The past 18 months have changed the face of retail globally. Shops suddenly closed due to the pandemic, and online shopping accelerated. Global supply chains were also disrupted, and distributed employees needed to be engaged and managed in ways never imagined before. There’s no doubt that retail businesses around the world had to make significant changes to how they operated, at speed.

With its mobile-first suite of finance, HR, and planning cloud applications, Workday has helped many retailers adapt to this changing world of retail and consumer behaviour. By providing a single view of real-time data across the entire global retail operations, brands including Aesop, Walmart, Harrods, PUMA, and Target in the US relied on Workday to make strategic and informed decisions.

Now, as lockdowns begin to ease, the landscape continues to evolve, and retailers need the right technology systems and tools in place to manage and engage employees, increase operational efficiency, and minimise compliance and security risks.

Employee engagement

Front-line employees are more critical than ever before, as they offer a unique opportunity to differentiate retail brands and services. Front-line workers impact customer satisfaction the most, and as such, retailers must hire and develop engaged employees who deliver superior customer service.

Workday has helped companies like Target in the US move from legacy, disparate systems to Workday’s modern HCM platform, that supports organisational change and provides visibility of the entire workforce. Target has been able to streamline many HR operational processes with Workday and created a more intuitive user experience for its employees, introducing personalised learning, training, and development, all accessible via a mobile interface. As it continues its Workday journey, Target is also engaging and training its employees to elevate the customer experience, which is crucial in today’s highly competitive retail landscape.

Operational efficiency

As retailers also adjust to tighter margins, they need to find ways to become more efficient. This requires a complete view of the entire retail operation to enable informed decision-making about where to invest or cut costs. Workday provides this by integrating third-party data sources such as POS, inventory, merchandising, and supply chain systems into the Workday platform, delivering a single source of data that allows businesses to plan, execute, and analyse data across the company.

For example, Netflix is one Workday customer which has seen the benefits of insights provided by a single data source. It combined 11 different finance, HR, and payroll systems into Workday and now has accurate and timely operational, financial, and employee data in one place for real-time visibility, transparency, and decision making.

Compliance and security

Changing regulations and privacy laws also mean compliance and security are critical issues for retailers. Systems must provide comprehensive data protection for employees and customers and have systems in place to protect against security threats and data breaches. By selecting Workday to help meet these evolving demands, retailers can foster enhanced consumer trust with a partner that thoroughly protects your data and safeguards your privacy.

Agile and ready for change

Recent events have also proven that cloud-based technology platforms have never been more valuable to handle ongoing change. Providing unrivalled reliability, elasticity, and the ability to adapt, Cloud has been critical to keeping retail businesses operating throughout the pandemic. Those businesses which had invested in modern finance and HR systems were well-positioned to handle the pressure. They were agile enough to keep adapting to the ever-changing retail and consumer environment.

The opposite was true for those businesses using out-of-date and un-agile systems. More than 200 organisations in Australia and New Zealand confirmed this trend in the Workday Digital Agility Index, conducted with IDC. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of organisations admitted they struggled to realign organisation structures, track people skillsets for special taskforces during COVID-19, or make changes to their financial plans, budgets, and forecasts.

In Australia, beauty retailer MECCA implemented Workday to digitise the employee experience and significantly reduce HR administration time. When COVID hit, with a strong cloud-based HCM foundation already in place, MECCA was able to manage team member changes through Workday in an automated fashion. The business was rapidly able to re-deploy more than 120 store-based team members to its warehouse, where they could fulfill the increase in online orders, which surged due to store closures.

The pandemic has shown us that retail businesses with the right cloud-based technology backbone can quickly adapt and make strategic, informed decisions to not only survive but thrive in this changing world. Indeed with the right enterprise management cloud in place, retailers can actually shift to embracing change and driving innovation rather than simply trying to keep up.

Stephen Jack is managing director and vice president for Workday Australia and New Zealand.