Research: When Retail Workers Have Stable Schedules, Sales And Productivity Go Up

by MR Magazine Staff

The relentless rise of online retailers has led to deep soul searching among brick-and-mortar retailers to find ways to compete. The traditional methods of competing through convenience, assortment, and pricing are largely ineffective against online retailers who outperform brick-and-mortar retailers in these dimensions. The last arrow in the quiver is to use service as a way to distinguish themselves from online retailers. Yet, research suggests that retailers tend to view store associates as an expense to be controlled rather than as a medium to provide better service for customers. Practices such as having barebones staff in stores and unstable scheduling (schedules that vary on a day-to-day basis) have flourished in the guise of enabling greater profits for retailers. In study after study for over a decade, operations researchers have found that retailers understaff during peak hours. Increasing staffing, they found, could increase sales and profits. And yet this message on the costs of lean scheduling fell on deaf ears. Our goal, in a randomized controlled experiment at Gap, was to shift retail associates to more-stable schedules and study the business results. The interdisciplinary team was led by Principal Investigator Joan C. Williams, Co-PI Susan Lambert of the University of Chicago, and Co-PI Saravanan Kesavan of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Read more at Harvard Business Review.