Why Shift Swapping is a Competitive Advantage in Retail

By offering shift swapping as a benefit, retailers can drive frontline employee engagement

January 3, 2023

The last few years have been challenging for retail workers. They’ve had to contend with long hours, understaffed stores, health and safety concerns, and new pressures to fulfill online orders from stores. 

The stresses of the job drove many workers to quit – especially part-time, frontline workers – who then went on to find new careers outside the industry. As a result, retailers are looking for new ways to keep employees happy in their roles. 

One key way to drive employee engagement is by implementing shift swapping. Zipline’s shift swapping functionality gives frontline retail workers the ability to manage their schedules autonomously, giving up or picking up shifts from co-workers, all within Zipline. 

By offering employees this much-requested benefit, brands can better engage and retain employees.

What is shift swapping?

Shift swaps happen when one hourly employee trades their scheduled shift for another employee’s scheduled shift. 

In retail, part-time employees might trade shifts to accommodate common friction between their work life and their personal life – a parent might need to stay home with their sick child, or a student might want time to study for their midterms. Shift swapping unlocks flexibility for all hourly employees in a store, giving them more control over their work schedule and, in turn, more quality time outside of working hours.

Shift Swapping platforms, like the one built by Zipline, bring efficiency, accessibility, and ease of use to a process that has long-lacked digital tools. Instead of swapping shifts manually via emails and texts, associates can post shifts they need filled or grab a shift from a colleague that needs relief directly in the tool they already use at work. 

Because Zipline works in conjunction with workforce management (WFM) solutions, like Ceridian Dayforce, UKG (Dimensions) and Legion, shift swapping updates automatically populate in employees’ schedules (pending manager approval, of course). 

Why shift swapping is great for store managers

Many Store Managers are salaried employees who don’t need to swap shifts themselves. But this doesn’t mean these employees don’t benefit from a shift swapping policy in their store.

In retail, no two days are the same. Some days, everyone shows up for work. The doors open. Customers enter. The store is ready to go.

Other days aren’t so great. Maybe the shipment team calls out sick and the merchandiser is by herself. Everybody’s scrambling to clear the floor and get the store ready to open, while the Store Manager furiously texts employees to see if they can cover shifts.

For a store to run smoothly, a million tiny pieces need to fall into place. Shift coverage is one of those pieces – and when an employee unexpectedly calls out sick, the last thing a Store Manager has time for is sending out a bunch of texts.

This is just one of the reasons why we believe all retailers should institute a shift-swapping program in their stores. If frontline workers are empowered to find replacement coverage themselves, their manager isn’t stuck being the middle man, and can instead focus on more important tasks (like making sure that new floorset is set correctly, and or checking that the registers are functioning and full).

By allowing employees to post, see and pick open shifts, managers spend less time with schedule change requests. Store managers can simply approve or deny the swap in Zipline, eliminating the back and forth that’s common today when making schedule changes. In a competitive retail marketplace, perks like Shift Swapping reduce administrative burden and increase morale – keys to attracting and retaining top management talent..

Why shift swapping is great for frontline associates

It’s harder than ever to attract and retain top retail talent – especially part-time, frontline retail workers. In a recent McKinsey survey of over 1,000 frontline retail employees in the US across all retail sectors and formats, the number-one driver of attrition was flexibility. In fact, according to McKinsey, “Retail is the only industry in which flexibility ranks as the number-one driver of why you might leave your job.”

This is particularly interesting when considering where frontline worker pay fell in the rankings of reasons to leave a retail job: fourth. “Compensation and minimum wage really grabs attention in the headlines. It definitely is important, but it’s not the most important,” says the report.

Post pandemic, remote jobs are becoming more and more available. Demand for online shopping and ecommerce fulfillment has skyrocketed wages at distribution centers. Retailers can compete for frontline talent by indexing on flexibility.

Providing a shift swapping app is an excellent way to not only give frontline employees an opportunity to own their schedule, but also a way for a retailer to make a statement in support of their employees’ work-life balance. By increasing scheduling autonomy and providing visibility into open shifts, brands are in a better position to attract hourly workers and provide the work-life balance that keeps associates happy.

Furthermore, if the retail workforce continues to be difficult to recruit for, shift swapping will soon become standard and expected. Retailers who don’t want to get left behind in the “Great Attrition” should take note and invest in shift swapping before it’s too late.


“Employee engagement is the key to activating a high performing workforce. I know the pressure that retail associates are under today and I’m thrilled that we can play a role in reducing bottlenecks and streamlining the process. With shift swapping, brands can meet employees where they’re at, which is key to engagement and retention.” 

Melissa Wong, Zipline CEO and Co-founder

Other ways to drive employee engagement in retail

Forbes defines employee engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

To engage store employees that often miss out on the watercooler chat and All-Hands meetings that occur at HQ, brands need to provide regular, transparent communication to ensure all employees, not just those at HQ, understand the brand’s strategic initiatives and direction. They need to believe that the work they do in stores impacts the goals of the brand in a meaningful way. 

A store greeter isn’t just saying hello. Rather, he’s a brand ambassador that knows that when customers are greeted within seconds of entering the store, they’re more likely to buy. 

In addition, employees need a line of sight into the work that needs to get done in stores so they can prioritize and plan for the big stuff, like new merchandise shipments and display changes. 

Finally, associates need to feel like they’re learning and growing in their jobs. This is achieved through accessible resources, on-the-job training and opportunities to do new things. When fully engaged, employees will give their all and be the best brand ambassadors they can be.


By combining communications and task management, Zipline helps employees see how their workload is part of the bigger picture. Zipline provides the information and context people need to make good decisions and helps them understand how those decisions affect business goals. As a result, employees are happier in their jobs – and stay with the company longer.

If you’re looking for ways to engage your store teams and keep them happy, reach out to learn more about Zipline.  

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