Adapting to the Retail Labor Shortage

The staffing shortage in retail is real. Simply put, there are not enough workers available – or not enough candidates applying for the available jobs – to fill the positions that are needed in the industry. There are a variety of reasons behind the shortage, mostly based on an onslaught of recent changes. For instance, employee expectations and demands are vastly different as a result of the pandemic. And as consumer shopping patterns and expectations have shifted, so has the nature of retail workers’ roles. Retailers are still trying to nail down best practices for serving today’s connected consumer and improving the customer experience while facing unparalleled economic and competitive pressures. 

What’s Really Causing the Labor Shortage? 

One major reason for the staffing shortage is the low unemployment rate, which makes it difficult for retailers to find qualified candidates to fill their open positions. Additionally, the retail industry has faced incredible disruption in recent years due to the rise of e-commerce and post-pandemic uncertainties. This has, unfortunately, forced many retailers to close their physical stores or reduce their hours of operation. This aspect of the industry has, ironically, led to a decrease in the number of available retail jobs. 

Most retailers have seen a drastic change in what workers expect from their employers and what they desire in terms of career fulfillment. Many job seekers are looking for more scheduling flexibility and a greater work-life balance, which can be difficult to achieve in the retail industry, where hours can be long and unpredictable. Additionally, retail workers often face lower wages and limited opportunities for advancement, which can make it difficult for retailers to attract and retain talent. 

Overall, the staffing shortage in retail is a complex issue that is influenced by a variety of factors. Therefore, the solutions may be just as varied, and address everything from improving benefits, increasing wages, and adding perks, to upgrading training, equipping associates with digital tools, and allowing workers to make more meaningful contributions. Retailers will need to adapt to changing market conditions and worker expectations to attract and retain the workers they need if they want to succeed in today’s competitive business environment. 

Consumer Data Reveals Staffing Needs  

A 2023 consumer survey on the Ideal Associate Profile reveals some interesting statistics that point to the need for retailer adaptations: 


of consumers expect store employees to have a mobile device, and 44% expect to check out anywhere on the store floor. 


of consumers expect store associates to be able to find out-of-stock items elsewhere.


of consumers expect store associates to offer deals and help them find discounts while shopping.

Virtual Staffing: The Latest in Retail Innovations

One of the ways many retailers are adapting is by investing in greater capabilities in the virtual services space. Digital customer experiences, whether pre- or post-sale, through chatbots, video calls, and other means, are becoming the norm. They reduce the need for in-person staff and provide a more white glove, personalized customer experience.   

  • Virtual services, such as AskMe®, can help retailers address the current labor shortage in several ways. AskMe is virtual customer engagement at its best. AskMe provides instantaneous access to brand experts via the customer’s and/or associate’s preferred channel—voice, video, chat, or text—so that in-store customers and sales associates can get comprehensive product information on the spot. Simply scanning a QR code on a price or shelf tag puts the consumer or associate in touch with the brand expert. 
  • Retailers can use virtual training to more quickly and seamlessly onboard new employees and provide ongoing training and development to existing staff. This can help retailers reduce the time and resources required for in-person training and make it easier for employees to access training either on their own schedules, or when it’s required. 
  • Retailers can also consider offering remote work options for certain roles, such as sales support, or training and advocacy for premium products and services. A smaller team that would only be able to physically tend to a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations can now support a much larger number of locations and consumers, without any drop-off in the level of service provided. In terms of ratios, a smaller team can then support a much larger number of consumers, and then scale the team accordingly to match as demand grows. Another positive outcome this creates is allowing retailers to tap into a larger pool of talent (when physical location is not a factor) and provide more flexibility and innovative solutions for employees. 

Overall, virtual services like AskMe can help retailers reduce their reliance on in-person staff, reduce travel expenses, and provide more convenience and flexibility for customers and employees alike.  Experientially, it’s a powerful enabler to help retailers meet the consumer where they want to be met, in the channel of their choice. 

By leveraging technology and virtual services, retailers can adapt to the current labor shortage and position themselves for long-term success in a rapidly changing business environment. 

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Author: Stephen J Hill

Author: Stephen J Hill

Stephen is Director of Retail Technology and Innovation at MarketSource. With over 25 years of executive leadership experience in staffing and professional services, Steve has served in a variety of roles, from finance to organizational development.During the past 10 years, he has been primarily focused on product management, agile coaching, and IT leadership. Steve currently leads the product teams for MarketSource’s Retail business.

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