Dr. Kara went on to talk about her two younger brothers, one in undergraduate school and the other in grad school, both working in retail stores to earn money while in college. She told Molly about how bad the pay is, the working environment, how they always have to fight for hours to work and how physically demanding the job can be. So, with that, Dr. Kara said that she understands why many store associates are unhappy and don’t feel motivated to do a good job. At first, Molly wasn’t buying it, but the conversation continued.
Dr. Kara told her that her younger brother makes $9 an hour and how the store manager continually takes advantage of him: making him close one night and be back early to open the next day. She shared how he is stuck working every weekend and holiday. He only gets, if he’s lucky, ten maybe twelve hours to work a week. After taxes, his job isn’t even worth it. But he’s doing it for now while in school. Her other brother has the same complaints and feels terrible for the employees that need those jobs to make ends meet. And when they don’t receive enough hours they are forced to work two, three, sometimes four jobs just to get a full week of work. One employee was full-time, and then one day for no reason they cut him to 15 hours a week. How do you do that to someone? The employee quit a month later, and the store manager gave him a hard time for leaving.
NOT JUST PART TIMERS
We tend to look at retail store jobs as something only teenagers and college students take. The truth is there are many adult store associates who work full time and those people have it the hardest, especially when they are kept to a limited number of hours to prevent them from qualifying for health insurance. And because schedules are usually finished last minute, those associates are forever juggling their personal lives just to make sure they’re available to work whatever hours they can get. That means sometimes an associate works a full shift followed by closing the store and then has to be back early the next morning to open the store and work another full shift. Dr. Kara said both her brothers have seen many instances when a full-time employee, living pay check to pay check becomes very worried and upset when suddenly hours they were expecting one week weren’t there. Then they get to read about how their high-level executives are earning millions of dollars a year with their compensation packages. It’s very hard for them to accept that when all the associate wants is a chance to earn a living.
Now Molly was listening. Dr. Kara went on to tell her about the physical requirements that go beyond standing on your feet all day. She explained to Molly about how even though there are supposed to be stock employees, often there are none, and the store associates are forced to unload heavy boxes themselves sometimes weighing 30 – 40 pounds each. It’s not too bad for her younger brothers Dr. Kara said because they’re both healthy guys, but they’ve both shared stories when female associates or part-time senior citizens were made to move inventory and how difficult that was. One woman complained that she had a bad back and her manager told her she had no choice and that is was part of her job.
LACK OF TRAINING
It’s no wonder turnover at the store level is so high. Another complaint Dr. Kara shared was that both of her brothers said they received no training. Her one brother said on Day One he was put out on the floor because of the staff shortage, and having received no training, he felt quite inadequate and embarrassed when customers had questions he couldn’t answer. Her other brother said that every day when he started his job he was supposed to get training, but it never happened so he had to figure out everything on his own. Molly was quite surprised and now began to share Dr. Kara’s empathy for these employees.
What is unfortunate is that too many retailers today don’t realize that the way many of them treat their store associates does not help the customer experience. In fact, it creates a bad customer experience and that costs sales! Dr. Kara told Molly how some managers insist on tasks getting done regardless of whether customers need help or not. Too often it’s why customers receive useless answers to their questions that they don’t like. Responses like, “If it’s not on the shelf, I guess we’re out of them,” or “I’m not sure if we carry that item anymore, so you need to go online and look.” And typically, after being given one of those answers the associate goes back to their task or worst yet, just walks away.
Molly mentioned how when she did shop in stores she would get annoyed when she would walk into a store, and the store associate would walk in the opposite direction or look down at the floor avoiding her. Dr. Kara laughed and said, “Oh yeah, probably because of the pressure of getting tasks done.” Then Molly asked a straightforward question, “Don’t these retailers realize that by not paying the store associate more money, providing better working conditions with more working hours and training that they are driving the customer like me away? Dr. Kara said, “Yep, but that’s the leaders of so many of these one-time great companies. Today it’s more about them, their bonus and of course the stockholders than the customer. It’s sad, too, because I still love to shop but when I can’t find anyone to help me or when I do, someone who really wants to help me, it does take the fun out of shopping. But when I do find that special person, there’s no more significant experience. I love the holidays, and when I find that friendly, well-trained associate to help me pick out the perfect gift, I can’t help but think of them Christmas morning when I see the reaction of the person’s face I gave the gift too.”
All I can say, is I hope retailers start to wise up soon and realize that they really can be doing a lot better if they just took care of the internal person that matters the most: the forgotten employee, better known as the store associate.
CEO of The TSi Company