Staff harassment, employee shortfalls and navigating business models are major challenges for retailers in 2022, according to former National Retailers Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb. 

In an interview with Ragtrader, Lamb said there are a range of factors that can affect employee attraction and retention, especially with current staff shortages. 

She noted that supporting staff across all levels should be top of mind for retailers, particularly "when it comes to customer abuse and violence." 

"That will always remain a key focus for retailers,"Lamb said, "because they are so dependent upon those frontline workers.

“Even if you look at all of the SDA's (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association) work around 'no one deserves a serve' or [around] sexual harassment – or even just what our frontline workers were experiencing during COVID-19 – that hasn't ended,” Lamb said. 

“For many of those workers, we know they do face a hard slog every day. Certainly there are retailers who want to support them through that.

“At the end of the day, it's always going to be about making sure that everyone in your workplace is supported, particularly when it comes to safety."

Along with curbing staff abuse, Lamb (pictured) stressed that the work/life balance is also key to attracting and retaining staff.

According to the former NRA CEO, not all employees are looking for full time work. Some want to work casually, and some want to work part time. 

“We need to look at different options that are going to work with whatever that employee is trying to achieve in their life, in terms of work/life balance,” Lamb said. 

“Of course, when you run a shop, that can be difficult. But it's also about offering different perks to attract someone to your brand. 

“And a lot of the time that comes down to values and what you represent as an individual retail brand.”

One of the main initiatives to attract staff to major retailers is through offering incentives and perks. 

However, because of this, Lamb noted that smaller businesses may find it much more difficult to source and retain new staff.

She said they are having to compete against larger corporations, which can have more discretion in the incentives they offer.

“How do they compete in a market that is so hot when it comes to employment?” she asked.

“I think it comes down to the culture, right? It's about creating that culture that you want people to want to be in. 

“It's [also] about making sure that we are engaging in a different way with different demographics. 

“Whether that's older demographics or, traditionally, our retailers have employed lots of young people, or even where we're finding them or even different types of work.”

According to Lamb, the issues around staffing, from harassment to retention, is part of a broader range of key challenges that retailers must tackle to satisfy its consumers. 

“It's not just about environment,” Lamb said, “our retailers are highly attuned to what consumers are looking for, and their expectations on businesses and making good decisions." 

This includes the contributions retailers make to the community, Lamb said, and how companies nourish and grow those communities.

“I think that is, and will be for some time, a focus for the business community," Lamb said.

"We know now that consumers expect business leaders to make decisions that are in the interests of society in general.

"I think we are starting to see retailers move down the route of making decisions that are better for the environment and for societies around them.

"I mean, there's no doubt that obviously Cotton On amongst other people have been doing some incredible things when it comes to giving back.

"You only have to look around retail to see most businesses trying to do the right thing - whether they're big or small."

Navigating business models

Following on from staffing issues and solutions, Lamb noted that there are also concerns on the business side of retailing, too.

This includes leasing and tenancy, navigating the increases in crime, and increasing CODB.

“All of those things that are coming out continue to increase, just because of where we find ourselves post-COVID-19,” Lamb said.

The other major concerns includes navigating supply chain challenges, with Lamb advising retailers to diversify where they get their stock. 

“Or even looking at manufacturing in Australia to get some of those fast sellers,” Lamb continued. 

“The best thing about retailers is that they always pivot very quickly and they're incredibly innovative. 

“So I've no doubt that we've seen lots of different and new solutions to all sorts of problems.”

In line with these broader business issues, Lamb said that whatever retailers implement to tackle them, it must work to the capacity of one’s business. 

“It's not about implementing something because everybody else has it,” Lamb said.

"At the end of the day, it's actually about customer service, it's always going to be about customer service.

“Whatever changes that you're implementing, you've got to focus around your customer and look at the demographics, and what they want, and how they shop, and what that looks like.

“That's really the best way to move forward when it comes to anything to do with new tech or new strategy or even new structures.”

Lamb went on to say that eCommerce is one area that all retailers should capitalise on, saying it is a huge growth area when it comes to Australian retail.

“But I think, also, now is a really great opportunity to diversify the way that we are doing business and kind of look at all the operating models."

However, despite the importance of driving new eCommerce initiatives, Lamb said that digital literacy levels in small businesses need to improve. 

“Because it's the expectation of consumers in what is becoming a global retail world, that they have those skills,” Lamb said.

“I think it's up to governments, certainly, to help support our business owners and our mom and dads to expand their businesses.”

Gearing up for Christmas

Despite the recent increases in inflation, Lamb indicated that consumers will be willing to spend this Christmas season, but they will be to find discounts on discretionary items.

“We will continue to see the increases as we have done year-on-year but we're also going to see them buy into those big sales days,” Lamb said. 

“Because, of course, as Australian consumers love to do, we like to watch for the best price. It's just going to be about consumers now researching.

“Christmas is a very different time of year,” Lamb continued. “It's almost that time of year that is essential, certainly to families, and we know that they're going to spend.

“Certainly, when it comes to things like groceries and liquor, those essential items, while still stretching themselves around discretionary items to gift.”

When it comes to inflation and interest rate rises, Lamb continued, “it does have a lag effect.”

“We know that the more those figures continue to increase, the more the rhetoric around those figures continues. 

“Consumers do get nervous and we do see them tightening their belts. There's no doubt when we look at the consumption and what consumers are spending on, it is on essential items. 

"We know that it's falling away from discretionary areas.”

As for Christmas overall, Lamb said that it will always be a very positive season for retail. 

“People know that running into that November period, that's when we start to kind of gift and share with our families,” she said. “It's all about encouraging those values to be in store.”

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