Internal communication considerations for retailers this holiday season
2021’s holiday season could be one like no other for retail enterprises. With many of last year’s restrictions lifted, consumers are ready to celebrate again, which means they’re ready to spend, spend, spend. But it may not be smooth sailing for retailers still dealing with the fallout from the pandemic. This is where a modern intranet can help to make the holiday season a positive experience for retailers and consumers alike.
When the year-end nears and the big red truck full of soda starts illuminating TV screens during the ad breaks, it’s a sign the holiday season is underway. This is an exciting time for many of us, but for people working in retail, the holiday season can be the most challenging time of year, with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and the January sales all taking place within a six-week period.
Knowing exactly what the 2021 holiday season will bring is difficult for retailers. Last year was wildly different to previous years due to the pandemic, but now restrictions have been lifted in many global regions, it’s unlikely this holiday season will be another quiet one. According to one recent survey, 73% of consumers say they will buy gifts from mass retailers this year, and, while 70% typically spend over $100 on gifts each year, 18% expect to spend more this year than on previous years.
While this year’s consumer spending intentions will be welcome news for retail enterprises, many are facing staffing challenges and supply chain issues which could impact customer experiences. This is where internal communicators will be expected to play a vital role in helping to navigate a potentially difficult holiday season by enhancing the abilities of frontline staff to do their jobs effectively at a crucial time.
Here are our essential considerations for internal comms teams in the retail sector for the 2021 season:
Low morale — often caused by sustained periods of demand like the holiday season — can drain workers’ motivation. Frontline retail workers in particular may feel isolated and frustrated if they don’t feel support from the business. This can lead to feelings of demotivation and a lack of engagement. Communicators and intranet managers can help to boost morale by ensuring frontline employees are not only connected with each other, but also connected to the wider organization.
Frontline teams can benefit from dedicated intranet forums and discussion groups where they can share knowledge and encouragement, creating a support network, and reinforcing the sense that they’re all in it together. Supportive and thankful messages from the CEO and other senior figures that are shared on the intranet homepage can also provide frontline workers with a sense of validation and recognition.
A multichannel intranet will allow these messages to be shared via channels such as email, SMS, push notifications on smartphone apps, and digital signage located off the shop floor. An intranet that provides granular analytics around each individual’s usage of the platform can help internal communicators select the most effective channels to ensure their messaging reaches each and every person.
Running an internal communications campaign, such as an advent calendar-inspired campaign with one holiday-themed post a day, can provide a daily morale boost and encourage interactions between frontline staff and other people across the organization if your intranet software allows commenting on homepage posts.
Sharing positive news and highlighting achievements from customer-facing and back room staff is important too. Posting shoutouts to teams from other departments such as logistics or customer support, who are going above and beyond to help the business meet its holiday season goals, not only gives other teams the recognition they deserve but also exposes frontline staff to the hard work happening elsewhere, further reinforcing the sense that they are not facing seasonal challenges alone.
With unfilled job vacancies reaching historic levels in 2021, many retailers may be struggling to hire enough staff for the holiday period. The Great Resignation may also be causing existing employees and potential candidates to look for opportunities outside of the retail sector, meaning the talent pool may be smaller.
Despite these staffing challenges, customers continue to expect frictionless shopping experiences and service with a smile. This means retailers are currently tasked with keeping existing staff satisfied, attracting new permanent or temporary staff, providing smooth onboarding experiences, and getting new hires up to speed quickly so that service isn’t impacted.
Your intranet can act as a great resource for updates on offers, promotions, procedures, best practices, notifications on dates when high customer volumes are anticipated, and the latest company news. It should also be a space for leadership comms that provide frontline staff with timely guidance, updates, and responses to FAQs.
When it comes to onboarding, a dedicated page on your intranet can provide easy access to all of the resources your new people will need, including:
- Onboarding documents
- Company mission and values
- Shop floor rules
- Customer service best practices
- General information about the business
- Any forms new starters need to complete
- Easy to digest video content where possible
New hires can also be welcomed on your intranet homepage or invited to introduce themselves in personal blog posts that can generate social engagement from colleagues across the business.
Encouraging transparency around inventory issues
With pressures on the global supply chain leading to decreased inventory and longer lead times for many product lines, retailers risk falling short of customer expectations this holiday season. Nobody likes to be strung along, especially customers seeking clarity on product availability. Consumers can find themselves under a lot of pressure to find the right gifts for their loved ones and not being able to get a straight answer from a retailer around product availability can add to their stress and frustration. Being as transparent as possible with customers about product availability can help to win their trust even if a product they want isn’t available.
Retail inventory platforms can be difficult to navigate for existing and seasonal staff alike, so information on how to access and navigate inventory information should be made as easy as possible to find. Easy to digest stock updates on high-impact items can also be featured on your intranet home page. This allows your teams to access information quickly without having to spend their time searching for it.
Using your intranet to keep store staff up-to-date will help them to provide transparent service and maybe even save a sale by suggesting an alternative when the right product isn’t available. Using an intranet platform that enables multichannel messaging, you can deploy updates via the most effective mediums such as SMS, digital signage, or push notifications from your intranet mobile app, so updates can be read as quickly as possible. This means staff don’t even need to log on to a desktop to receive these updates.
Policies around reserving products, maximum purchase limits, and how long items can be held for customers should also be communicated clearly, and these policies should also be easy to look up should a member of store staff not have the information to hand. This is where an intranet with an advanced search function can reduce friction in the customer experience, allowing staff to relay the policies to customers quickly, and helping to ensure they don’t accidentally break any of those policies.
Communicating contingency plans
As nobody knows exactly what to expect this holiday season, promotions and strategies may need to be adjusted on the go, and communicating these last-minute changes clearly will be essential to keeping all staff aligned and on track to help the organization adapt successfully.
Communicating a sudden change in strategy requires clear messaging that reaches every employee. While this messaging will cascade down through the hierarchy, it can sometimes become diluted. This is why it’s also important to position the messaging front and center on your intranet homepage so your people can see it. This also allows colleagues to re-read the information whenever they need to, and to submit any queries which can be addressed by the senior team.
Your intranet can also be an important tool for frontline staff dealing with situations as they unfold. Should something go wrong on the shop floor, having quick and easy access to essential information such as the chain of command so they know who they can escalate issues to, and documents detailing policies and procedures, your people can ensure they are dealing with any situation in the best way they can.
Make your comms inclusive
It’s important to remember that, like your customer base, your organization may include a wide range of people who don’t celebrate the same holidays. The internal communications you push out during the holiday season should speak inclusively to everyone in the business, no matter what they celebrate (or don’t). Instead of a challenge, this should be seen as an opportunity to showcase your brand’s diverse culture and values to your people.
From adding the various different holidays celebrated by different religions into your intranet calendar, to pre-planning thoughtful and authentic communications and campaigns around each of those dates, diversifying your internal comms will help everyone feel valued and acknowledged.
Unifying the retail workforce with effective communication
Just because the holiday season can be exceptionally busy for some retailers, it doesn’t mean your peoples’ happiness and wellbeing need to be put on hold. This is a time when the power of internal communications can shine and be a crucial element in building a community.
However you fare this year, we wish you prosperity and productivity (and that’s something you don’t read on most Christmas cards).