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10 Main HR Challenges In The Retail Sector With Solutions

20 min read

hr challenges in retail industry

The retail sector accounts for 10% of the total GDP of India. It ranks 4th largest in the world according to its size and by 2024, it is predicted to reach 96.43 trillion. (IKON Research) With an industry growing at such a high rate, challenges are bound to follow.

In India, retail has changed a lot in the past few years, thanks to new store formats and a young working population. But, the arrival of global companies in retail is making it tough for Indian firms.

Historically, HR in the Indian retail sector treated employees as just an employee number of ID and not as individuals. Lately, due to increased competition, the scenario has changed and efforts are being made to retain and engage employees in this sector too. 

Human resources are crucial in retail for surpassing challenges. An organization’s success relies on effective HR strategies and people management. The retail sector has its own set of unique HR challenges that impact both the sector as a whole and the majority of the brands operating within it. 

What is the role of HR in the retail sector?

hr in retail industry

The HR is responsible for a variety of functions in the retail sector. Some examples are:

  • Recruitment
  • Selecting and screening
  • Performance appraisal
  • Training and development
  • Compensation
  • Rewards, incentives, and recognition
  • Employee discipline

Intense competition in organized retail brings in challenges. Let us look at these challenges one by one and what HR can do to solve them.

Challenges in The Retail Sector

A retailer is an individual or a company that buys goods in large quantities and then breaks them down into smaller portions to sell to individual customers. India has over a million retail outlets, but the retail industry here still lacks modernization. To thrive in the Indian market, companies need to think smarter. 

The following are the five major challenges experienced by the retail sector in the country:

1. High Real Estate Costs

The major hurdle for organized retail is the extremely expensive real estate prices. This makes up a significant portion of their overall expenses. This can significantly impact profitability, as even rental costs can be prohibitively high, making survival for the organization challenging.

2. Huge Operational Expenses

Besides real estate, there are other operational costs to consider. Retail has a wide range of operations such as staff, basic infrastructure, electricity, taxes, and various incidental expenses. These costs add further to the financial burden.

3. Financial Constraints

Organized retail needs both long-term and short-term funds to sustain itself. This causes extensive financial challenges. Long-term funds are necessary for building infrastructure and acquiring equipment. Meanwhile, short-term funds are required for inventory, hiring staff, and maintenance.

4. Skilled Workforce Shortage

Retailers often struggle to find and retain skilled manpower in sufficient numbers and quality. Finding educated candidates in the retail sector can be a challenge. Sourcing the right quantity and quality of skilled human resources is an ongoing challenge for the retail sector.

5. Competition from Foreign Multinational Corporations (MNCs)

Both organized and unorganized retail sectors in India face stiff competition from large MNCs. These multinational corporations possess substantial financial and other resources, giving them a competitive edge over local retailers. Examples are ITC, Sony, Amazon, Nestle, Accenture, etc.

Top 10 HR Challenges in The Retail Sector

main challenges of hr in retail industry

HR professionals in the retail sector face some unique challenges when it comes to attracting and keeping talented, motivated employees. Let’s discuss some of these common issues in retail HR and explore ways to overcome them.

1. Attracting and retaining Employees

The growth of digital life has caused a reduction in physical retail stores. The digital world is definitely cheaper than the physical world which requires human labor in the real world. This has caused turnover costs in the retail sector to skyrocket. 

High turnover in the retail sector is linked to various expenses like recruitment, training, lost sales, service quality, and many other factors. Hence, it becomes very important to retain good talent once identified.

Some challenges in attracting and retaining employees in retail are:

  • Finding candidates that are in for the long-term
  • Frontline retail jobs are minimum-wage jobs 
  • There is no clear career path for employees
  • Immense competition in the job market

The talent problem in retail is real. There’s a significant disconnect between what executives think their employees need and what employees believe their companies should do to help them. In the following sections, we’ll discover how HR can help bridge this gap.

2. Employee safety

It is crucial for retail store owners and HR to make sure the store is safe for both customers and employees. Sales associates are expected to recognize and adhere to health and safety requirements set by HR and the law. These rules are in place to prevent any health or safety risks.

Here are key factors for HR to consider for ensuring employee safety in a retail store:

  • Compliance with Laws: HR must demonstrate adherence to safety regulations.
  • Risk Assessment: Evaluate workplace hazards and take measures to prevent or reduce them.
  • Safety Preparedness: Follow health and safety rules mandated by legislation.
  • Ergonomics: Match store tasks with employee capabilities to prevent injuries, like not assigning heavy lifting to weaker individuals.
  • Air Quality: Ensure proper ventilation to prevent mold, bacteria, and odors from accumulating.
  • Visual Inspections: Regularly check for hazards like uneven floors, spills, or misplaced items.
  • Security Measures: Install surveillance cameras and consider hiring security personnel to enhance store safety.
  • Employee Training: Train staff to handle dangerous situations effectively.
  • Insurance: Obtain insurance coverage for the retail store to mitigate risks.

