In Service to Stores

May 26, 2020

Thirty-six million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two months. The rate of claims is slowing down, but the pace of layoffs has already pushed unemployment to levels unseen since the Great Depression. But while some industries are suffering tremendously, others are booming. Essential retailers, for example, have been on a hiring tear, trying to staff up to support the increased demand for groceries and supplies due to shelter-in-place regulations. 

Supermarket News reports that Kroger Co. has hired an astonishing 100,000 workers over the last two months. Many of these workers were laid off by hospitality companies or had careers deemed ‘not essential’ during the pandemic. As a result, they were jobless and needed work. We applaud Kroger and the other essential businesses who put their recruitment and HR teams into overdrive to quickly hire so many people in need of work. 

But hiring thousands of workers during the busiest time of a retailer’s history is fraught with challenges. How do you get new employees onboarded and up to speed quickly? How do you ensure they will be good stewards of your brand, especially when customers will be hyper-focused on health and safety? In other words, how do you meet the needs of both your staff and your customers during a pandemic?

The challenges around hiring quickly are not lost of Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen, who said, “In the coming months, we know that our associates’ needs will continue to evolve and change, and our commitment is that we will continue to listen, be responsive and make decisions that advance the needs of our associates, customers, communities and business.”

Listen. Be responsive. Make decisions that advance the needs of our associates, customers, communities and business. 

For the first time in history, executives at the highest level are paying attention to the needs of the everyday retail worker. While many companies, like Starbucks, Wegmans and Publix have long championed their associates, others are just starting to acknowledge the needs of the hourly employee and link the success of their businesses to the success of this employee-group.

What do these retail employees, especially those new to the job, need to be successful? According to the experts, they need great onboarding, regular communication from HQ and the ability to be heard. 


According to hiring software provider, harver, employees who go through a well-structured onboarding program are 69% more likely to stay at the company for up to 3 years. With 60% turnover in retail, getting employees to stay with you for the long term can have a big impact on your bottom line. For associate level positions, employers can expect to pay 16 percent of an annual salary to replace a worker. For an associate who makes $10 an hour, it would cost around $3,328 to replace them.

To avoid the cost and disruption associated with employee churn, make sure that your employees start off on the right foot and are given the training they need to be successful in their roles. This begins with communicating what your brand stands for, why their work matters, and what kind of experience you want your customers to have in your stores. When employees have this context from the get-go (and it is reinforced throughout their employment), they are more engaged, inspired, and empowered to execute their work. 

Regular Communication – – Tailored to the individual

Retail is an especially chaotic industry. It is up to the retailers to manage that chaos for employees by establishing a communication structure that sets them up for success. At Zipline, we have seen that well-timed messages, personalized by both location and role, are crucial in giving companies leverage over their competition. 

Retailers should stick to a once-a-day publishing cadence and, unless it’s an emergency, hold off publishing new messages until the next day. This daily repetition builds better habits: Associates check for updates immediately after clocking in, then fully shift their attention on to their customers’ needs without anxiously hitting “refresh” on their email every two minutes (or worse – running to the back office to check for new messages). Instead of becoming a source of constant stress, communication becomes instinctual, just like brushing your teeth in the morning.

Ability to be heard

Never underestimate the importance of listening. If the teams in your stores have something to say, it’s crucial you hear it. A big part of making people feel empowered is having them feel heard and understood by those above them.

Store employees have valuable opinions because they are on the front lines. They view the competition and engage with customers every day. They see first-hand what works and what doesn’t in regard to both products and customers. Establish working feedback channels so that executives can hear information from those on the front line. Associates should provide feedback to their district managers who then relay these to corporate.

Communication doesn’t end when executives hear feedback, however. Once they have heard and considered employee opinions, retailers should circle back to their team about how their insights have changed the course of the company or impacted business decisions. Communicating back to the associates or store managers is important to reassure them that their voice is being heard.

Why are we passionate about the experience of store associates? At Zipline, we are in-service to stores. To learn more about how we can help you empower your associates to drive better execution and business results, reach out. We would love to chat.

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