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HR & New Work

7 min read

Smartphone with shift plan on display in front of clothes
Smartphone with shift plan on display in front of clothes

Get the message: why good communication is the key to improving employee engagement in retail

71% of retail staff say poor communication is their greatest challenge at work. Learn how turning this around positively impacts your employee satisfaction and motivation.

Retail as an industry has undergone some seismic shifts in the past couple of years, in no small part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New customer demands resulted in traditional brick-and-mortar retailers embracing new e-commerce technology to give customers a wider range of options, such as online delivery and click-and-collect. For some retailers, these new options have proved very successful. For others, they’ve struggled to balance the customer demand for ultimate flexibility in their shopping. 

This has, understandably, had a significant impact on retail staff. The pandemic was a very stressful time for customer-facing employees, who had to juggle these new shopping methods while serving sometimes aggravated consumers. A report by the retail charity Retail Trust reported that a fifth of retail workers in the UK wanted to leave their jobs following the pandemic due to rising levels of abuse from customers and deteriorating mental health.

What does this mean for retail employers? Research suggests that employee satisfaction among frontline workers in retail is worryingly low. 36% of retail staff stated that poor communication was a major contributing factor. Employee engagement is a huge indication of business success across every industry, including retail. It’s even been shown that improving engagement in the least motivated retail environments can reduce unknown shrink by 12.5%.

There are several strategies for improving employee engagement in retail, but in this article, we’re going to focus on how addressing poor communication should be the starting point for any retailer struggling with unmotivated staff. 

The state of communication in retail

To paint you a picture of how poor communication impacts retail workers, and how a digital solution could address these challenges, here are some telling statistics.

  • 71% of retail staff say communication is their greatest challenge at work.
  • 72% of frontline retail employees would feel more connected to HQ if updates were shared via their smartphones.
  • 76% of retail workers felt digital communication would increase their productivity and simplify their workload.

Why is employee engagement critical for the success of brick-and-mortar retailers?

We already revealed how improving employee engagement in retail can reduce unknown shrink, but employee satisfaction is linked to several metrics of success. Retail has the second highest staff turnover rate of all industries at 13% (compared to the worldwide average of 10%), which is extremely costly for retailers.  Improving employee engagement reduces employee turnover as staff feel a greater sense of belonging and loyalty to the company, which significantly impacts the bottom line.  

Crucially, frontline retail staff are the workers with the highest impact on customer satisfaction. Several studies have demonstrated a clear link between high employee engagement and high customer satisfaction, with a Harvard Business Review study revealing that 77% of senior executives believe that employee engagement has a considerable impact on customer satisfaction. 

High employee engagement is also associated with better productivity, which is vital in retail when there are many tasks to complete and little margin for error. There’s also evidence to suggest that retailers with a highly engaged workforce report higher earnings

In such a competitive climate where retailers are struggling to fill vacant positions, it’s never been more vital to consider the business implications of employee engagement. 

How retailers can improve communication to boost employee engagement 

Before suggesting any treatment, you must first determine the diagnosis. Do you have a communication issue at your organisation? To help retailers figure this out, we’ve come up with a few key questions you should ask yourself and your staff. 

Are you investing enough in your employee engagement?

First of all, how much are you investing in employee engagement? Do you have a dedicated employee experience manager? Does your HR or people team have initiatives in place to measure employee satisfaction and track progress? Do you regularly ask your workers for feedback? 

If your business is not doing any of the above, there is a high chance you're not investing enough in your employee engagement. Start gathering data about how your workers feel; it will soon become obvious if communication is a major culprit.

Want more ideas about how to engage your retail staff?

A graphic showcasing different options to encourage employee engagement

Are messages from HQ communicated clearly to all your staff?

One of the main reasons that frontline workers often feel disconnected from the business is that there is a perceived ‘two-tier system’ of communication in the organisation, where office-based or HQ workers are better informed and updated than on-the-ground staff. Employees on the shop floor might receive important updates late, or not at all. 

Crucial updates might be shared via a printout pinned to a staff noticeboard, which can be easily missed. More than anything, it might be difficult for frontline workers to get in touch with HQ if they need help or want to suggest an idea for improvement. 

If essential updates are not communicated clearly to all your staff members, that can lead to feeling undervalued and demotivated, with a clear impact on employee engagement levels.  

Can you improve the relationship between frontline workers and managers?

Good worker/manager relationships are essential for retailers, but poor communication can often get in the way. It’s definitely possible to improve the relationship between frontline employees and supervisors, starting with adequate training for team leads. Managers must learn the art of ‘active listening’ to show their team they are open to feedback and suggestions. 

