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4 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Employee Retention in Retail

4 Research-Backed Ways to Improve Employee Retention in Retail

Image: Employees at Dick's Sporting Goods

The Great Resignation is hitting retailers hard. In August, 721,000 retail workers gave notice. This represented the highest number of quits in the retail trade sector in more than 20 years.

But the Best Workplaces in Retail are avoiding mass employee exodus. On the contrary, they are improving employee retention and attracting new hires in one of the tightest job markets in memory.

What’s their company culture secret? Our research identifies four key strategies that leading retailers are embracing to keep their frontline folks happy and engaged. Call them the Four Ps: Protection, Power, Purpose and Pay.

1. Protection

More than ever, employees in retail settings are vulnerable. The COVID-19 virus put their health at risk. And mask and vaccination requirements have exposed frontline staffers to the anger of some customers. There have been numerous occasions in which customers upset with company rules have physically attacked retail employees.

In this climate, the Best Workplaces in Retail have demonstrated that they have employees’ backs.

Take Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company, which is based outside of Pittsburgh and has more than 850 stores and 50,000 employees across the United States, has a “zero tolerance” stance regarding disrespectful behavior toward team members.

This includes a hotline number for employees to call if they feel they have not been treated with dignity and respect. Customers who shop in the store also can use the hotline.

The stance empowers store managersto escort customers from the premises when efforts to de-escalate conflicts don’t work, says Paloma DeNardis, head of inclusion and diversity at Dick’s.

Paloma says that has occurred in cases where shoppers used “inflammatory language” toward team members at Dick’s.

“There have been instances where we have asked customers not to return to our stores because they weren’t able to treat people with respect,” Paloma says.

2. Power

Retail positions are sometimes considered to be dead-end or mundane jobs. It’s a reputation caused by roles that often lack discretion, creativity or autonomy. It only takes a quick scroll through retail memes to see how retail culture is quite literally a joke.

But the Best Workplaces in Retail turn such memes upside down. These leading companies actively involve employees at all levels in decision-making.

Consider clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Ninety-two percent of employees say people are given a lot of responsibility at the company. That survey figure doesn’t surprise Fran Horowitz, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. CEO.

Leading companies actively involve employees at all levels in decision-making

We value the voices and opinions of all our associates, regardless of title, department or seniority,” Fran says. “We have a saying that everyone has a voice ‘around the fire,’ which is a nod to the beloved firepit that is in the center of our global home office.”

Employee comments in Great Place to Work’s Trust Index™ survey back up Fran’s point. “Everyone listens and respects each other’s ideas and opinions, no matter what level they are at in the organization,” one Abercrombie & Fitch Co. staffer wrote. “People push themselves and are not afraid to think outside of the box or try new ways of working to benefit the company.”

 3. Purpose

One of the main reasons for the mass resignation in America today is people’s hunger for more meaning in their lives, including at work. Retail jobs can feel particularly bereft of purpose – especially if employees sell a product without a clear social benefit.

But the Best Workplaces in Retail infuse work with a higher calling. Sometimes that takes the form of traditional philanthropy, where the company devotes a significant amount of its treasure to worthy causes. Or consider how clothing retailer Bombas has baked a positive social impact into its DNA.

Retail jobs can feel particularly bereft of purpose – especially if employees sell a product without a clear social benefit.

Two years prior to co-founding Bombas, David Heath learned that socks were the most requested clothing item in homeless shelters. Taking a cue from companies that donated an item for every item sold, Bombas launched in 2013 with a promise to donate a pair of socks to needy people for every pair sold.

This mission – now extended to other items – has helped raise the profile of Bombas and now acts as a magnet for new job applicants, David says. “It has become somewhat of a feeder for talent.”

In the Great Place to Work Trust Index survey, 98% of Bombas employees said they feel good about how the company gives back to the community – five percentage points above the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® benchmark.

4. Pay

Perhaps the biggest challenge for retail workers overall is low pay. Cashier jobs, for example, ranked as the 6th-lowest paying position in the United States in a 2019 report. Low pay in the field has recently become a high-profile issue, as the pandemic demonstrated how much we rely on retail clerks and other “essential” workers.

The Best Workplaces in Retail have gotten ahead of the pay issue. They have raised wages and offered bonuses to show they value frontline staff and want to keep them happy at work.

Take convenience store chain Sheetz. Sheetz has increased pay for its people in a variety of ways, and on repeated occasions. The average wage for all store employees (ranging from team member to manager) has risen 21 percent in the past year, to $16.80 per hour.

From March 2020 to June 2020, Sheetz paid an additional $3.00 per hour for frontline workers. To thank employees for loyalty during the summer of 2020, the company paid store employees a reward amounting to an additional $1 per hour from June 5th through September 24th.

And in 2021, Sheetz has increased store employee wages by more than $78 million. The raises included a permanent $2 per hour wage hike.

The compensation hikes are leading to employee loyalty. Here’s what one Sheetz employee told us: “I have had so many raises that I have lost count. I know that it has been a crazy year for everyone but being able to stay working and to get bonuses and raises is amazing. A lot of people have not had that with their jobs. I love working here and I would love to continue to move up in my position here at Sheetz.”

Is your retail business a great place to work?

Is your retail organization already demonstrating the Four Ps? Apply to become Great Place to Work-Certified, and earn recognition and the chance to become a Best Workplaces™ list winner.

You can also benchmark your company culture against other Best Workplaces including the best in retail with our employee survey and measuring tool. Ask us about it today.


Claire Hastwell