How To Determine If Your Employee Scheduling Is Too Lean

By Bob Phibbs

Most every retailer's looks at their employee scheduling 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...or even one. How do store operations personnel know when employee schedules have been 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. Yes it increases labor costs but delivers customer service to help them compete for customers.

For smaller stores, three in line could feel like an eternity. And that wait is often due to someone obsessing on the time clock and workforce management. You should come up with an ideal set of employee schedules that puts customer service - and not limiting staff - first.

The next 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 management has trained your hourly 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.

And a shopper left alone to look at your merchandise is much more likely to simply pickup their smartphone and find a competitor to buy from leaving your store empty-handed.

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.

Do you have the spirit of a winning team?

The other thing that is really missing with one or two-person store coverage is the ability to build a team. Left alone, associates will feel isolated. When you hire people to work retail I always say you want to hire people who like talking to other people.

But when it is slow, when left alone, even your best salesperson will become despondent and depressed during the inevitable lulls in store traffic. They can't manage being alone without other workers - especially if they are hourly employees.

Sure they can fill some time with tasks but that is not the solution.

How does your employee scheduling calendar over the last three months compare to the average of the same calendar from the same three months last year?

This is a bit more advanced but helps you see that 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.

You can use tools like pen and paper to come up with a better schedule or look at employee scheduling solutions but you have to know traffic patterns and be willing to break what an app tells you based on weather, likelihood of employees calling in sick, or special promotions as you create schedules.

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 employee scheduling changes. The best scheduling practices means you can staff for the rush, not the availability of your employee schedules..

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 shoppers who are left waiting never tell you. They just won't return.

Getting a work schedule aligned with building sales takes patience to balance labor costs with the potential upside of higher sales. Another way to understand this is to look at your number of transactions per hour in addition to traffic counters.

Instead of looking at employees as a cost look at is an investment. But that investment isn't managed down with a scheduling solution, it is managed up with retail sales training.

Then you don't have a few bodies waiting to ring up shoppers and give fleeting customer service but a staff of salespeople who can help you compete against online bandits.

Use these employee management tips to measure your own efforts at maximizing staff to increase your retail sales and altering your scheduling process.

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

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