3. Lack of formal education

You need skilled and talented staff to manage daily operations and meet diverse customer needs. In India, formal vocational institutes for employee training are scarce. Hence, most retail employers have to rely on in-house training or smaller external institutes to meet their training requirements.

Considering the expansion of the retail sector, some business schools are now offering innovative retail management courses. You can find various short-term retail management programs at institutions like the Indian Retail School.

Examples of formal retail education partnerships with retail brands:

  • Pantaloon collaborates with multiple management schools for retail management programs.
  • RPG Enterprises has established a training institute for front-line staff and store managers.
  • Tesco offers a retail certification course in conjunction with IIM Bangalore.
  • Reliance Retail plans to establish its training centers nationwide.

In India, retailers can gain a competitive edge by implementing proactive training strategies due to the scarcity of resources and skills.

4. Scheduling and workforce planning during seasonal demand

Even in the best of times, managing your workforce effectively during seasonal demand can be quite challenging. HR has to create and tailor employee models for different regions, stores, and departments, and adjust them based on seasonal demand. They also need to align labor budgets, forecasts, and schedules to boost revenue and avoid unnecessary expenses.

But in today’s retail landscape, apart from the above, there are newer challenges making workforce planning even more complex. Employees are now seeking more flexibility in their schedules. Additionally, the growing customer demand for services like omnichannel delivery means you have to account for new types of work.

Retail managers are already spending hours each week creating schedules and planning out their workforce. HR needs to avoid using outdated and error-prone systems to deal with this complex problem. 

5. Bad loans

In the retail sector, a major issue is the presence of bad loans because many workers in this industry borrow money from both their companies and banks. It’s crucial for HR to keep a close eye on these loans to ensure everything stays in balance.

In retail HR, there are two key risks to consider with employee loans:

  • Default Risk: Employees who borrow money may struggle to repay if they face job loss or financial difficulties. To address this, include loan loss provisions and default terms in the loan agreement.
  • Conflict Risk: Providing loans to some employees but not others can create a sense of unfairness and conflict within the workforce. To prevent this, establish a clear employee loan program with consistent policies.

6. Threat of poaching

In retail HR, employee poaching is a significant issue, especially in both organized and unorganized retail. Skilled workers are in short supply, making it tempting for competitors to lure employees with higher salaries.

The mismatch between the number of available workers and the industry’s needs is causing a high employee turnover rate and driving up operational costs. On top of this, emerging retail chains are hiring employees from established players like Shopper’s Stop, BigBazaar, and Spencer’s for their backend operations.

Furthermore, the growing attrition rate among key retail players in the Indian market is a rising concern for the poaching problem.

7. Access to earned income

In the retail sector, a key HR challenge is motivating employees to contribute effectively to business outcomes through the right compensation strategy. This includes fair monetary and indirect benefits. To encourage active engagement, some firms adopt profit-sharing. 

In India, front-line employee compensation is often conservative, while store managers receive competitive plans. To ensure stability and foster employee ownership, HR can design a program that offers lower guaranteed pay but includes robust bonuses tied to store profitability. 

This approach can also extend to support functions like merchandising, distribution, and accounting. Such an approach can be done with rewards depending on store performance.

8. Enabling digital employee experience

The digital workplace plays a crucial role in enhancing the digital employee experience (DEX). It serves as a framework to understand what employees receive and how it’s delivered. The advantage of the digital workplace is that it’s firmly rooted in the everyday digital tools and processes employees use. 

In the retail sector, enabling DEX is a challenge because employee experience has not been a priority in this sector until recently. So, how can HR try to transform the digital employee experience? Here 5 ways:

  1. Cultivate a supportive and uplifting workplace atmosphere.
  2. Give top priority to employee growth, education, and training.
  3. Equip your staff with appropriate technology and tools.
  4. Pay attention to the desires and needs of your workforce.
  5. Establish and sustain a vibrant organizational culture.

9. Building a diverse and inclusive workspace

Diversity and inclusion pose significant challenges for HR in the retail sector. Ongoing training to foster inclusion is essential but resource-intensive. Here are five reasons why building a diverse and inclusive workspace in retail is crucial but poses as a challenge.

  1. High Turnover: Frequent turnover makes it challenging to sustain diverse and inclusive cultures.
  2. Varied Workforce: Retail employs a diverse workforce with differing needs and backgrounds.
  3. Customer-Centric: Balancing diversity and customer-centric approaches can be complex.
  4. Training: Ongoing training to promote inclusion is necessary but can be resource-intensive.
  5. Competition: Attracting diverse talent amid competition for retail positions is a challenge.

