and retail associates. 

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