As non-essential retail prepares to reopen, retail staff risk becoming a ‘forgotten frontline’, with store associates reporting a lack recognition and empowerment in their roles, the latest report from digital workplace innovator, YOOBIC, warns.

Original research of 1,000 frontline workers in YOOBIC’s latest ‘Frontline Employee Workplace Survey 2021’ report showed a third (32%) of retail workers said they lack recognition in their jobs, while a quarter (24%) feel unempowered in their role.

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With lockdown shuttering non-essential retail, these retail workers faced repeated furlough and significant changes to their daily working routines – from new work formats to adapted digital services and manning dark stores as fulfilment hubs.  Meanwhile, as supermarket workers continued to serve customers as each wave of infections surged, the Association of Convenience Stores reported over 50,000 abusive incidents towards retail staff by shoppers since the start of the pandemic.  Add to that stress of job cuts – with 14,809 permanent store closures and an estimated 180,000 retail job losses reported between March 2020 and February 2021 – and wider economic uncertainty, it’s easy to see why The Guardian reported that retail staff now feel like the pandemic’s ‘forgotten frontline’.

However, whilst the YOOBIC poll showed retail frontline workers felt a lack of recognition of their roles, it was actually communication barriers that retail staff felt was the biggest challenge to their jobs currently:  71% of retail associates say communication – either with HQ or other colleagues – was their biggest challenge at work.

Whilst face-to-face communication makes up the vast majority of retail staff’s interaction with co-workers and their managers (92% and 82% respectively), the use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) between frontline retail employees is growing; 38% now use smartphone communications, either public messaging, such as Whatsapp, and other providers, like Google Hangout or Teams, to speak to colleagues.  However, Head Office communications to frontline staff are still conducted mostly over email (51%), creating a disconnect.  This means communication and training messages aren’t reaching employees on the digital platforms they are using, and risks leaving retail staff feeling underprepared and unsupported; just 14% of retail associates say their receive training via their own digital device.

Almost three quarter (72%) of the retail frontline would feel more connected to their HQ if communications were delivered via their smartphone or BYOD, while a further 76% felt digital formats would increase their productivity and simplify their workload.

Fabrice Haiat, CEO of YOOBIC, commented: “Retail has always been an industry that reinvents and reimagines itself as it keeps pace with new and emerging consumer demands.  As such, the retail frontline has always been resilient by its very nature, continually adapting to the changes and opportunities presented to it.  And that is reflective in our research findings – despite all the difficulties of the pandemic, communication was the biggest challenge retail frontline staff feel they face in their jobs today.”

“However, while the retail workforce is resilient, staff churn remains high – and engaging, motivating and retaining talent is an ongoing challenge that will only be resolved when businesses invest in elevating the employee experience.  As retail reopens and rebuilds, it’s crucial that retailers empower their frontline workforces, opening up communication formats and digital training platforms that not only support retail staff but can build with them into the future,” he concluded.

For further information on the new challenges facing frontline workers – and what businesses can do to fix them, download the latest YOOBIC report

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