There’s More Than One Way to Communicate to Associates (And That’s a Good Thing.)

April 14, 2021

In the summer of 2020, we sent out a quick survey asking retailers if being able to communicate down to the associate level was important. Almost 90% of respondents agreed that reaching front-line employees was necessary. Given the challenges that retailers face today, we weren’t surprised.

As we have written about on the Zipline blog, health and safety compliance has become a top priority for any business that brings people together, whether it’s in stores, offices, or warehouses. Employers have a responsibility to keep employees safe and do everything they can to protect them from harm. Communication of policies is critical to that endeavor so without being able to reach each associate, you run the risk of employees being left in the dark and out of compliance.

But communicating down to the associate isn’t just about protecting your brand from lawsuits. It’s also about having a channel to engage with the face of your brand and empower them to be their best. It’s about empowering individual contributors on the frontlines to speak up about what they’re seeing, what’s working, and what’s not.

Reach Every Associate

When the pandemic hit, grocery stores were on the front-line. Grocery associates were asked to put their fears aside and continue to work so that people could have food on their tables. That’s why Hy-Vee, a midwest grocery chain, knew that reaching every associate was going to be essential. During a webinar with the NGA, Jessica Ringena, Hy-Vee’s Senior Vice President Chief Digital Officer said, “We needed our associates to know that we support them and are looking out for them, both during the pandemic and beyond.” She explained how Hy-Vee’s CEO, Randy Edeker, wanted to use Zipline to reach out to each and every associate, each week, with video messages. It was a way for him to show appreciation and support for his team, and reassure them that he was listening to their concerns.

But before retailers put plans in place to reach every associate, they need to think through the associate experience. How will they receive communications? Will the communication be personalized to their role or location so they’re only receiving relevant information? Will associates be able to respond or will the information just flow one way?

Before you think, ‘I’m good. I already have a collaboration tool’ ask yourself whether your solution was made for the day-to-day realities of running a retail business at scale. If you’re using iMessage, WhatsApp, or Facebook Groups – the answer is ‘no.’ If you use these tools you run the risk of being caught by legal or your security team using unsanctioned tools. They will push back against them because you can’t guarantee an employee-only space and screen for inappropriate content.

And what about corporate-sanctioned apps like Microsoft Teams, Workplace, or similar? Despite checking all the IT boxes, these collaboration tools still don’t support the unique needs of frontline retail workers. While a Store Leader probably spends part of their shift in the back office writing up the schedule, on a conference call with their District Manager, or meeting with other leaders, a Store Associate is usually there for mere seconds to clock in. After that, they’re expected to be on the sales floor helping customers. A collaboration tool that requires constant monitoring just isn’t going to work for an employee who doesn’t sit at a desk all day.

By Retail, for Retail

At Zipline, we take the day-to-day realities of retail workers seriously and we build our product around their specific needs. That’s why we understand that a successful associate-facing communications strategy needs to be part of a larger communications strategy. It’s not enough to deploy a chat-based app across your entire organization and call it a day. You need to ensure Store and HQ Managers have visibility into important, business-driving conversations. But you also need to give your employees the space – and ability – to collaborate one-on-one.

Coming from retail comms ourselves, we know how important it is to build a product that takes all of these considerations into account. After working closely with some of the best names in retail, we understand that sometimes frontline employees need answers right away, and sometimes they don’t. They need the ability to send urgent requests up the chain of command, but they don’t want to deal with the chaos of 1,000 individual pings for an issue that doesn’t directly involve them.

For years, retail workers have had to choose between a barrage of constant notifications (hello, WhatsApp) or clunky and inefficient two-way communication that eats up valuable time on the sales floor (we’re looking at you, MS Teams).

Until now.

Today, we’re introducing a new Zipline feature that gives associates the best of both worlds: Messenger for quick-hit communication, and Groups for bigger discussions.

Zipline Groups supports one-to-many asynchronous conversations around a particular topic of theme. 
Zipline Messenger is ideal for private and synchronous one-to-one (or few) conversations.

Zipline Groups fosters one-to-many open-ended conversations around a particular topic or theme. Collaborate with others, recognize teammates, and share information across the fleet when there’s no immediate action required. This is a terrific tool for celebrating district wins, swapping shifts across the team, or sending visual merchandising set-up photos back to HQ for evaluation.

Zipline Messenger was built for private, quick-hit conversations between one or a few people that need to happen in real-time. Connect with members on the leadership team, an HQ partner, or a peer you met at last year’s Field leadership conference. Messenger is built for conversations that are private or need answers right away – like an update about a leave of absence, or an urgent question to a communication’s original author.

What are we most excited about?

More dependable real-time notifications so teams can communicate synchronously without skipping a beat – because we know that in retail, time is money.


New user-based Groups memberships so subscriptions follow the individual, even when toggling between stores – because we know an associate’s “home” store isn’t always their only home.


A new Publisher View, making it easier for communication authors to view and participate in Group and Messenger discussions – because we know questions come up, no matter how clear the original message.

Now, with Zipline Groups and Messenger, retailers can instantly reach any employee – all the way down to hourly, frontline associates – through one-to-one messaging. Or, create message groups to help store managers and teams collaborate, share information, and celebrate wins. Groups is a true digital workplace for every single retail employee in your organization.

As we continue to build out functionality for retailers, we are always looking for ways to make the product even more valuable. Have ideas? Schedule time with us today to share what you’re looking for in a store execution and communication platform.

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