Retail is Ripe for Flex Work, But Should Your Business Adopt This Working Style?

Posted on August 4, 2020 by Bud Morris

Retail is Ripe for Flex Work, But Should Your Business Adopt This Working Style?

Posted on August 4, 2020 by Bud Morris

Many retailers have been forced to adapt to a new normal post-COVID while also exploring possibilities in this new retail landscape. One of the hot topics that won’t be going on clearance any time soon: flex work for retail employees.

More employees are demanding flex work options, and this shift has reached the retail sector just as much as in other industries. In fact, it’s become more of an expectation in a job rather than a perk, especially in roles where remote work isn’t an option. 

This trend has reached a fever pitch that makes it impossible for employers to ignore, even in the retail sector, but it presents unique challenges to retailers because of the nature of in-store retail, including customer service, engagement, and in-store experience, all of which typically require on-site teams.

However, flex work doesn’t necessarily have to translate to remote work. Studies are showing that retail employees, especially Millennial and Gen Z employees, want more job flexibility, which could take the form of shorter work weeks, different shift options, or a generally more flexible environment.

As a retailer, is flex work the best style for your business? Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the pros and cons of a flexible work environment and how retailers may be able to facilitate it as an option.

Making a business case for flex work in retail

Retail jobs have been notoriously hard to fill, even pre-COVID, with studies rating them as the third-most difficult jobs to staff. But now that a global pandemic has revealed just how essential retail workers are (and just how risky the job can be), more retailers are struggling to retain top talent and fill vacant positions. 

Given this, employers have no choice but to cater toward a better work environment that will attract key employees. Right now, more workers are seeing that flex work is an option for many businesses and expect other industries to adopt these work styles, including retail. 

These expectations are higher among Millennials and Gen Z workers, who make up nearly 40% of the retail job environment. Retailers who implement flex work policies are more likely to attract this segment of the workforce. In fact, it’s the prospect of not having to stick with a typical schedule that makes retail work so alluring in the first place. 

To continue attracting the best of talent, employers need to adapt to new expectations and desires as much as possible and show you have much more to offer your employees than just a paycheck.

What retailers stand to gain from offering flexible work

Retail is one of the largest industries for part-time work, and those who are seeking part-time hours often do so because they want more flexibility between work and home life. 

Studies show that 31% of retail workers prefer to choose their own shifts to achieve a better balance, compared to just 18% of workers in other industries. It’s not necessarily the work itself that attracts them to the field, but rather the dynamics of the industry that will allow them to cultivate the life they want. 

And when one retailer makes this balance difficult or impossible, they’ll simply look for work elsewhere.

Maintaining a competitive edge when it comes to talent is reason enough to entertain a flexible work environment, but retailers could also consider the suite of other benefits that come with capable, engaged, and happy employees. 

For example, employers whose employees have a better work/life balance often benefit from:

  • Increased productivity
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Greater employer engagement
  • A more positive perception of their employer
  • Better customer service  

Staff turnover (and its associated high costs) is reduced, leaving you with long-term employees who know your business, your products, and your customers. Not to mention, morale improves across the board and you become a retailer that people want to work for. 

Ultimately, flex work should be win/win for workers and employers. When both sides can benefit, the customers will benefit, too.

Potential downsides of flex work in retail

Employers who haven’t yet implemented some form of flex work are hesitant to do for various reasons. This is unknown territory for many, and they’re not always sure how to go about offering flex work or what effects it will have on everyday business operations and the ability to serve customers. 

One common fear is that scheduling will become a nightmare. Creating work schedules is easy when you can schedule employees into neat, tidy time blocks and ensure no gaps in service throughout the work day. Flex work, of course, often takes a different approach to scheduling and requires more scrutiny to ensure all gaps are filled. 

It can also mean hiring more staff, but more staff can mean fewer hours to go around, which risks pushing some of your long-term or full-time employees to seek side jobs or other work to make up for lost hours. More people to manage comes with its own set of challenges, such as greater payroll costs and training needs. 

Shifting to a flex work environment is something that should be considered with care to ensure decisions are made that will benefit employees and employers alike. Changes that will cause customer service to suffer or negatively impact the in-store customer experience may mean flex work isn’t right for your retail operations. 

How retailers can implement flex work policies

While working from home or remotely for a retail business isn’t likely to work because of the customer face-time required, retailers can still explore options that will foster work/life balance and satisfy their employees. 

One emerging practice is to offer employees the ability to choose the flexibility of their own schedules. Employers can control this process by getting information from their employees about their ideal working hours and devising time blocks that cater to these needs, then letting employees fill in the blanks. 

Another idea being explored is compressing employee work weeks so that they’re working longer shifts and fewer days. This move requires enough staff to ensure all days and shifts are covered, as well as a high level of reliability from the employees to avoid callouts. 

Additionally, if customer service is a particular concern, retailers can consider going virtual by offering the option of using live chat, virtual chat, or phone support that can be manned by remote team members and offered in real-time by customer service staff or employees. 

Overall, the advantages of flex work in retail often outweigh the disadvantages when the right actions are prioritised. Flexible schedules and job roles continue to be an expectation among retail workers, and employers would be doing themselves and their customers a disservice by not adapting to this new normal. And if it means retaining your best workers and proving how much you value them, then a few changes to how you run your retail business will be well worth it.


Making the most of your retail space starts with understanding what inspires your customers to keep coming back for more, time and again. We help our clients conceptualize and build spaces that create experiences shoppers can feel, intangible elements that draw them in, and allows them to be a part of something greater than themselves. And we plan and build out programs that are consistently replicable while making the most of a client’s budget and timelines. Interested in exploring how we can help you with your retail design? Contact us today!