Retail Scheduling is creating a weekly schedule, aka “Rota”, that assigns shifts to all employees working at a brick and mortar retail store. It is a task that is performed by the store manager at small stores, or a senior supervisor at big-box retail stores.
Retail scheduling is a very critical task in retail operations. Not only because it is essential for operating the store properly, but also because it affects the lives of all the employees working at the store significantly. That’s why it should be handled with care.
In this article we will share the best practices that we have learned after many years of creating retail schedules, as well as the considerations to be taken into account.
Retail Scheduling Best Practices
The ultimate goal is to create a balanced schedule that is aligned with the business needs, and at the same time accommodates retail staff needs as much as possible.
Having said that, let’s dive into retail scheduling best practices.
1. Align with Traffic & Sales
The schedule should be created to provide maximum cover on the floor when it is really needed. This means, more retail employees during high traffic and peak sales hours and days, and less employees when the traffic is low.
Keep track of this data for a while and establish a pattern, and then start aligning your scheduling with your sales and traffic trends.
2. Minimize Overtime
A good retail schedule is one that utilizes the available manpower perfectly, so that there would be no need for overtime.
While creating your schedule and accommodating staff requests, make sure you are not giving unnecessary overtime, that will not be of any additional benefit to the business.
Having said that, we know it is inevitable to require overtime at some occasions or under certain circumstance (example sudden absence of one employee). Which emphasizes the need for proper scheduling that saves the overtime for when it is really needed.
Which takes us to the next point..
3. Utilize Temporary Staff When Needed
Overtime or temp staff can be very important during peak times.
In fact, from our experience, trying to save some money by not scheduling extra staff during these hours can actually lose the business money in the form of lost sales. This lost revenue could be much more than what it saves from not utilizing the extra staff.
So don’t be afraid to give your team the extra help when they need it the most.
If you have made sure to minimize overtime during normal times, you will have more than enough budget to use during peak times.
4. Fair Scheduling
One of the most difficult tasks for a manager while creating the retail schedule is to make sure everyone is getting a fair treatment. This is especially true when you are managing a large team.
In fact, we can tell you from now, that it is impossible to give everyone a fair schedule in the same week. That’s why we recommend in the next section (see: Tips) to maintain one workbook with all weeks in one file. This will allow you to see previous weeks before setting this week’s schedule and help you be more fair.
5. Accomodate Requests
Employees have their own needs and it would be perfect to create a schedule that accommodates the needs of everyone.
However; this is impossible in real life.
Try your best to accommodate your employees’s request every time you create a new schedule. The best way to do this is to announce in advance that this is the deadline to submit requests and allow everyone to submit theirs.
The key to applying this, though, is to be clear in advance that requests will be taken into considerations but there is no guarantee to accommodate all of them. Then make sure, again, to be fair in fulfilling those requests, so that you don’t end up accommodating the requests for some people all the time and ignoring others all the time.
Requests should be treated as an exception and not the norm.
6. Publish in Advance
Try to finalize and publish the schedule well in advance, so that your employees can plan their lives around it. And once published, please stick to it!
The last thing any of us wants is to have their schedule changed the night before.
Which takes us to the next point…
7. Strict Change Rules
Once published, the schedule should not be changed unless there is a real need for that. By a need we mean an emergency or unexpected event, and not “because we realized there is a delivery tomorrow”.
The right way to create a schedule in the first place is to make sure your deliveries and regular events are already taken into account. That’s proper planning.
When your schedules are stable and there are no sudden changes all the time, this will improve the quality of life of your team and will in return show in their performance. In fact, a research by HBR has found stable scheduling to increase sales and productivity.
8. Analyze & Adjust
After you have mastered the perfect schedule for your business, make sure to revisit the data after a while. Shifts in trends happen all the time, and you want to be inline with it with your manpower planning.
Tips for Creating a Retail Scheduling Template
Here we will give some tips for creating a retail scheduling template like the example below, that will make it easier for you to plan fairly and more efficiently.
Single Workbook with Tabs for Weeks
Instead of creating a new file every week, or replacing the roster with the new one and deleting the old one in the process, we recommend having one excel workbook with a new tab added every week. So in total 52 tabs by the end of the year.
This is because we want you to be able to revisit previous weeks, before creating the current week.
