Executive Education

Retail Employee Engagement: Two Innovative Solutions to Disrupt a Challenging Industry

Business Teamwork

If you’ve ever been a part of the retail employee engagement conversation, you know that a huge pain point for retailers is poor employee retention. A recent infographic on “How to Engage Your Retail Associates” explains that you need to give your people a reason to care about your brand. This engagement is critical to grow your business.

In fact, more than 50% of unengaged employees are planning to change jobs in the next year, in stark contrast to only 10% of engaged employees planning to switch. And that low retention rate attracts some pretty big costs. Just how much? Hughes Digital Media group estimates around $3,000 on average to replace a $10/hour employee. Not exactly an expense one wants to overlook…

Why else should retailers care about employee engagement?

Competitively, they can’t really afford not to. Engaged companies grow profits as much as 3x faster than competitors, and a 5% increase in employee engagement in one year is associated with a 3% increase in revenue the next. What’s more, in Quantum Workplace’s 2015 employee engagement trends survey, they report that “organizations with increasing sales had 69% of employees engaged, while those with declining sales had only 57% of employees engaged.”  Every slight increase in engaged employees can turn a downward sales trend back up.

This last sentiment shouldn’t be a surprise, since happy employees lead to better customer service, which, of course, leads to happier customers. Take a cue from Walmart, who invests big dollars to put this philosophy into practice with their new customer service training academies. They want customers to know that their experience is important, but they are also actively engaging their associates in this process by implementing programs to train them in a new and dedicated way. Today’s big retailers would do well to take notice of new programs like this and start thinking about ways to foster an investment on the part of the employee in the overall goals and initiatives of the organization.

So, how does today’s big retailer begin to combat the engagement problem? Because of organizational size and complexities, the solution must be innovative and immersive.

It’s reported that in large organizations, 70% of change management initiatives fail. Large initiatives, like an overhaul of employee engagement systems, not only require dedicated stakeholders within the organization, but a team solely dedicated to solving the solution, with methods that are proven to affect big change. Here we’ll explore two different types of solutions, both highly specialized and uniquely effective in actively engaging retail employees.

Live Events and Internal Engagement Programs

Does your company bring your people together in a meaningful way? One initiative worth implementing involves cultivating live experiences for employees, paired with prior and ongoing communication plans and programs. Large events, leadership forums, conferences, meetings, etc. are all an important vehicle to deliver your brand strategy. But are you getting the most from this investment?

Through a live event, employees can have an immersive experience that communicates your organization’s core values and missions. When executed via an internal communications strategy, this experience serves as the catalyst to a lasting engagement program. After a live event, 74% of attendees have reported having a more positive outlook on a company. Once you manifest that feeling in the majority of employees, how do you capture it and truly make it last, creating brand ambassadors for your organization?

You have to be strategic. Touchpoints must begin long before the event and last long after. Pre- and post-event communication helps generate excitement around your initiatives and serves as a reminder once the event has passed. By rolling out creative engagement and communication initiatives, it shows your employees that their well-being, happiness and success within the organization is top of mind for leadership and there is a plan in place for preserving it.

Alright, but is there any ROI in implementing events and formal engagement plans?

This is a definite yes. Consider the fact that companies with an Employee Engagement program enjoy 233% greater customer loyalty. These same Employee Engagement programs empower companies and generate the productivity that leads to a 26% greater annual increase in revenue. Think back to our previous point about happy employees creating happy customers.

This is, of course, the goal of all retailers. We know that happy customers means increased sales and stronger loyalties, which generates a bigger bottom line.

Presented with these facts, it’s clear that no one loses when an organization implements an engagement plan. If red tape can be crossed and effective change management can be achieved, everyone wins in the end. Aside from events and engagement programs, equipping employees with innovative digital tools can completely change the way employees are engaged.

Immersive Digital and Mobile Technology

Today’s retailers have all released mobile technology to cater to their customers’ needs and demands, but most have failed to do so for employees. This is a large oversight. Just like customers who demand a digital means to explore and interact with your business, employees are now accustomed to using mobile technology as a primary means of communication, as well as a learning and productivity tool. Often, retail associates are bogged down with legacy systems that are less than user friendly and are forced to use several different portals to access information and complete tasks. This creates a lackluster, tedious experience for an employee, and an inferior technology experience directly contributes to low productivity.

The average technology conditions for retail employees of large organizations paints a less than impressive picture. The managers might be using an iPad deployed to the store and expected to utilize it for several tasks throughout the day – a popular move for a lot of today’s big retailers.  A great idea in theory, however the size of the iPads are less than conducive to someone needing to walk the floor of a store all day, the operating systems are often terribly slow, and the poor user experience in the design of the programs make any task into a chore. Buttons might be far too small to tap, steps in a program might be hard to find, or you might have to log into multiple applications just to get one task finished. In the time it takes the associates to wade through the poorly developed technology, it doesn’t seem worth it for them to have the tools in the first place. This is a case of businesses recognizing that new technology is needed in the workplace, but failing to provide sophisticated enough tech to achieve the desired results.

In a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, which surveyed 1,865 employees globally, employers that were rated by their employees as “pioneers” in supporting mobile technology saw better creativity, loyalty, satisfaction and productivity. The same report found that 60% of employees said mobile technology makes them more productive, while 45% believe it causes their creativity to rise. One of the huge benefits of mobile technology is that it not only fosters employee engagement, but it can be broken out into 4 other areas of employee empowerment: communication, productivity, accessibility and training.


In big box store environments with a large number of employees, effective communication is key to efficiency. Because there is already a mobile device in the pocket of every employee – their primary method of communication in everyday life – it only makes sense to utilize that tool as the most effective method of workplace communication as well.


Productivity applications are, more often than not, directly tied to ROI, and they have been truly proven to work. It’s been reported that enterprise mobile apps can boost worker productivity by more than 34%, which is nothing to shrug at. Reducing task completion time allows associates to get more done in a day, and this translates into savings for the business.


Access to information is key for employee excellence. It also relates directly to engagement, as associates feel like they are more informed and can see how their actions affect key company metrics. Delivering these metrics with an easy-to-use mobile application ensures that the employee receives the information in a digestible way, making it a more effective, enriching experience.


The mobile learning trend is huge, and it’s still growing. 39% of organizations are already using the process, with a growth rate of 29.3% of U.S. companies purchasing mobile learning. Employees want the flexibility to learn on the go, and the mobile learning process provides that.

In retail, you’re only as strong as the people on your sales floors, and associates must be engaged to perform at their fullest. They need a reason put on that name tag and represent your brand, other than a paycheck. Providing specialized, innovative solutions like live experiences, internal communication programs and mobile applications will not only solve the engagement problem, but can also mean the difference between profit and stagnation in the competitive retail environment.

Change for retailers is constant and it’s an immediate result of customer demand. To learn more about the power of live experiences and digital solutions for your unique retail challenges, check out this innovative retail employee empowerment solution.

Tips to Engage Your Retail Associates

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Written by: Joe Saumweber, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of RevUnit.

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Joe Saumweber
Joe Saumweber, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of RevUnit, a technology consultancy with offices in Las Vegas, Dallas, St. Louis and Bentonville, Arkansas. As CEO Joe leads his cadre of strategists, experience designers and technologists to build incredible products for brands like Walmart, Virgin, School of Rock, AutoZone and some crazy startups you haven’t heard of yet. Joe is a thought-leader on digital transformation within the enterprise with an emphasis on beautiful, usable tech that improves employee engagement, productivity and communication.