Every Retail Worker Is Now a Supply Chain Worker

By Scott Jennings

Retailers need to ready themselves for the next phase of change as the pandemic recedes and consumers act on their pent-up demand for certain products.


Traditional retailers across the country have been playing catch-up for decades, trying to meet the changing needs of the consumer. Shoppers increasingly want the convenience of online shopping and anywhere fulfillment. This vast migration of consumers from brick-and-mortar stores to the digital marketplace began at least as early as Amazon opening its doors. Then came the challenges of COVID-19 and even the holdout businesses—local restaurants, corner shops, discount outlets—were scrambling to go online. A recent study from Adobe revealed that online spending  grew by $183 billion in 2020, highlighting the tremendous impact of the pandemic on shopping habits.

In the midst of these accelerated changes, few jobs have changed more than retail work. Retail workers traditionally occupied point-of-sale positions or customer services positions, but now they are central to the success of complex and sophisticated supply chain operations. Americans are on track to spend $1 trillion in ecommerce by 2022, according to Adobe’s study. The downstream challenges of this consumer shift to digital shopping manifest in a variety of ways, including expected investments in  one billion square feet of warehouse space and the workers required to support future warehouse expansion.

Not every company will win the war for warehouse space, but legacy retailers will have ready-made space in their existing store footprint. Lowe’s Home Improvement reportedly  fulfilled 60% of its online orders from store locations, allowing the company to move six times faster—a perfect example of why every retail employee is now a supply chain worker. This shift also puts people organizations in a tough spot. The demand for hybrid workers is rapidly becoming the expectation and remains one of the most underappreciated impacts of the pandemic.

In the age of rapidly shifting work expectations and hybrid job requirements, how does the hiring manager find the right people for their companies? The answer lies in embracing the digital disruption rather than running from it.

Build a Tech Stack that Opens the Door to More Candidates
With greater competition than ever for top talent, finding people with broad, applicable skills requires adopting new technologies. HR leaders now have a wealth of options that can simplify their searches, including online, cloud-based tools that seek out recruits using AI and machine learning to help find likely candidates.

HR, procurement and people organizations need to consider building an IT-style tech stack that will help them find and recruit next-gen talent. Creating this kind of stack can be challenging to do quickly, especially for companies still accustomed to legacy systems. But companies that need to find the right people now can partner with organizations that already have successful platforms that can help people get up to speed quickly.

Embrace “Sign-up Culture” to Find the Right Fit
As consumers, we are accustomed to instant results. Everyone with a smartphone now has data-driven opportunities for buying, sharing opinions and watching videos in the palm of their hand. This is sign-up culture. People today want to be able to do everything instantly and from those smartphones. Even job candidates want to look for their next opportunity in the same way they order a coffee or shop on Amazon—with just a few clicks.

While sign-up culture is appealing for consumers, companies should also embrace the immediacy. A job seeker that wants to sign up with a few clicks is also someone who can generally start a job immediately. This flexible outreach can also help identify candidates who know they will have hybrid responsibilities, including supply chain work.

Quickly casting a broad net is also valuable for companies that deal with seasonality, especially in an environment where some seasons can happen at any time, as was the case in 2020. Amazon Prime Day, one of the biggest retail “holidays” of the year, was not in its traditional calendar spot. This required more from Amazon than just adding deals to the website; the company had to ramp up virtually every aspect of its fulfillment business.

Conduct Background Screening and Provide Ongoing Training
As people organizations embrace faster hiring, the necessary process of background screening must likewise speed up. Adopting screening tools that use technology to return quicker results can assure teams that their candidates check all boxes and that people from every background are being fairly considered.

Better still, when candidates are hired with a full panel of background screens during the hiring process, they are ready to be deployed into new job opportunities at any time—a retail worker being asked to move from the point-of-sale to the last mile of delivery as a driver, for example. The background screen, combined with continuous monitoring, will inform leadership that a worker is less of a risk for a hazardous position like driving.

Cross-training people on additional responsibilities is another way to help employees build skills and succeed at shifting job requirements. People organizations have always found that helping people improve their education through programs increases engagement. Moreover, improving cross-training fulfills two imperatives: it gives companies a more capable workforce and helps people want to be there.

The financial and safety challenges of the pandemic have amplified the need for flexible workers who can contribute in many ways. Retail workers will continue to stock, load, drive and fulfill orders, and people organizations need to find the right candidates for these rapidly changing responsibilities.

But as the pandemic accelerated ecommerce in 2020 with  10 years’ worth of digital transformation in just three months, retailers will need to ready themselves for the next phase of change as the pandemic recedes and consumers act on their  pent-up demand for certain products. Flexibility will continue to be imperative to succeed.

Scott Jennings is the director of retail and hospitality industry strategy at  Checkr. He has over 20 years of experience working with large enterprises to implement HR and data and analytics solutions at IBM, Qlik Technologies and Cognos. At Checkr, Jennings is focused on identifying repeatable best practices that drive ROI for its customers in strategic verticals.