Holiday Staffing Preparedness


As retailers focus their attention on the holiday shopping season, the subject of holiday readiness — especially with regard to technology — takes top billing in practically every retail category.


In order to be tech-ready by Black Friday, retailers need to first understand that customers expect fast, accurate and secure access to price information and purchases. And to meet those expectations, the time is now for retailers to buy, integrate and upgrade technologies to stay competitive. But will retail IT teams be able to keep up?


Experts tell us that they can’t, that internal tech teams simply don’t have the skill sets or the time to familiarize themselves with ever-changing technologies and systems — and retailers’ margins are too tight to allow them to hire bigger IT teams to deal with a 90-day tech push for the holidays.


Chain Store Age spoke with Peter Cannone, CEO of Lexington, Mass.-based OnForce, about the struggles that retailers face with deploying, updating and maintaining technology during the holiday rush. He offered the following tips to help retailers quickly and effectively get their stores holiday-ready. 


Start in October. Aiming to be tech-ready for the ‘holidays’? Consider Halloween the first one. If you plan on upgrading your technology for the holidays, but haven’t started yet, you should probably get to work after you read this. Conventional wisdom is that Black Friday marks the start of the holiday rush, but in reality, many businesses will see their first significant boost right before the small witches and goblins start showing up at residential doors asking for candy. Halloween generated almost $6 billion for retailers in 2010 alone. With that kind of traffic, you’ll want your technology infrastructure ready to handle the customer rush, and to accurately capture sales revenue and inventory volumes — without any downtime. 


Pay as you go. Preparing for the holiday rush typically encompasses a 90-day time frame — so why pay for 365? Investing in a staff technician who specializes in one specific area of technology may fulfill your immediate need, but ultimately it’s incredibly expensive, and it leaves that technician gathering dust for nine months out of the year. Bring in a temporary, certified technician, who has a proven performance record and can do a quality job, with minimal up-front or ongoing investment. 


Use the ‘hybrid’ approach to staffing. Most tech upgrades you’ll want to do before the holidays will be much more than your typical in-house technicians can take on, but it also doesn’t make sense to take on more staff than you need outside of the holiday prep time frame. That’s why finding technicians who can work based on your schedule can save the day (and the fiscal quarter). Complement your full-time tech staff with contractors. This gives you a scalable option that allows you to take on resources only when you need them, helping you to maximize efficiencies and eliminate idle time. 


Match skills to jobs. You probably rely on your top, in-house tech to get things done the right way at a reasonable price, but a one-size-fits-all approach won’t always work. It costs too much and takes your most skilled in-house techs out of the game. To get the most value, leverage a broader pool of talent through a network of skilled independent contractors. This gives you the flexibility to find the right talent at the right price for every project. Understand what kind of job experience, skill sets and certifications you’ll need when choosing your contractors, and you’ll save your business a lot of time (and money) over the course of the project. 


Use local techs. Local techs can be on-site fast when you start your projects and are close by to help with any last-minute tweaks or fixes. No plane tickets required. Additionally, with short travel times and little spent on fuel, their costs will stay lower, meaning your costs will stay lower. 


Play it safe. Make sure your techs are insured. With a lot of new technologies to implement on a short deadline and small budget, the last thing you may be thinking about is an on-site accident — until it happens. Using contractors for your holiday upgrades can cut costs dramatically, but to lose all the savings you’ve gained, all it takes is one uninsured technician, one accident and a lot of time in a legal battle. So make sure your techs are fully insured, and document how their insurance works — before an accident, not after.


kfield@chainstoreage.com