Why Gen Z could be the answer to retail in the digital age

By Matt Newton, The Access Group.   

Change on the high street is being driven by physical retailers looking for their new USP in the age of digital and store staff are an integral part of this transformation.

Retail stores are looking to generate more experiential, connected retail due to the fact that face-to-face interaction cannot be effectively replicated online. Retailers renowned for their engaged and productive store teams include Apple, John Lewis, Rituals, Ted Baker, Dreams, Joules and Jack Wills.

With people so precious in the new retail landscape, high street brands are learning that recruiting real talent and properly onboarding, training and engaging their people, can deliver excellent results. Gen Z could be the answer to this, as surveys suggest they also want fun, social interaction, and digital connectivity alongside an employer that cares about the environment and supports employee mental health and wellbeing.

The BRC predicts that fewer people will be employed in retail, suggesting there may be up to 900,000 fewer jobs in retail by 2025. This would be a staggering drop from a current UK total of 2.8 million.Having said that, these employees are likely to be better equipped, more motivated, better paid and more productive, and this is what will ensure the future of the industry. As Generation Z enters the workforce, it’s clear that this demographic has very specific career expectations; we hear that they crave job security, and thrive in environments where they can innovate and express their individuality.

But how can you make Gen Z retail superstars from day one as well as nurture and retain them? The Access Group have identified some vital onboarding considerations that should put retail workers in the best position to become shop floor stars in no time at all, as well as staying loyal to the brand. 

Take the pain out of processes

Social media now calls the shots for many aspects of our lives and retail employer brands are no exception to this. A bad onboarding experience can be highly damaging when it comes to retaining, so it pays to welcome people warmly and ensure they are set up for their every need ahead of their arrival.

Onboarding software can assist in streamlining these processes by enabling a retail company to engage with new starters effectively and getting them day-one ready, prior to their first day. 

The best employers will thrive

According to Thomas International, the average cost of recruiting a new employee is circa £30,000, so as well as focusing on finding the right employee, it is equally as important for retailers to work on becoming the right employer. By identifying and focusing on the needs of staff from recruitment to on-boarding and onwards, retailers can position the brand as welcoming, well-managed and a great place to work. The sector’s goal of repositioning retail as a valued career then begins to come into view, making it an appealing option for Gen Zs. 

So, you’ve attracted and employed the perfect worker, but how can you retain Gen Z retail staff? 

Offer job security

In recent years, retail has been considered less of a career and more of a way to make money before moving into a more secure role. To appeal to Gen Z-ers and get away from this perception, retailers need to offer structured career progression as well as clear KPIs and performance management. This will allow workers develop and progress; not just at head office, but on the shop floor too.

Get tech savvy

Gen Z is the first generation to have truly grown up with technology, so being able to use it to enhance their job prospects and develop their careers would be second nature to them. Retailers can use this to their advantage, by giving employees the technology they want (or need) to enhance their productivity within working life. From utilising digital devices on the shop floor to enhance customer service, to giving staff the opportunity to easily swap shifts and connect with colleagues through one intuitive platform, technology will be a key driver in making retail careers appealing to Gen Z.

As robotics and automation come into play, the more mundane elements of retail work will disappear. By allowing the opportunity for services such as self check out and autonomous stock checks, employees on the shop floor will then be given the freedom to sell and assist more proactively whilst working with data analytics to improve store performance. If retail work becomes more engaging and rewarding, it would certainly better suit the Gen Z criteria we hear so much about.

Let them work flexibly

Younger generations are independent in their outlook and don’t react well to being tightly managed. Why? Because Gen Zs have grown up in a world where everything is customisable; through the click of a button, they can identify their personal preferences and mould their experiences to suit these. Flexibility has replaced healthcare as the most valued employee benefit, and World Services Group found 28% of Gen Z-ers rank work-life balance as their top career priority. Both Millennials and Gen Zs want the flexibility to structure work around their lives and have the ability to take time off for a family emergency without having to go through a tedious process.

Provide them with tools to learn and create

This emerging workforce wants to be self-sufficient, but they need the tools to do so. By ensuring they have the correct tools at their fingertips they will be able to learn by themselves and identify areas where they can develop and improve. Benefit from their creative flair and tech know-how; ensure they have the opportunity to speak out and suggest ways things could be done better, whether it’s revamping your seasonal displays or changing your break scheduling.

Empowerment is key and inviting social media savvy young colleagues to join your team who have the ability to take and share Instagram-worthy photos or create YouTube videos to promote events and ranges may be the best thing you ever do. 

Introduce competition

Unlike millennials, who enjoy working collaboratively as a team and sharing successes, Gen Zs prefer to be judged on their own achievements and have their individual talents recognised and showcased. 

Setting targets and using technology that shows how they are performing in real-time will help drive job satisfaction and wellbeing levels. In retail we are likely to see wider use of workforce management tools which allow employees to demonstrate how they are performing and how this drives ROI for their employer. This way they can make their own case for promotion and pay progression.

Retailers would be wise to consider the needs of Gen Z staff, and as the BRC recommends, introduce elements to the job that will reposition retail as a valued, rewarding career option. By providing these energetic and entrepreneurial newcomers with the workforce management tools they need to thrive, they are more likely to stay in their retail role for longer, and reach their full potential. This can only be good news for the retailer, and the industry as a whole.

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