Retailers are familiar with the challenges of keeping employees. But in the last two years, retailers have struggled to find workers, too. That difficulty is understandable in the wake of the pandemic. However, being understaffed creates high tangible and intangible costs.
Turnover in the retail industry typically hovers around 60%.1 This turnover alone translates to 230 million days of lost productivity, like when stores open late or close early because no one is available to work. Then there’s the additional $19 billion in recruiting and training expenses.2
These figures don’t even count the effect the lack of service has on customers. As they venture back to shop in-store, they expect their brick-and-mortar experience to offer something different (more personal, exclusive, or exciting) from shopping online. They expect products to be on the shelves and available. The industry is starting to rebound, but progress will stall if stores don’t have enough staff to help customers or get products to them. One way to address the labor shortage in retail is by hiring flexible employees.
How the flexible worker helps retail
Flexible workers, also called gig workers, represent a growing pool of people of different ages and skill sets looking for flexibility and opportunity. Many employees who left their jobs during the Great Resignation have joined the gig economy. A recent study found that the number of independent workers increased in 2021 to 51 million,3 and by 2027, the number of independent or gig workers is expected to surpass the number of traditional employees.4
This is good news for retailers. “In the retail industry, gig workers can work a range of jobs, including work within distribution centers or merchandising work in-store,” explained Yong Kim, CEO and co-founder of Wonolo, an innovative online staffing platform. “And gig workers usually accept jobs they already possess the skills to complete successfully, meaning they are ready to work,” he added.
Hiring a gig retail worker
The process of hiring a gig worker is also fast. “Through an on-demand job marketplace like Wonolo, companies and gig workers can easily connect with each other — job opportunities can be accepted within minutes as opposed to the days or weeks it typically takes with traditional temp staffing,” Kim said.
“When companies post jobs on Wonolo, they can set the specifications for the job, such as the ability to lift a certain weight, wear nonslip shoes or bring their own vehicle. Workers review the specifications for the job before deciding whether to accept the job,” Kim added. This way, companies are connected with the right workers who can successfully perform the job.
A broader view of flexible worker
Gig workers can definitely assist retailers in a pinch. But their work doesn’t have to be just for short-term needs. “Businesses and gig workers can continue working with one another based on their respective needs, preferences and objectives. Yet both sides retain the flexibility to expand their work with others and explore new opportunities,” Kim said.
Forward-thinking retailers take this broader view of using gig workers for long-term needs. Companies such as Walmart, Big Lots and Meijer hire gig workers to complement their workforces.5 These retailers can scale their workforces up or down as needed, giving them the flexibility to grow and adjust to changing economies.
For example, Dallas-based Eyemart Express wanted to aggressively expand into new markets in a year, increasing the store count from 10 to 30. The company used the Wonolo platform to find qualified workers in minutes. As a result, Wonoloers helped Eyemart Express hit the quality and volume goals in a fast-paced warehouse environment.
The retail industry has always been volatile — and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon. As the industry continues to recover from the pandemic, maintaining the right level of labor is essential for business survival.
Retailers need workers. And with the industry’s traditionally high level of turnover, the need for workers won’t be just for the moment. There will be a constant need to hire gig employees short-term. But there will also be an advantage to hiring gig employees long-term, giving today’s retailers essential agility and flexibility.