New retail imperatives in the battle for talent

David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

America’s got talent, and retailers want it.

However, it’s not so easy to get.

Back in May a cover story in DSN laid out the recruitment and retention challenges facing retailers. Things have only become more challenging since that time, with a continued good economy, low unemployment rates, and expansion strategies by some retailers. 

Retailers need to raise their games to attract and retain associates. This isn’t just for full-time employees, but part-timers as well. Retailers have been responding with more incentives, but these can’t just be focused on wages and basic benefits. They need to extend to a wider variety of offerings, such as higher-level benefits and innovative training and education opportunities. 

The food retail channel, for example, is pursuing a range of initiatives, according to the Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2019, the annual report recently unveiled by Food Marketing Institute. Ninety-one percent of retailer and wholesaler respondents have been offering higher compensation; 76% focus on training and skills development; 71% provide improved benefits; 59% make available flex time or flexible scheduling; 57% offer bonuses; 48% operate an employee wellness program, and 44% provide education programs or education benefits.

How is the battle for talent playing out at specific retailers? 

Limited assortment retailer Lidl recently said it plans to provide medical benefits for all part-time employees starting next year. This is an effort to support associates at a time when Lidl is moving forward with expansion plans. 

Food Lion recently said it will offer paid parental leave to full-time associates who have served continuously for at least a year. This followed a move by Food Lion’s corporate sibling Hannaford  Supermarkets to offer paid parental leave as well. Both retailers are part of Ahold Delhaize. 

I particularly admired how the paid leave effort was relayed in a "we feel your pain" manner by Hannaford’s vice president of human resources, Margo Peffer, as quoted in an article by DSN sister publication Progressive Grocer

“As a parent, I know firsthand the peace of mind that comes with meaningful support to focus on your loved ones after a key life event,” she said. “I am proud that we are an early leader in being able to offer a benefit that will improve the health and well-being of our associates and their families.”

Meanwhile, education is being leveraged by retailers in a variety of ways to incent employees. In one of the latest examples, New England retailer Big Y introduced an online learning program for its employees that can lead to degrees and certificates. The initiative is a partnership with Champlain College, which offers education for a wide range of careers. 

Here’s a key point about all this retail activity — the target will keep moving. It’s probable that today’s retailer offerings will need to be ratcheted up tomorrow, as retailers continue to compete for talent. This is important not just for hiring, but also to retain employees and move them along in organizations. Retailers need to be creative in determining which strategies will be most effective in appealing to associates. 

Finally, let’s remember it’s never too early to start interesting the next generation of employees, even if they aren’t of working age yet. The National Grocers Association Foundation, for example, presents annual academic scholarships to students pursuing supermarket industry careers. It most recently awarded scholarships to some 16 students. Even as the retail industry creates new incentives for today’s employees, it’s a great strategy to help ensure tomorrow’s pool of talent as well.

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