In two separate chats this week, people connected with the retail industry bemoaned the challenges of finding good people to take jobs in floor sales.
We have shared here, in the past, the hiring needs of local retailers. This quest for quality is nothing new.
But the topic jumped again to mind this week, as we approach the ultra-important holiday season. Gifting season is a time of increased sales activity, so critical to the bottom line of many retailers.
With that activity comes a short-term need for help. Walk around town and you can see the signs in the windows, asking for applicants.
“Retail is hard,” said Ana Lenoir, who made it look easy and pleasant while bagging my stuff at Bealls.
Hard? What could be hard about bagging purchases and ringing up the sale? If you need to ask, you haven’t been paying attention. It’s a customer service job, and customers require answers, direction, patience, instruction and commiseration. That implies mental engagement, not to mention on-your-feet time, and that implies fatigue when stretched over eight hours and
Typically, in exchange for a minimum hourly wage, or something in that neighborhood (employers, however, often sweeten the pot with merchandise discounts). For more on compensation, check this study by the National Retail Federation.
Our society tends to view retail work as entry level, a bridge to something better, and anything but a path to riches. Sad, when we all can think of marvelous people who did an exceptional job helping us find the perfect purchase, and how those experiences cemented a sense of loyalty toward a given business. The retail sales team is like the infantry — without it, you lose the war.
Lenoir and her supervisor, Margaret Gleasman, the store’s assistant manager, were talking about the challenges of finding and hiring for the coming holiday season.
“It’s hard to find good people who are OK with part-time work,” Gleasman said.
It’s hard to find good people, period, said Steve McLennon, who helps his wife, Heidi, with her business — Ananas Boutique. In a glancing chat, he told me how relieved they were to have closed their second store in The Dalles earlier this year.
Yes, sales hadn’t achieved expectations, but the biggest challenge had been finding and keeping good help. McLennon, an emergency room doc and drumming instructor, said applicants commonly brought with them a mix of social dysfunction and a lack of basic work skills. That made it particularly difficult to find people who could show up on time, on a regular basis, and do the job after they got there.
On top of all that, Lowe’s, the big home improvement retailer, is exploring use of robots as sales service support in its stores. In a story in The New Yorker, writer Vauhini Vara works around to the inevitable discussion about how this tech app may affect service jobs there and elsewhere.
If you’re an employer with hiring challenges, or a retail service worker with employment challenges, please share your thoughts here.