If managers are on the shop floor, then regular team meetings are essential to ensure that important updates are communicated and that both parties have an opportunity to share their thoughts. 

Managers who are often in multiple locations or based in HQ must be smart about communication, as a lack of in-person airtime can translate as a lack of care. A digital tool that connects all staff is one solution to this, as it increases the availability of managers to their workers, and vice-versa. 

Such a tool can help improve the relationship between frontline workers and managers by facilitating easier and more regular communication, including sharing personal updates such as photos and videos, which increases the overall sense of belonging and community.

Do you appreciate your shop staff enough?

Feeling valued is a major factor in employee motivation, yet appreciation can often go amiss, especially in the fast-paced retail environment. Gratitude is a potent motivator, as it creates a virtual cycle where workers are encouraged to work hard to get more recognition. 

To make the recognition of great work as impactful as can be, it needs to be visible. A simple thank you is always a good idea, but it doesn’t have as much power as a public announcement of gratitude where the entire team can contribute their kudos. This can be achieved in an analogue environment during a team meeting, for example. However, it will have an ever greater impact if it can be shared with the entire company, via a digital employee platform, for instance. 

So often, frontline workers are disconnected from the wider business and its goals, but if they are brought into the communication via public recognition and reward, it will go a long way towards increasing their engagement levels. 

Which communication tools can improve employee engagement in retail?

You might have noticed that a key theme cropping up again and again is the need for a digital solution to your communication challenges. A digital tool will democratise information sharing across your organisation, as all workers, whether desk-based or not, will receive the same updates at the same time. It will also open up new channels for cross-communication among different teams and allow for public recognition of amazing work. 

To figure out which digital communication tool is right for your retail business, check out our longer article comparing digital communication tools

Examples of retailers improving communication to increase employee engagement

EDEKA: 32% better internal communication

EDEKA, a large food retailer in Germany, has 3,700 independent merchants, more than 11,207 stores and around 381,000 employees. With multiple stores, a high proportion of part-time workers, and shift patterns, EDEKA faced many challenges with their internal communication. They turned to Flip’s employee app to digitise their communication, and now all employees feel well informed and, therefore, both important and noticed.

Without an employee app:

  • No clear processes for sharing information
  • Information & duty rosters only shared via a noticeboard in the break room
  • Couldn’t reach employees on other shifts, on vacation, or sick 

With an employee app:

  • For us, Flip solves the time-honoured problem of "Huh, I didn't even notice that." (Viktoria Habig, EDEKA Habig)
  • "With three mouse clicks, all my employees are always up to date." (Sebastian Lachmund, EDEKA Vela)
  • "We are well informed and thus feel important and noticed. Finally, I get to see everything and know what's going on." (Michaela Heuser, EDEKA Paul)
Benedikt Paul stands smiling in front of a shelf of goods

We respond to problems, suggestions for improvement and praise so much faster than before and thus achieve an overall better quality for us and our customers."

Benedikt Paul

Managing Director EDEKA Paul

ROSSMANN: building a community

ROSSMANN is one of the largest drugstore chains in Europe, with 60,500 employees in Europe and 4,514 shops. The organisation introduced Flip’s employee app after realising how important it was to have a modern, digital solution for internal communication. Now, employees can provide feedback and suggestions for improvement, share tips and customer feedback, and chat with their district managers via the chat function. This has both given workers a voice, and a sense of community. 

Without an employee app:

  • Inter-branch exchange only possible via telephone calls
  • Quarterly printed staff magazine for new topics
  • Only top-down information was possible with no exchange

With an employee app:

  • Establishment of a direct feedback channel for all employees
  • Possible to communicate with colleagues from other branches or the head office 
  • Introduction of improvements suggested by employees
Michael Rybak looking friendly in a modern office building

With Flip's employee app, we have established a platform that connects our branches across Germany. This creates interaction and community across all areas of the company – something we can no longer imagine our everyday life without."

Michael Rybak

Managing Director Dirk Rossmann GmbH

Conclusion: digitise your communication to improve employee engagement in retail

Good communication is a core pillar at the heart of any successful retailer, and it’s much easier to achieve this with a streamlined digital tool, such as Flip’s employee app. Enabling channels of communication between the head office and the shop floor, an employee app is a gateway towards workers who feel heard and valued. With employee engagement and satisfaction having such a significant impact on business success, it’s a strategic move to invest in good communication.

Talk with one of our friendly experts today to learn how Flip could transform communication at your retail organisation. Book a meeting.

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