We’ve all heard the statistics: Women account or influence between 70-to-80 percent of all household spending. In retail, women outnumber men on the sales floor by a ratio of 2:1.
The Mom Project Labs (MP Labs), the research and insights division of the Mom Project which helps businesses build a better workplace for mothers, studied how to use the intersection of those two statistics – more women shoppers and more women retail sales associates – to help retailers build stronger, more resilient and engaging retail experiences.
“Because retail, in particular brick-and-mortar retail, is in such decline right now, and has been for many years, we wanted to look at what can be done and if there are angles that haven’t been tried before to help them succeed,” says Pam Cohen, Ph.D. and president of MP Labs, describing the study she and her team conducted, entitled “Who’s Driving the Cart.” It focuses on how retailers can invest in the power of women in their stores to unlock more of the spending power of the female shopper.
By the Numbers
MP Labs measured retail employee sentiment among nearly 1,400 women employed in retail (29 percent on the corporate side and 61 percent at the store level) across five drivers:
- Engagement related to job opportunities
- Employee relations
- Social commitment
- Salary and benefits
- Work structure
“We collected a lot of data and used predictive analytics about what it would take to engage women more. With the Mom Project’s interest in work opportunities for women, we studied retail since the people being displaced are by and large women.”
The study’s conclusion: “By investing strategic resources to activate store-level retail employees, retailers can drive positive ROI.”
Trouble in Retail
Retailers need all the help they can get since the U.S. remains glutted with excess retail capacity, despite some 9,300 stores shuttered in 2019 following nearly 6,000 closed in 2019, according to Coresight Research. With the U.S. having some 24 square feet of retail space per capita, compared with 11 sq. ft. in Australia and less than 5 sq. ft. in the U.K.
Scott Carpenter, head of retail solutions at Great American Group, said 30 percent of existing retail space “would cease to exist in its current form, as consumer buying trends shift increasingly online.” He foresees mass closures to continue for up to two more years.
The research shows retailers can make their retail spaces more productive by making changes to how they manage their female staffers “In our analysis, we link the drivers of employee engagement back to outcomes,” Cohen says. “We found that if people felt more engaged in those areas that have a strong significant effect on their loyalty to the organization, it also has a strong effect on their willingness to recommend their retail store as a place to shop and a place to work.”
Overall female corporate employees have a significantly higher employee sentiment score (60.6 on a 100-point scale) as compared with store employees (49.4 points) and that’s where retailers have the greatest opportunity.
“A one-point change in company loyalty translates into a nearly one-point gain in recommending the retailer as an employer and about the same as a place to shop. These increases can be really significant in terms of overall return on investment.,” she explains.
Happy, Engaged Retail Employees Make for Happy, Engaged Retail Shoppers
It takes more than product to get shoppers into the store, since they have instantaneous access to the world’s biggest virtual store from the convenience of their smartphones, tablets or computers.
“If you walk into a store and you see an engaged salesperson, you’re a lot more likely to buy and a lot more likely to come back,” Cohen shares. “If you feel welcome just being there, it can be a huge differentiator for retailers from the online experience where you press a button and order something. This is the key competitive advantage that can get people back to a brick-and-mortar store.”
For store-level retail employees, the number-one factor that can increase their engagement is to give them opportunities to try new things. “For example, to give them more on-the-job learning, more information about the products and varied jobs in the store so they can feel more creative in their jobs,” Cohen explains.
She believes retailers typically try to keep store-level employees focused on tasks that are scripted so that the organization operates in a predictable way. “But by giving people an opportunity to do new things, they will thrive as opposed to just doing one task repeatedly. If it gets wearing, they check out mentally,” she continues.
Interestingly, the research reveals store-level employees are not as motivated as corporate-level colleagues by opportunities to advance up the leadership levels. “Unlike at the corporate level, women on the sales floor are content where they are, but they want to feel more creative in their day-to-day work. They really want to be helpful to customers,” Cohen explains.
With empowered female staffers on the shop floor, retailers will be better able to serve the preponderance of female shoppers in the store as well. “From the customer point of view, women are more likely to approach other women and believe in their recommendations,” she says. “People tend to see men as more sales-oriented, whereas with women, there is more empathy, understanding and feeling like there is some kind of relationship there.”
Unlocking Girl Power in Retail Through Intrinsic Motivations
In closing, Cohen believes retail management changes don’t have to cost anything, rather it simply takes enlightened store management to implement changes in how they manage their staff. While she doesn’t discount the value of incentivizing store-level employees with higher pay, commissions or cash bonuses, she sees the bigger opportunity for retailers to tap the power of their employees’ internal, intrinsic motivations.
“Retail employees want to be more helpful. They want to engage with customers and try new things. Giving them the power to do that can be so much more meaningful and make a huge difference in retailers’ performance,” Cohen concludes.