Operations Insights
April 17, 2020

The retail industry today, tomorrow, and beyond: Preparing for the future of work

Here, Ceridian’s SVP of Retail John Orr shares how the retail industry has been affected by COVID-19, the implications it will have in the near term, and how retailers can better equip themselves for the future of work.  


Since the start of the new decade, industry experts across sectors (retail and hospitality, manufacturing, healthcare, and beyond) have spent time talking about the future of work. In today’s uncertain climate, that future of work vision may seem like a distant, even unrealistic place. The retail industry is faced with the greatest disruption in recent memory: a global pandemic with massive economic impact. Certain aspects of consumerism as we know it are possibly forever changed. And – even as some stores talk about reopening in the coming months – consumers may be reluctant to return to previous shopping habits, meaning the way stores are staffed could also be forever changed.

Conversely, the world of retail is certainly no stranger to change. Retailers are experts in overcoming hurdles while managing to stay relevant and successful.

In light of COVID-19, this is now being tested more than ever. We have seen many retailers across the world take selfless and dramatic steps to prevent the spread of the pandemic by offering different formats and delivery, closing stores, re-fitting for new near-term purpose, reducing hours, all while communicating openly with customers and employees. It has also been heartening to see many retailers maintain exemplary communications, pay, and benefits for their associates despite having to shutter physical locations.

With all of this in mind, I take a critical look at how the retail and hospitality industry looks today, how it might look tomorrow, and how leaders can best prepare themselves for business continuity after COVID-19.

Retail and hospitality today

In today’s market, a retailer needs to define its competitive advantage. Discount and e-commerce retailers, like Walmart and Amazon, and high-value superior experience retailers, like Sephora and Lululemon, do just that through various consumer, inventory, and supply-chain management models (e-commerce, delivery options, etc.).

The retailers who have delayed investing in inventory/supply-chain management will find themselves behind others, especially now considering the global pandemic. These retailers are now frantically trying to get a grasp of what they have, where they have it, how to deliver their products, and more.

Contrastingly, grocers, pharmacies, DIY, chain-drug stores, and farm supply are seeing a boom in business as they were designated an essential service, while other options were not and were forced to shut down.

This may cause a lingering effect on where customers continue to go for goods after the worst of COVID-19 is behind us. In fact, it may change consumers’ behavior permanently.

Harmonized retail models (i.e. omnichannel sales, communications, and a holistic approach to customer experience) have now become a more critical function for retailers during this crisis. Many retailers have had to force rushed execution of different consumer options like home delivery, BOPIS/BOPIC, and more. The retailers who had these models implemented ahead of this crisis are ahead of the curve.  

Retail and hospitality tomorrow

Consumers are now seeing how important it is to support their local business community. Going forward, consumers may continue to trade locally and support their local food service and restaurant business more.

The trickle-down effect of helping other service workers locally to support the marketplace, whether lawncare, house cleaning, or painting, has shown how vital it is to support community commerce. More people are appreciating these hard workers and the importance of providing opportunity in exchange for services – and in turn, how employers treat their workers is also now top of mind for many consumers in a new, powerful way.

How we behave as consumers will be impacted forever; hygiene, awareness, consideration, selflessness, empathy, and the importance of staying healthy for yourself and those around you are now critical for all of us.

In the near-term, we will also see e-commerce continue to grow significantly given the change in the retail market, and the temporary closures of most brick-and-mortar locations. However, as in-store retail comes back to life, the rate of e-commerce vs. brick-and-mortar will begin to level off.

What comes after tomorrow

On top of dealing with the reactive, current situation of COVID-19, retailers need to be ready for life after this pandemic. There needs to be a sense of optimism that there will be a prosperous, active future for the retail industry.

Many retailers have been pushed into a new “normal.” Whether an urgency to reconcile their slow logistics and inventory systems investments, acceleration of their digital and BOPIS operations, faster shakeout of already failed models, etc., there will be no shortage of change to adapt to when all is said and done. There is no question that the ramifications of this new normal will persist and re-shape retail going forward.

When retailers find the calm after the COVID-19 storm, they should consider implementing a harmonized HCM approach and an effective human capital management (HCM) software (if they haven’t already) to help manage the impending talent gap. Similarly to those retailers who already had effective harmonized retail models implemented (like e-commerce, BOPIS, and a customer experience implemented across channels), the businesses that already have an effective HCM software to help manage, pay, keep track of, and take care of their people, were likely better equipped to manage the crisis. Every experience is a learning experience – so once retailers bounce back, they should investigate these effective products to help streamline and care for their people.

As well, workers will be seeking an extra level of care after the undeniable trauma of this pandemic. HCM software like Dayforce can help business leaders more effectively and efficiently take care of and manage their people. For example, Dayforce just recently released Employee Safety Monitoring to help employers monitor their associates during this crisis, and COVID-19 Learning Portal to help employers/workers stay up to date with COVID-19-related resources. And – innovations like Dayforce Wallet – which allow workers to access their earned wages on-demand and store them in a digital wallet – will help workers feel secure, cared about, and financially sound.

Learn more about managing and supporting the retail workforce during COVID-19. 

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