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Retail Operational Procedures: Still Searching for the “New Normal”

As areas of the country begin to open, retailers are examining their operational procedures on an almost daily basis. The industry has quickly realized that response plans are facing tremendous operational changes which must be communicated to every employee to ensure that they succeed.

Recently, Multimedia Plus conducted a COVID-19 impact survey that measured the impact of COVID-19 on pressing industry issues focused on technology, training and health priorities. The survey examined the operational procedures and the implementation of technology used by national businesses to enhance safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, 111 senior executives in the retail and hospitality industries participated in the survey that closed in mid-September.

What we quickly found out was that the industry is still searching for the “new normal.” When asked, “How often have you revised operational procedures since reopening?”, executives in retail and hospitality responded that they are continuing to develop operational procedures based on the number of COVID-19 outbreaks, state and local government requirements and the needs of staff and guests. The number of adjustments is still in flux and is being updated on an ongoing basis.

Of the respondents, 60% said that they have revised operational procedures since reopening more than three times, 18% said three times, 11% said two times and 4% said once. A small percentage, 7%, said that they have not revised operational procedures at all since the pandemic began.

Retail and hospitality executives understand the importance of health screenings and the role they play in keeping associates and shoppers safe. Checks are being implemented in various ways, with verbal acknowledgement at the top of the list. When asked to “Please indicate your current pre-shift employee health screening method,” 50% of respondents said that verbal acknowledgement is being used, 25% said signature of acknowledgement, 25% said digital acknowledgement and 5% said electronic display pass.

What we are seeing from this survey is that technology continues to be a major part of creating a new normal, which is still being developed. Retailers and hospitality executives are using existing mobile technology and maximizing those resources to incorporate changes in operational procedures and acknowledgement of temperature checks. Companies that have robust mobile training platforms in place have been better able to reopen with smoother transitions. We see this trend continuing, as teams across the United States need to be flexible and agile.

As in Multimedia Plus’ previous survey, “The Surprising Spending: Retail & Hospitality COVID-19 Impact Survey,” there is surprise spending in the retail and hospitality industries. Even with constant procedural training related to COVID-19 and the need for greater diversity and inclusion training, executives reveal that they are focused on leadership development. The majority of respondents, 71%, said that they had or are planning diversity and inclusion training.

The survey also asked, “What are your (2) highest priority training initiatives for 2021?” Of the respondents, 45% said leadership development, 38% said safety, 35% said new operations training, 32% said diversity and inclusion, 28% said product knowledge and 22% said new systems training.

An important issue that is arising upon further discussion with members of the industry is the increase in companies moving to all-in-one work-from-home solutions that include their learning management system (LMS) modules at no additional cost.

These free add-ons, while they might seem to be a viable and inexpensive opportunity, can quickly derail and undermine the opportunity to have true field engagement with a robust training and communications platform built for retail specifically. In reality, these add-ons are not truly free, since the cost of a mistake due to the low quality of the user experience can be disastrous. It is very difficult in today’s environment for anyone to argue with a free platform until it is proven to be inadequate. But by then it may be too late, with days of closures, sick employees and shoppers that no longer trust that they are in a safe environment.

We all know now that the new normal is going to include robust safety training and a rewrite of the customer service playbook. Ensuring customer and associate safety is essential not only to the health and welfare of our workers but for the entire organization. Understanding the need for safety training is only one piece of the puzzle. Ensuring that it’s done right keeps it from falling apart.

David Harouche is founder, chief executive officer and chief technology officer at Multimedia Plus. For more than 20 years, he has developed innovative, technology-driven programs for a broad range of clients. Prior to founding Multimedia Plus, Harouche worked at Ann Taylor in a variety of roles. He earned a B.S. in finance and information systems from New York University and graduated with honors from The Stern School of Business.

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