Holiday Hiring: The Mobile-First Advantage of Major Retailers

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By Ed Durbin, Director, VMware End-User Computing Retail Solutions

A predictably busy holiday shopping season means a busy holiday hiring season. Companies everywhere compete to hire and retain temporary employees with extra incentives this year.

In the U.K., for example, the Royal Mail postal service and delivery company announced plans to recruit 23,000 seasonal employees. Meanwhile, U.S. companies expect to hire a record-breaking 704,000 seasonal workers this winter holiday season. “The competition for seasonal workers is intense,” Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., said in a press release announcing this year’s holiday hiring outlook.

A large U.S. retailer told me this week his organization’s candidate pool is flooded with highly qualified applicants. These newly available job seekers—likely permanent staff let go from major retailers either no longer in business or downsizing—expect higher pay than what organizations may typically offer temporary staff.

“But the market is considerably tighter for seasonal hires, as unemployment nationwide remains low,” he also told me. To fill seasonal jobs from an already small pool of job seekers, retailers are succumbing to higher wages. “The biggest thing we are seeing this year is the advertising of increased wages,” another retailer explained.

The retail industry also offers unique benefits, from discounts to daycare, to attract seasonal talent. A great example is JCPenney, which advertises vacations for eight employees who remain active through their holiday commitments. For hard-to-hire markets, retailers enlist recruiting street teams and offer free transportation to entice candidates from neighboring communities.

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Amidst the rush to fill massive numbers of open seasonal jobs, retailers still need to find uniquely qualified applicants. In the U.K., high-end retailers experiment with employing new associates of international backgrounds, who can boost sales by helping visitors overcome native language barriers. In the U.S., 15 percent of recently surveyed retailers want their holiday help this year to better represent their brand, and 21 percent of retailers want temporary workers to help create stronger in-store experiences.

Aside from shelling out more money and benefits, there’s another way retailers can meet aggressive holiday hiring goals: by providing better technology experiences to not only attract seasonal workers but also help them succeed and fulfill time commitments.

Faster Onboarding, More Convenient Training

A retail executive told me, “Online recruiting has become relatively standard, but it boils down to who can respond to the applicant the fastest. Those with mobile capabilities have an advantage.”

Most job seekers own a smartphone, and it’s where they look for jobs in the first place. As retailers reach out using mobile technology, prospects can promptly respond in a text or app. They can self-service schedule for interviews, which most retail HR managers surveyed by iCIMS agree will be conducted on mobile devices by 2021.

Many, if not all, of the routine tasks required to get new employees up and running can be done on the mobile devices seasonal workers already carry—once devices are registered and users authenticated to a secure digital workspace. New holiday hires can complete tasks such as signing ethical standards or conduct codes, as well as compliance training, before they step into the store or warehouse for their first day.

New hire training on mobile devices also helps temporary workers quickly get the same training as regular employees. That means better customer interactions without slowing down existing staff—something customers will truly appreciate.

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Immediate Productivity on the Job

After seasonal workers complete onboarding and training, they can also use the same, familiar mobile devices to immediately and confidently serve customers. Once provisioned with a digital workspace, everything temporary workers need—access to product knowledge, inventory information and point-of-sale (POS) applications—is easily accessible from any device.

Making everything easily accessible in a single location from a mobile device for could help temporary employees enjoy the job and stick with it. (Around 15 percent of temporary hires leave by the end of the holidays. Half of them quit.) In recent research:

  • Three-out-of-four people said their smartphones help them be more productive.
  • 60 percent said mobile devices help them feel more confident and prepared.

Research also shows happy employees are 12 percent more productive at work. Even better, they produce 37 percent greater sales.

Developing Instantly Knowledgeable Holiday Hires

Getting temporary workers up to speed on every product, service, promotion or in-store process can take time. By putting mobile devices in workers’ hands, retailers ensure associates are instantly knowledgeable on the sales floor.

“I used to waste time searching for goods and information in the store. Now, I can focus all my time and attention to customer needs,” said an M.Video shop assistant. That’s because M.Video, the largest Russian consumer electronics retail chain, provides thousands of in-store sellers with tablets packed with up-to-date information about products and promotions.

“The implementation of mobile devices allowed us to bring our customer relations to a new level. The corporate software helps our shop assistants to make the best personalized offers for customers in our stores,” said Sergey Sergeev, M.Video CIO.

Giving Seasonal Sales Associates a Map to Close Sales

Connecting seasonal sales associates to back-office applications, like inventory control and stock management, further builds their comfort navigating stores, products and customer experiences.

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Sales associates can open mobile applications to locate products in the store (and area stores) or order out-of-stock items on behalf of customers. This also serves companies’ multi-channel retail strategies by unifying digital and in-store shopping experiences.

Meanwhile, seasonal distribution center employees hired for picking and packing can use rugged mobile devices to inform sales associates about what is available and what needs to be restocked. In this way, retailers connect stores and warehouses to improve worker productivity and customer experiences from anywhere during the holiday season.

Making Cashless Transactions Accessible Anywhere

Not every holiday hire has cash-handling experience to manage sales transactions. With the rapid adoption of contactless payments, retailers decrease the need for skilled shop assistants to manage cash. Mobile devices execute these types of payments (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.), which also gives sales associates the freedom to help customers as they move around the store.

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This is especially true for European retailers, says my colleague Jarek Matschey, VMware retail industry director in EMEA. There, contactless mobile device authorization limits are higher than credit cards.

Digital workspace technologies even make it possible for holiday hires to securely run credit and debit cards from their personal devices. IT automatically provisions secure access to applications, such as mobile POS (mPOS), based on each worker’s role. “If they are personal devices, they’re primarily being used by seasonal workers to access the internet and social media, not to finalize transactions,” he says. “Devices that are fully managed are the ones doing that, or companies are moving to contactless transactions.”

Securely Logging off at the End of the Busy Season

Temporary, by definition, is a limited amount of time, but turning over work technology on the last day is no longer a hassle for employees (or IT). Seasonal workers’ digital workspaces (including corporate data and apps) can be remotely wiped by IT from any mobile device, whether it belongs to the retailer or the employee. This is particularly important for retailers operating in the European Union (EU) and global companies with customers in the EU that need to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Leading with technology, specifically mobility, is an ideal way to hire and manage seasonal workers. It’s the simplest way from first-day productivity to last-day withdrawal.

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More than 87 percent of surveyed CIOs agree that empowered employees with digital tools drive revenue growth. Putting both regular and short-term employees first by giving them convenient access to the apps they need to create exceptional customer experiences is good for business.