Why Aren’t More Retailers Great Places to Work?

Big tech’s in the midst of a reckoning, and it’s time for retailers to step up. Here’s how they can do it.

January 27, 2023

Amazon cuts over 18,000 jobs. Google lays off more than 12,000. Meta lets go of 13% of its staff. Microsoft says goodbye to 10,000 employees.

Amid all these doom-and-gloom news headlines, it seems big tech companies have finally fallen from grace (or at least, are getting a bit of a reality check.) 

But one look at Glassdoor’s 2023 Best Places to Work List, and you’d never know there was a problem.

Glassdoor’s annual list of top US companies factors in thousands of employee reviews, incorporating workplace factors like diversity and inclusion, compensations and benefits, culture and values, and work-life balance. The list takes both quantitative and qualitative data into account, factoring in what employees have to say and looking at trends over time.

The top industry represented on the list? Surprise, surprise: it’s tech.

Google clocks in at #8. Microsoft isn’t far behind at #13. Salesforce, LinkedIn, and Netflix – all companies who have been hard-hit by the recent tech reckoning – make an appearance in the top 100. And that’s just a fraction of the total 41 tech companies on the list.

Of course, there are other sectors represented: pharmaceuticals, finance, consulting, manufacturing. Retailers made the list, too – but here’s the thing: only three retail companies cracked the top 100. The LEGO Group, a newcomer, clocked in at 21, followed by lululemon at 24, and Texas-based grocer H-E-B at 44. 

That’s 3%. A dismal showing if there ever was one, considering retail is the largest private sector-employer in the US economy. 

Even worse, that 3% is down from a much higher number last year. Jamie Grill-Goodman, Editor in Chief of RIS News, was quick to point out the discrepancy. “The fact that last year RIS News identified 13 retail companies on Glassdoor’s 100 Best Places to Work 2022, yet this year we only uncovered three retailers, should sound the alarm for the industry,” says Grill-Goodman. 

According to Glassdoor, all companies who made the list have four traits in common: a mission to believe in, a strong culture, a focus on people, and transparency. Sure, retail is known for long hours, low pay, and frustrating customer service interactions.

But if lululemon, H-E-B, and LEGO can elevate themselves to “best-employer”-status, we believe all retailers can (and should!) follow suit. Here’s how:

Give your teams a mission to believe in

Glassdoor believes the best places to work have “a motivating mission that inspires quality work.” Employees at these companies should have a sense of purpose and understand the impact they make.

LEGO’s purpose is to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.” At lululemon, it’s to “elevate human potential by helping people feel their best.” For H-E-B, it’s “making customers’ lives better.” Each of these statements inspires and guides the day-to-day work of the brands’ store employees.

So why is a clear mission so important? Ultimately your store employees – especially store managers – are going to make their own decisions about where they’re spending time. They need proper tools so they can effectively prioritize and plan. One of these tools that retailers often overlook is context – and a clear mission gives your teams context.

If an employee at LEGO understands that they aren’t just there to staff the registers but instead to “inspire the builders of tomorrow,” they’re more likely to lean in and help a customer select a gift or share their thoughts with a shopper about the latest product offerings. They’re more likely to bring their whole selves to work and feel empowered to solve problems in their own way. A review from a frontline associate on Glassdoor sums it up best:

“My time working at the LEGO Brand Retail of my local mall was possibly the best retail job I could ever experience. We were motivated to ‘play’ and build LEGO, and to really do our best for customers.”

All of this, in turn, creates a better, more authentic customer experience. 

Learn how to connect what your store teams need to do with your broader brand goals so they can prioritize their tasks and feel more effective in their roles:  The Complete Guide to Agile Store Execution.

Focus on internal growth and development

According to Glassdoor, a people-focused company is one that “emphasizes employee growth and development.”  All three retailers who made the cut believe their brands are places where a part-time associate can begin a real career, ultimately rising up the ranks to a leadership position.

One Glassdoor review cites lululemon’s commitment to employee growth: “You learn a TON of self development and professional customer service skills. You have a lot of say in your development and what you want your job to look like.”

Prioritizing your employees’ development takes more than just good intentions. It requires a comprehensive strategy incorporating onboarding, learning, and most importantly – communication.

Antiquated communication methods like intranets and backroom posters aren’t effective at getting a cohesive message down to frontline associates. Most retailers want to promote internally, and many do provide valuable upskilling and development opportunities for their store employees.

But if you’re still relying on your store managers to verbally cascade these opportunities during in-person meetings, it’s likely that the majority of your frontline employees have no idea they even exist.

The solution: a mobile-first communication platform that can ensure all employees – even part-timers – understand your company’s opportunities for growth and development. 

Learn how L.L.Bean was able to cascade communication all the way down to their Store Guides (frontline associates), ultimately driving retention: How L.L.Bean uses Zipline to drive world-class store execution and frontline employee retention

Embrace transparency

A transparent company embraces “open and clear communication, from the top down,” says Glassdoor. Not only that, but the company establishes a culture where “honest feedback is valued and encouraged.”

But for a retailer, becoming more transparent can feel like an uphill battle. When the majority of your employees are distributed across a massive geographical area, it’s not as simple as having an “open door” policy, or hosting “AMA” sessions in the company cafeteria every quarter. 

Instead, being transparent means intentionally asking for, collecting, and using store feedback at scale.

Retailers that want to harness the power of their frontline employees need to build capabilities that support two-way communication and knowledge sharing between stores and HQ. Not only will they glean valuable insights from the population of their team that’s closest to the customer, but they’ll benefit from a more engaged workforce, too. When an employee believes their voice matters, they feel more connected to the brand they serve and are less likely to leave.

Learn how to give your stores a voice (and put that voice to work in a way that drives your business, too): The Complete Guide to Collecting Store Feedback

… and don’t forget about the perks!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one thing H-E-B, lululemon, and LEGO all have in common: generous employee discounts.

LEGO employees get 50% off boxed sets after 90 days. H-E-B workers get 10% off the company’s branded products (“during special events it’s bumped to 25%,” says one Glassdoor review). And lululemon provides a whopping 65% discount for full-timers, and 40% off for part-timers. 

Zipline is how best-in-class retailers bring brand strategies to life in stores. A unified platform for operational excellence, Zipline brings together frontline communications, task management, resources, insights, and more—so everyone feels connected to the brand and inspired by their work. Today, nearly 80 brands like Sephora, Rite Aid, and American Eagle Outfitters depend on Zipline to align and empower their store teams worldwide. Reach out to learn how Zipline can help you become a Best Place to Work today.

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