How To Determine If Running Your Store Employees Too Lean Is Affecting Retail Sales

November 12, 2017

iStock-599895086-too-lean.jpgMost every retailer's looks at their employees as their most expensive operating cost.

I see employees as an asset, not a liability, but that’s another post...

Stores that were designed to run on six employees are now limping along on two. How do store operations personnel know when they've cut past the fat and into the very muscle and bone of your retail operations?

It's simple...

To see if your store is running on too few employees, answer the following:

How long do people have to wait to pay?

The greatest friction for shoppers is waiting in line to pay for something, closely followed by them having to wait to find someone who can assist them.  Most grocery stores have a three or more shoppers in line policy that they will add an additional cashier until all are open. For smaller stores, three in line could look like an eternity. Your first step would be to train your crew on how to hustle when it is busy and then look at adding additional staff.

Do employees have enough time to add-on to every sale or are they just trying to get people out the door?

Do a POS report and look at your average number of items per sale. If you’ve trained your employees to add-on to every sale, you should see that number rise - especially over the holidays. If it doesn’t, listen to what an employee says while they bring someone to the cashier. If you rarely hear them suggest an add-on, know they’re doing it even less when you’re not around. Once a shopper says yes, it is much easier to get them to say yes again. But not if your employees are constantly running around trying to do the work of three people. And everything suffers at that point - customer service, ability to build a sale, and the ability to make your store a great place to work.

If sales are down, how do your employee hours over this last three months compare to the average of the same three months last year?

This is a bit more advanced but helps you see you may have been running low on employees for a long time.  Then you have to determine which came first, lower sales due to fewer employees or fewer employees due to lower sales? All you have in a brick and mortar store is to provide exceptional service. If you have too few people, you’re just a slower and more expensive version of your online competitors.

How often are you having to call associates to work extra shifts because you’re slammed?


A tight labor market means employees can call the shots more often. If you’re desperately holding on to employees, you have no room for error if you get slammed or when one calls in sick; you’re constantly trying to plug the leak. You want to have enough staff that you can post a two-week schedule and not have to deal with daily changes. That means you can staff for the rush, not the availability of your employees.

See also, The Employee Scheduling Secret To Building Your Retail Sales

In Sum

I used to work with a coffee franchise. One day a franchisee casually told me they had been down two people that morning, “but we were fine,” he said.

I had to correct him that he wasn’t. “You may have made it through the morning,” I replied, “but speed of service declined precipitously from a 5 person crew to 3.  Customers waiting for their drinks noticed and when it comes time to choose coffee again, you’ll be judged against Starbucks speed of service and in that moment, they won’t be back.”

And they’ll never tell you. They just won’t return.

Use these tips to measure your own efforts at maximizing staff to increase your retail sales.

One caveat, just because you have more bodies, doesn’t mean they are effective.

Nothing turns off shoppers more than looking for someone to help them and seeing two of your employees staring into their phones oblivious to everything going on in your store.

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