Can Apple and others make flex-work models work for store associates?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Jul 06, 2021

Apple plans to test a hybrid work model for retail employees that would sometimes allow them to work from home to handle online selling needs.

Sources told Bloomberg that the “Retail Flex” pilot will debut this fall involving a small number of staff that will allow employees to work at their store locations some weeks and remotely other weeks. At-home employees will handle online sales, customer service and tech support.

The move comes amid expectations that many consumers will continue to prefer online shopping over in-person shopping as the digital shift has accelerated during the pandemic.

“Workers will move between their store and remote roles depending on demand in stores versus online shopping during a particular period,” according to the Bloomberg article.

The pilot is expected to ramp up from September to December when a number of new iPhones and other gadgets are set to launch. Participants are being asked to participate in the program for at least six months. They’ll receive the same salary but be reimbursed for some internet expenses and receive $100 toward office equipment.

The move comes amid a big push for more flexible work schedules from corporate employees as work-from-home has been embraced across industries during the pandemic. Corporations continue to debate the benefits of work/life balance for staff and calculate the cost savings of working remotely against the risks of losing the collaboration, mentoring and camaraderie that many believe stem from traditional office environments.

Apple’s announcement in early June that corporate employees would need to return to the office for three days a week starting in September was met with wide disapproval by its employee base.

Retail store staff may likewise be seeking more flexible work options amid a tight labor market. Many retailers over the last year have been adding more flexibility to work schedules, including providing more say over hours, as well as providing more predictable work schedules while also raising wages, adding special bonuses and beefing up benefits. Some associates are being provided with added flexibility to explore and advance into other roles.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does Apple’s flexible-work model make sense and could it work for many other retail channels? Can more flexibility be built into retail’s workforce that may also support omnichannel labor needs?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Good for Apple for leading this charge -- there's so much upside for all involved."
"Most retailers won’t have this capability, even as sales move from store to online, but it’s a great start."
"Apple leads the way once again defining new ways to serve customers in a retail setting. If well-trained frontline staff serve customers in-store, why not online?"

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19 Comments on "Can Apple and others make flex-work models work for store associates?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

It’s not surprising to see Apple leading the charge. Great idea. Flexibility is part of the value employers can give employees and I believe this will become more valuable over time. Increasingly, benefits like work flexibility will be key to hiring and retaining the best employees. I absolutely agree that the retail workforce can be effective in a flex work model, but it will take experimentation and trial.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Well, retail is becoming more multichannel. Customers are becoming increasingly multichannel. So it kind of makes sense for companies to become more multichannel in the way they deploy their staff. On top of this, with a very tight labor market it makes perfect sense for retailers to become more flexible in their staffing arrangements.

John Orr
BrainTrust

Absolutely it does and it will for others. We have always done our best to optimize labor spend to ensure we put the right coverage where the demand was. It is the same exercise today, we are simply catching up to our own words and talk. The labor curves for online vs. in-store are there, we can measure them, and therefore should be using WFM solutions to optimize and schedule accordingly. It is not that complicated once the channel of customers is systematically provided to the associates. Harmonized revenue models are simply maturing in a pragmatic way.

Matthew Brogie
BrainTrust
2 months 17 days ago

I like the initiative Apple is taking. They’re addressing the needs and desires of an ever increasingly demanding work force in a way that gives the company flexibility as well. Being able to scale up and down around online and support demand is incredibly valuable, and giving retail employees exposure to other forms of customer interaction makes them more valuable as well. I’m looking forward to watching how the retail workforce evolves along with omnichannel and appreciate Apple’s innovation.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

This is a great step forward towards ensuring a unified customer experience across all channels.

April Sabral
Guest

I feel like this is a very smart move on their part. Why? Because the store associates are very well trained and should be utilized with their skill sets to support the online business.

I think also they have the demand and sales to support a flex labor model. Do other retailers have this? I’m not sure on that but I’m looking forward to this pilot and how it can reshape a store associate’s career path.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
Laura Davis-Taylor
Founder, Branded Ground
2 months 17 days ago

I could not love this more. Retail has been hemmed into the proverbial box for far too long and there’s no reason that services that might require an appointment, a drive and a physical interaction shouldn’t become available virtually. Good for Apple for leading this charge — there’s so much upside for all involved.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Same, Laura! Love, love, love this.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Apple’s being smart (which is not unusual). Best to get ahead of it. There’s a lot of choices out there now in terms of jobs, so thinking like a job seeker is paramount. I saw a relevant Bezos quote yesterday, “if you are leaning away from the future, the future is going to win every time.” That is especially applicable in this case.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Echoing the sentiments of my colleagues in this discussion. There are two factors at play here: First, anything an employer can do to improve the experience of the employee today is a plus for both the employer and the store associate. Second, if Apple is doing this one can be sure that they will figure out how to do it right in short order and lead the industry.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I give Apple very high marks on their approach to running retail stores. And now they are proving that “retail store” is a bigger, more expansive idea than the brick-and-mortar setup in the mall. If the store and the customer are both omnichannel, then it makes total sense that the workforce is also multichannel. The tech support aspect of Apple retail make this a no-brainer. There are lots of businesses where physical retail is — physical. But where it can be hybrid, and soon to be the new normal, go for it!

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

This is an innovative move by Apple, and it makes a lot of sense. Most retailers won’t have this capability, even as sales move from store to online, but it’s a great start.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Yup! Also works well in the luxury/high touch sectors. There is a story about an associate selling thousands of dollars of high end clothes to a client via Zoom during lockdown. Why not?

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Count me among the chorus of supporters of this move by Apple. Integrating store employees more deeply into the omnichannel journey and simultaneously offering them more flexible work options is a win-win-win: Associates win, customers win, Apple wins.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Not only does this plan make sense for Apple, but also for any other retailer who sells technology where customers ask many questions before making a purchase. As the world has moved to expecting a hybrid experience (in-store and online), this is a move that Apple and others can’t afford to miss out on.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

It may work for Apple, but it will not work for most retailers. The floor needs to be covered, the shelves need to be stocked, and the checkout lines need to be manned.
If the store is opened you need the people on the floor to take care of the customer.
The winning retailers will be offering more flexible hours, which does not mean the staff is flexible to work their hours. They will also be offering better ways to manage shifts through automation.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Apple leads the way once again defining new ways to serve customers in a retail setting. If well-trained frontline staff serve customers in-store, why not online? Shouldn’t this result in better customer service than a remote call center with staff who have only received minimal training based on scripts versus the in-depth support and sales training the in-store staff received? This should also serve as an incentive for hiring new employees for Apple Stores in a much more competitive labor market. I expect many retailers will be watching this to see how they can learn from it and implement something similar.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 17 days ago

You do not need a US-based store employee to do what they are saying the store employees will be doing when outside the store….

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

Not only is this a great move from a brand values perspective, this is also a smart way to address the issue of retail employment struggling to come back. This is a brilliant way to make everybody happy and to show how committed to staff needs Apple is.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Good for Apple for leading this charge -- there's so much upside for all involved."
"Most retailers won’t have this capability, even as sales move from store to online, but it’s a great start."
"Apple leads the way once again defining new ways to serve customers in a retail setting. If well-trained frontline staff serve customers in-store, why not online?"

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