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How Leading Retailers Are Defying Industry Trends

How Leading Retailers Are Defying Industry Trends

Leading retailers are evading market slumps through their company culture. 

While the US added a whopping 196,000 jobs in March 2019, the boom wasn't felt in the retail sector. The Labor Department announced that retail was down 47,400 jobs in the same month. 

But things look rosier for companies on our list of Best Workplaces in Retail™. The top 20 retail workplaces are not only avoiding layoffs, but they are also growing. Employment grew 14% since 2018 among this group.

Online versus brick-and-mortar

Six of the winners are online retailers, and 12 are brick-and-mortar. Employment growth rates differ significantly between these categories. Online retailers shot up 34% on average whereas brick-and-mortar edged 5% on average. On the upside, this is three points higher than the industry benchmark (2%).

As AI, automation and online shopping disrupt the industry, retailers are changing course. Many believe that new technology is the answer, but the solution is closer to hand.

Nurture employee growth, nurture business growth

In our study of the Best Workplaces in Retail™, we found a common thread among top companies. These workplaces are defying economic trends by maximizing the human potential of employees. Unfortunately, many retailers are overlooking their frontline people. As a result, they are missing opportunities to innovate and keep business healthy.

Leaders must tap the potential of their people through times of change if they want to succeed.

Used car retailer, CarMax knows how to maximize all employees’ potential during a transformation period. When used car dealers in the US experienced 2% employment growth in 2019, CarMax outpaced them. They reported 4% employment growth and no layoffs.  

Here's how retailers like CarMax are embracing changes with their people-first protocols.   

1. Giving frontline employees tools for better customer experience  

Today, retail customers expect more than transactional encounters when they visit a store. Retail experiences must be unique and as seamless as clicking "add to cart."   But better customer experience hinges on two things. First, whether employees feel inspired to go the extra mile. Second, if employees feel supported by their workplace and by their managers.  

"Management is awesome. They are here to help and give salesmen the tools to provide an exceptional experience, " a CarMax employee said.   "We have a constant focus on new product design and new customer experiences," said another employee.

A web platform at CarMax empowers associates and makes their jobs seamless with a move to mobile technology. "Technology is enabling both sides — consumer and associate — making possible what wasn’t."

2. Making floor staff innovation partners

Successful retail companies see their frontline people as collaborators in the innovation process. “We involved associates in the design,” explains Ann Yauger, CarMax Assistant Vice President for Product Management.

“We shadowed them in stores, talked to them, had them use early prototypes and mock stages. The Digital team partners with the store operations team. They’ve built in a capability for people in the stores to submit ideas or suggestions — or pain points! — which we can immediately address. We’ve embraced our stores as thought partners.”

3. Employee feedback drives change

Employees at the Best Workplaces in Retail also feel heard. Their opinions are sought after and the process for sharing feedback is not onerous.

"Over the eight years, I've worked at CarMax I've seen us change our tools and our process. We run a cleaner, safer and more efficient store all because of employee feedback. Our opinions make a difference and we are happy,” explained one employee.

4. New challenges call for a new recruitment strategy

An effective career site is an extension of your employer brand. It should show job seekers a true representation of your organization's work style. And it should entice the right candidates to apply. As a retail workforce evolves from brick-and-mortar to technology, so should recruitment messaging.

CarMax attributes some of its success to how they attract new talent for today’s marketplace. “To attract candidates for jobs in innovation, IT and marketing, we launched jobs.carmaxdigital.com," a company representative told us. “This site allows us to speak in a more targeted way to people seeking non-retail roles.”

As CarMax and our Best Workplaces have shown, maximizing people’s potential is a big competitive advantage, especially during one of the toughest times for the retail industry. Find the full list of 2019 Best Workplaces in Retail here. For more insights on what makes a great workplace culture, sign up for our e-newsletter.