As mentioned before, it is impossible to give everyone fair schedule in the same week. So by keeping track of all previous weeks in the same file, you will be able to see who got preferable shift last week and who didn’t. Then reverse it for the current week.
This will also be useful while solving employee disputes related to rota (and there will be many), so you can always pull out the old schedules to see if the complain is valid and if not, show the employee the trend.
Standard Shift Hours
We recommend having standard shift hours, and optimally the minimum amount needed of shifts.
Typically a retail store would need 3 shifts:
- Morning Shift
- Between Shift
- Night (Late) Shift
The reason for standardizing the shifts is to make it easier for planning and communication with staff, and also so your team can car pool together or with other retail employees from adjacent stores.
When you create weird shift timings, you make everyone’s lives more difficult for no apparent reason.
After you have created your shifts, give every shift a color code. This will make it easier for you while looking at the overall schedule to see if everyone is getting fair amount of morning shifts vs. late shifts or between shifts in one week.
It will also show you the coverage of the store for all shift timings in one day, so you can shift the hours towards high peak time if needed.
If you are managing a store with different departments, we recommend splitting the rota down by department. This will allow you to ensure there is enough coverage for each department in every shift.
Retail Scheduling Issues
Here we will cover some issue or considerations while creating a retail schedule.
Retail Scheduling Laws & Regulations
Depending on where you operate, there could be certain rules related to retail scheduling. Make sure you familiarize yourself with them and adjust your scheduling accordingly.
Particularly we are talking about predictive scheduling laws that require you to inform employees well in advance about their schedule.
Shift Trade ins or Shift Swapping
Shift trade-ins or swapping is done when retail employees agree with one another to swap their scheduled shifts.
On paper this sounds like a good option for employees, that will not result in any harm for the business, since the coverage will be the same.
From our long experience, however, we have found that in many cases this leads to problems if it is done without manager’s knowledge or approval and if it is done on a regular basis without limits.
Here we will give you some real-life scenarios:
Susan was assigned a morning shift and Sarah a late shift
Sarah has something important to attend to on that day, so she goes to Susan and arranges with her to swap their shifts for that day.
On that day for the morning shift, both, Susan and Sarah don’t show up, because Susan was coming late to cover for Sarah but Sarah decided that she doesn’t need the swap anymore and that she will go for her regular shift.
Because there is nothing documented about the swap, no one can blame Sarah as she came on time and now Susan is to blame although she was just trying to be helpful.
Susan and Sarah work at the same store and Sarah wants to have all her shifts morning, while Susan wants to come late shifts every day.
It sounds like a match made in heaven and so they go ahead and swap shifts every week, so that both of them would be working their desired schedule
1. Employees at other stores start complaining why Sarah has morning shifts all the time and they can’t.
2. The time came for Susan and Sarah to work in different stores, and both of them can’t adapt to the new schedules of those stores because they have been working the same shifts for years and built their lives around that.
These are all real-life situations that actually happened over and over again when managers allowed for shift swapping without any limitations.
The result was that we have put strict rules that make sure everyone in the stores gets their fair amount of morning and late shifts -even if there is someone willing to swap with them- and that swaps or trade-ins have to be pre-approved.
On-Calls & Split Shifts
Other inhuman practices that are often used in retail are on-calls and split shifts.
On-calls require the employee to be ready all the time to be called into the store with very short notice, or have their shift cancelled anytime, also with very short notice.
Split shifts require the employee to work half the shift in the morning, then go home and come back to continue the shift at the end of the day.
We have found both practices to have negative effects on the employees’ quality of life and have chosen to abolish them at any businesses we came to manage.
In fact, because we have done that, our staff tended to have much higher productivity than the other brands at the same company that were using these practices. We also had the lowest shrinkage across the company, which I find not surprising.
Retail Scheduling Software
Typically retail employees are scheduled using an excel sheet, that is then printed and posted in the back office of the store, and often also shared on Whatsapp.
Today; there are several retail scheduling software options that allow you to do the same and connect the whole process to your payroll service.
Retailer & Founder of Retail Dogma, Inc.
Rasha has 14 years of retail & ecommerce experience. She has started an ecommerce business in 2008, and later worked at H&M, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and Landmark Group. She’s lived in 4 different countries, speaks 3 different languages and holds a BSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences and an MBA in Strategic Management & Marketing.