10. Career advancement

In the retail sector, most employees do not have a clear path to career advancement. Fostering both personal and organizational growth makes it essential for HR to implement effective goal management and training programs. 

Offering training opportunities such as communication skills, personality development, packing techniques, and technical skills can further facilitate their career development. These measures not only benefit individuals but also contribute to the overall growth of the company.

Furthermore, providing career growth chances can solve the problem of attracting top talent. It helps brand your company positively in a competitive job market with a scarcity of experienced and skilled individuals. Demonstrating a promising future for employees gives you a competitive edge in recruitment.

Retail companies can promise career advancement by:

  • Establishing clear career paths.
  • Recognizing and communicating growth prospects.
  • Demonstrating a commitment to internal promotions.
  • Identifying critical roles.
  • Developing talent and succession plans.
  • Implementing effective management practices.

How to Solve HR Problems in The Retail Sector?

retail industry hr challenges

Human Resources (HR) management plays a pivotal role in the retail sector, where the success of a business heavily relies on its workforce. Let’s explore how HR can meet the above problems head-on, ultimately contributing to the success of retail organizations in an ever-evolving marketplace.

1. Aligning the culture with organizational values

This involves making sure that the company’s culture reflects its core values and mission. It ensures that employees’ behaviors and attitudes align with what the organization stands for.

Imagine a retail company that prides itself on providing exceptional customer service. To align culture with values, the HR department could implement training programs. These programs should emphasize the importance of customer satisfaction. Employees who go the extra mile to help customers can be rewarded for upholding the brand’s culture. 

2. Managing ethical dilemmas

Ethical dilemmas in retail HR may include issues like employee theft, fraud, or conflicts of interest. HR needs to address these dilemmas while upholding ethical standards.

If an HR manager discovers that an employee is stealing merchandise, they must address the issue promptly. This may involve conducting a fair investigation, ensuring due process, and, if necessary, terminating the employee. 

3. Building capability

Building capability includes developing employees’ skills and competencies to meet current and future business needs. This ensures that employees are well-equipped to handle their roles effectively.

This process includes the role of HR to turn young individuals working in retail stores to uphold managerial roles and develop leadership qualities. They can invest further by encouraging employees to sign up for retail management courses for the company’s benefit. 

4. Matching employee and organization’s expectations

It’s crucial that employees understand what the company expects from them and vice versa. This alignment can reduce misunderstandings and improve job satisfaction.

A retail HR department can create clear job descriptions and performance expectations. Employees can then have a better understanding of what is expected of them, leading to improved job performance and satisfaction.

5. Increasing employee productivity

Improving employee productivity involves finding ways to help employees work more efficiently and effectively, ultimately benefiting the organization.

Let’s say a retail store experiences long customer checkout lines during peak hours. HR can implement a better scheduling system for employees to ensure adequate staffing during these times. This can reduce wait times for customers and improve overall productivity.

6. Engaging employees and communicating

Employee engagement refers to keeping employees motivated and connected to their work. Effective communication is vital for achieving this.

HR can conduct regular feedback sessions with employees, listen to their concerns, and implement their suggestions when possible. This two-way communication fosters a sense of involvement and engagement among the staff.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What functions does HR perform in the retail industry?

The common functions performed by HR in the retail industry are:

  • Job analysis and design
  • Recruitment and selection
  • Training and development
  • Performance management
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Labor relations
  • Managerial relations

2. What is human resource management in the retail industry? 

Human resources management in the retail industry establishes criteria within the organization to assess employee performance. HRM provides objectives that must be agreed on both by employer and employee to promote cooperation. The new-age retail organizations need to structure tasks, assign duties, and administer management, and employees. HRM looks into these activities while managing attrition and retention rates. 

3. What is the process of HRM in retail management? 

The steps involved in the process of HRM in retail management are mentioned below:

  1. Recruiting and selecting candidates
  2. Conducting training programs
  3. Providing fair compensation
  4. Explaining appearance and work habits
  5. Avoiding conflicts in the workplace

4. What are the key recruitment challenges in the retail sector? 

The key recruitment challenges in the retail sector are as follows:

  • Attracting candidates to apply for roles
  • Locating the best candidates
  • Offering competitive salaries
  • Finding loyal employees
  • Retaining good talent

Table of Contents

    Meet the author

    Keka Editorial Team

    A bunch of inspired, creative and ambitious youngsters- that’s Keka’s editorial team for you. We have a thirst to learn new subjects and curate diverse pieces for our readers. Our deep understanding and knowledge of Human Resources has enabled us to answer almost every question pertaining to this department. If not seen finding ways to simplify the HR world, they can be found striking conversations with anyone and everyone , petting dogs, obsessing over gadgets, or baking cakes.


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