Technology is changing the way retailers address labor management, from application tracking to shift scheduling. As labor issues intensify across the industry, more retailers are turning to technology to offer efficiencies.
“Though many tech offerings have existed to assist retailers with labor management, they’ve certainly become more apparent and necessary to me over the past year and a half,” said Jared Scheeler, CEO, The Hub Convenience Stores Inc. and the 2021-2022 National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) chairman. “The labor issues that we’re experiencing aren’t going away, probably ever. So the need for automation of administrative tasks is greater now than ever.”
At The Hub, which operates six stores in North Dakota, Scheeler is working to reduce administrative tasks within the stores, to allow store leaders to spend as much time as possible face to face with customers and team members.
“It’s so easy to get bogged down in menial tasks, so I want to simply remove as many of them as I can from the task list of our store leaders,” he said.
The Hub uses electronic time clocks to automatically track labor hours. It also employs a digital platform for scheduling.
“This allows team members to communicate with one another via the mobile scheduling app, as well as switch shifts and request time off,” Scheeler said. “It sure beats the old system of paper notes.”
Like The Hub, Cliff’s Local Market also uses electronic time clocks.
“That is very helpful in terms of managing that data coming in,” said Jeff Carpenter, director of education and training for Cliff’s Local Market, which operates 19 c-stores throughout the central New York region. “I assume most larger chains are doing that today. I’ve worked with some chains that have done it through the web as well.”
He pointed out that the technology exists today to use smartphones to clock in as well, which can use geolocation to ensure employees are ‘punching in’ at the appropriate location.
On the training front, more retailers are finding computer-based training (CBT) to be a user-friendly and fast way to bring new hires up to speed.
When it comes to base-level team member training, The Hub uses Ready Training Online.
“I think it’s important that all new team members receive the same training from the same voice without skipping what the trainer may not deem important,” Scheeler said.
Currently, The Hub is looking into systems that would tie its various labor management technologies together under one system. It’s also exploring other services such as onboarding paperwork and using a team documents portal.
Asked if he saw any drawbacks to using technology in the area of labor management, Scheeler noted, “The obvious drawback is removing the human element of some of these tasks, however the newer generations of workers are generally all in favor of any sort of technology in the workplace.”
Cliff’s also uses digital inspection tools through a partnership with MeazureUp, a digital field assessment solution. Digital inspection tools have helped, Carpenter noted, because they add more transparency, and the ability to share results electronically with stores — including pictures — as they are collected.
“They say pictures mean a thousand words,” Carpenter said. “It’s true. Being able to post those inspections afterwards for employees in the store to look back through and to see how they did as a team is excellent feedback. We encourage our managers to post those inspections publicly and share those with the team. And then also we’ll review those during monthly store meetings.”
The digital inspections can be completed via an app on a tablet or mobile phone, and inspectors can use the voice-to-text functionality by pressing the microphone button and speaking into it to leave a comment.
The app shows where and when the inspection began, finished and was submitted. And, at the end of the month, the app highlights the highest and lowest performing c-stores.
The biggest benefits for Cliff’s have been transparency and being able to respond quickly to items that require attention.
When it comes to Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), Cliff’s partners with Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP). “We’ve been building out our modules in terms of what we offer,” Carpenter said.
Historically, Cliff’s has relied on paper-based reviews, but now it’s moving to digital for reviews and other modules.
“Paid-time-off requests — all those types of things — are going to be electronically completed through that platform,” he said.
Zoom video meetings are another tool that rose to prominence during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, Cliff’s holds monthly Zoom meetings.
“Before we found ourselves holding on to information to share with the field or big updates for quarterly meetings, whereas now we hold them monthly. It’s much easier just to get the information out and get together more frequently for a shorter period of time, which obviously works better for the managers as busy as they are in the stores as well,” he said.
As labor shortages continue, digitizing the applicant tracking and onboarding process can speed up the process.
“It helps us stay more organized and ensures we’re performing due diligence and communicating properly with all applicants,” Scheeler said.
“We utilize an organization for a job board, as well as applicant tracking and onboarding. We don’t use any paper applications here,” Carpenter said.
Cliff’s features a text-to-apply platform, which is used by the majority of applicants. Potential hires simply text the number and they receive a link to the application.
All that information flows through the various platforms from onboarding to the HRIS through to the computer-based training.
That’s a big change considering only a few years ago, the company’s application process was paper based.
“We’ve come a long way, and it’s created a lot of efficiencies for us,” he said.
One of the big advantages of electronic applications is that applications for the entire company are visible with the click of a button. When applications were paper-based, they’d remain at the store where that individual applied.
“With a digital version, those folks can make one application and apply to multiple locations, if they so choose,” Carpenter said.
Another advantage is if one store is in need of employees and a nearby store has applications they’re not using, those applications can be quickly transferred over to the store that needs them.
Whereas some job boards feature click-to-apply, Cliff’s has assessments built into its application process, and it found that this increased vetting means the candidates who apply are more likely to be a fit and responsive when contacted.
Trends to Watch
Overall, Carpenter sees user-interfaces today becoming more user-friendly with more mobile and tablet functionality.
“I think the cell phones of today’s age are really a PC in your pocket, and that’s what people utilize most,” he said.
Carpenter has seen that a more digital approach to employee management can improve communication by allowing the company to provide feedback more quickly, and follow up on information sooner.
To have the time necessary to build culture, provide trainings, recognize star employees and make sure employees enjoy working for your convenience store chain, it’s necessary to commit to and build efficiencies elsewhere in the HR realm, including when it comes to reporting and in different platforms using your HRIS and computer-based training, Carpenter advised.
Technology overall allows greater flexibility organizationally, and better communication with employees.
“There’s technology out there where you can send push notifications or text to your entire workforce with updates or changes. There’s scheduling functionality around that, where if you have an open shift, you can push a text or push notification to your entire team to say, ‘Who wants to take this shift?’ That’s not something that we’re currently using, but we have looked at it, and (it) may be something (to consider) down the road at some point,” Carpenter said. “There’s so much out there that can really help expand the efficiencies of that particular department. Technology is a huge piece of that. And we expect more of it in our offices here and to improve as we move forward.”