The Magic Of Retail Is Not Found On A To-Do List

two retail associates working together on a task

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Retail stores face a challenge from within.

Younger sales associates often team up on tasks that could be done individually. This teamwork has benefits, but it can distract from engaging customers. When staff focus too much on tasks, they might miss selling chances, hurting the store's conversion rate.

Managing Tasks vs. Nurturing Talent

It's undeniable; there's a certain satisfaction in checking off tasks. For many managers, it's comforting to lay out a list of chores and watch as they get ticked off. It's tangible. It's measurable. You can pat yourself on the back, confident that "things got done."

But is that the end goal in retail? Is the primary objective to ensure shelves are stocked, displays are tidy, and the floors are clean? While these tasks are essential, they only scratch the surface of what makes a store successful. They are the minimum table stakes to operate a store.

Think about your own favorite shopping experiences. It's rarely about how neatly the jeans are folded or the exact alignment of cans on a shelf. 

The feeling you get when you are there makes the effort to go to a store worthwhile. It's about the employee who remembered your name, offered a genuine recommendation, or simply the friendly atmosphere that made you want to linger a bit longer. 

That's the magic of retail, and it's not found on a To-Do list.

When managers focus solely on task completion, they dumb down the essence of what retail is all about. They're training employees to become robots – efficient but devoid of creativity, initiative, and personal connection.

No one wants to be stuck in a mind-numbing job, so turnover is 60% in such retail stores.


Developing employees to think beyond their immediate task to see the broader picture of serving customers is a significant challenge. It demands time, patience, and, crucially, trust. 

Trust that allowing employees to take initiative – even if it means occasionally stepping outside the "assigned tasks" to serve customers– will lead to richer, more memorable customer experiences.

When employees feel empowered to think for themselves, they become more than just associates; they become brand ambassadors. They infuse their interactions with customers with passion and authenticity. They see opportunities, not just tasks. And this mindset is infectious; it can elevate the entire team's performance.

But you have to teach it, or they could think that initiative is finding a shortcut rather than going above and beyond.

According to this Stanford survey by Roberta Katz, Gen Zers "are used to working collaboratively and flexibly, with an eye to being efficient in getting the job done. They are pragmatic and value direct communication, authenticity, and relevance. They may be more likely than older people were when they were the age of the Gen Zers to question rules and authority because they are so used to finding what they need on their own. They are not always right; often, they don’t know what they need, especially in a new setting, and this is where inter-generational dialogue can be so helpful."

The Importance of Seeing the Big Picture for Retail Store Managers

Brick-and-mortar stores must offer something online can't – a personal touch. That could be as detailed as a product description’s benefits to a simple smile and nod to a shopper.

Neither comes from a perfectly executed task list. It comes from employees who feel valued, understand the brand's vision, and are encouraged to bring their unique perspective to the sales floor to make someone else’s day.

That’s because you have to make someone else’s day before they’ll make yours.

In the long run, investing in nurturing talent and encouraging big-picture thinking will pay dividends. Not only will it result in higher conversion rates and sales, but it will also lead to a more engaged and loyal workforce.

Without it, they could be empowered to collaborate and take longer to get those pesky tasks completed than it would if they did the job individually. 

Check out more posts about Retail Management

The Perils of Noah's Ark in Retail

A potential SalesRX customer depicted the classic image of two associates performing a task given to just one as "Noah's Ark." Every retailer has seen it - two employees joining forces saying, “Let’s do it together.” 

Megan, our Manager of Customer Success for SalesRX, shared a great example from her time working at a large sporting goods store.

The Tale of the Glove Aisle

•    The Setting: The Glove aisle was not just a single aisle but multiple aisles displaying a rotation of seasonal products, ranging from work gloves to ski masks and winter gear.

•    The Challenge: Megan frequently encountered the Four-Person Operation. Four associates would converge to accomplish an aisle switch within a day. Three often watched as one - usually Megan - did the work. The immediate result? With no one looking at the rest of the departments, cleaning and other essential tasks were undone. And the shoppers? They were left alone.

The Problem of Accountability

•    Camouflaging in the Glove Isle: The absence of cameras in the glove aisles became a blind spot in supervision. It became the "hangout spot," leading to reduced productivity.

•    Lack of Responsibility: Several team meetings addressed accountability. While Megan was hands-on with the glove aisle, her efforts went unnoticed as others merely observed. Management did nothing to fix the problem.

Being Proactive Yet Overwhelmed

•    Taking Charge: Megan tried to address the issue by taking responsibility for a specific department, believing it to be a viable solution. This led her to become the Carhartt specialist - a significant role vacated for over a year.

•    Drowning in Responsibilities: Despite her specialized title, Megan found herself training newcomers, creating worklists, and managing other departments. Finally, it became too much, and she moved on. That retailer lost a dedicated employee.

Walking your store and discussing specific job details with employees, rather than merely asking, "How's it going?" is crucial for effective retail management. You must implement a process to obtain direct feedback on what's working and what's not.

A Personal Anecdote

My mom told me that when growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, her mom gave her many weekly household chores while her other seven siblings were exempted.

When she finally questioned her mother years later about why she was always assigned the tasks, her mother responded, "That’s because I knew you'd get them done." 

It was a backhanded compliment

Efficiency should not be a loophole for exploitation. 

7 Key Points for Retail Managers to Balance Tasks and the Big Picture:

1.    Balance the Workload. Ensure tasks are evenly distributed among staff, avoiding overburdening efficient employees. Make sure to teach them the why behind a request and how it all fits together.

2.    Foster Accountability. Use technology like CCTV to maintain transparency and ensure all store areas are under surveillance.

3.    Empower Employees. Allow employees to take charge of specific departments or roles, making them accountable for those areas with the initiative to engage shoppers first.

4.    Regular Training. Ensure all staff members are trained on how to engage strangers, develop rapport, offer help, compare and contrast items, and add on. Only when you have a process can your frontline follow it to deliver an exceptional experience. 

5.    Feedback and Recognition: Acknowledge the efforts of hardworking staff. Regular feedback can motivate and boost morale. Here’s how to make it stick

6.    Implement Structured Solutions: If a solution like hiring more employees is decided upon, ensure the managers know what success looks like and how to divide tasks efficiently.

7.    Avoid Taking Advantage: Recognize and appreciate hardworking employees, ensuring they are not exploited.

What Managers Must Change to Increase Conversion Rates  

In a retail world dominated by online giants, brick-and-mortar stores must offer something the internet can't – a feeling shoppers matter.

That doesn't come from a perfectly executed task list. It comes from employees who feel valued, understand the brand's vision, and are encouraged to bring their best perspective.

In the long run, investing in encouraging big-picture thinking will pay dividends. Not only will it result in higher conversion rates and sales, but it will also lead to a more engaged and loyal workforce.

So, step back the next time you're tempted to judge a day's success by the number of checked boxes.

Ask yourself: Did we get "things" done or move closer to becoming the kind of store people can't wait to visit?