7 Ways to Meet Holiday Demand & Rota Staffing in Retail

17% of retails suffer from less staff during peak business hours and holidays. Help your retail business stay ahead with our holiday staffing guide and reduce your losses.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: March 14, 2023
  • 7 Minutes
holiday staffing and rota planning in retail

For many retailers, holiday planning helps to determine how successful the year will be. At the average business, holiday sales account for over 20% of total sales annually. This can be even higher for those shops that specialise in holiday shopping or provide niche festive products.

Being such an important part of the year for businesses of all sizes makes it a time of year that requires plenty of planning and foresight.

Things like inventory management, ordering, advertising and marketing, shop floor design, and social media all need to be optimized for the busy season. More important than these things, staffing needs to be on point to ensure things run smoothly and customer service levels are kept high. 

But with many staff members longing to take extra time away from work during the holiday season, the question is, how do you keep your retail business running with such an increase in customer demand and potentially less staff?

In this article, we will discuss this problem and look at the ways a business can avoid holiday headaches. Let’s get started.

What is Holiday Staffing in Retail?

When we talk about holiday staffing in the retail space, we are, of course, looking at the need to increase staffing levels over the Christmas and New Year season. Christmas (and the build up to it) is often the busiest time of the year for retailers. And with higher levels of customer demand comes pressure to ensure that staffing levels meet the needs of the business.

What Problems Arise from the Increase in Demand Over the Holidays?

There are many problems that the increase in demand over the holiday period can present to retail businesses. These include:

  • Increased demands on current staff. Staff during the holiday period are far busier and their services much more in demand. Addressing each customer’s needs becomes increasingly difficult and keeping up with little things like store tidiness can be difficult.
  • Increased requests for staff holidays. It’s only understandable that staff members will want to spend time away from work with their families over the festive season. This can lead to an increase in the number of requests for leave.

How Do Retail Spaces Combat This Increase in Demand?

There are many ways that a retail enterprise will adapt to meet the demands of the holiday season. These include:

  • Hiring more permanent staff. If a business is already looking a little threadbare in the staffing department, they may need to hire more permanent staff to cope with the holidays.
  • Hiring temporary or casual staff. This is perhaps the most common method of dealing with the increase in demand over the holidays. Temporary staff provide extra cover during busy times and can easily be let go once demand reduces.
  • Reducing staff leave over the holiday period. Some businesses prevent or reduce the number of holiday days their employees can take during the holiday period. This can free up more staff at busy times.
  • Offering overtime and bonuses. While overtime isn’t for everyone, many workers will jump at the chance to work extra hours over the holiday season. If you incentivise the overtime with bonuses or perks, you’ll find even more staff keen to work. This can allow you to increase staffing levels without hiring extra staff.

As a Business Owner, How Can I Ensure I Have Enough Staff to Cope with Holiday Demand?

There are many things a business can do to ensure they meet the demands of the holiday season. These include:

1. Analyse Previous Holiday Seasons

If your retail endeavour has been up and running for a while, use the performance of previous years to give yourself a realistic idea of how this one will go.

Consult with your teams and management. Get their opinions on how the holidays have affected your store in the past. Don’t neglect the thoughts and ideas of those on the shop floor. Getting input from those who spend most of their day immersed in your retail world is extremely valuable and something that too many retailers forget to do.

Look at previous performance and metrics to see where pinch points arose and where demand was highest. Data and analytic reporting are central to most retail businesses these days. In many companies, the humble POS system can generate hundreds of different custom reports that can help to scrutinise the holiday season, including:

  1. Level of foot traffic in the store (if brick and mortar) or number of visitors to your site (if web-based).
  2. Conversion rates for sales staff. If your sales staff are on fire at Christmas, you may be in line for a busy holiday season.
  3. Average transaction value. The more customers spend in your store, the more likely you are to require staff to help them buy.
  4. Number of sales over specific periods. This can be used to see where demand was higher and can be broken down into days/weeks/months or even day/night totals.

All of this information can inform a business of where staffing levels need to be higher. This can allow them to schedule accordingly.

2. Don’t Wait for Christmas to Come and Plan Ahead

Many retailers spend the entire year planning staffing levels for the holiday season. Others wait until the holiday season is upon them to decide. Which one do you think is the most successful? That’s right, those that plan ahead are generally better prepared for the season and face fewer issues with staffing. Look for areas of high demand and use this to work out how much staff you require. Figure out how short you are on this number, then add a few more and get hiring.

3. Schedule Early

While scheduling retail staff can sometimes be a massive headache, it’s important to make sure it is done correctly. At busy times like the holiday season, getting rotas set up early can be an easy way to avoid issues with staffing. Publish schedules weeks in advance and ask employees for their thoughts. This way, you can highlight problems early and deal with clashes before they become a bigger problem.

4. Take the Hiring of Seasonal Staff Seriously

Take the hiring of holiday staff seriously. Your retail staff will be the face of your business and will interact with every customer that comes through your doors. It’s easy for businesses to see seasonal staff simply as more bodies to throw at the problem of increased demand. But the right staff at the right time can be crucial to success.

Don’t neglect the interview process and start early. This way you can prevent the best staff members from being gobbled up by other more forward-thinking retailers.

5. Overstaff: Never Understaff

When looking at the number of staff hours you require each day, always add a few extra hours to the equation. The same goes when hiring seasonal staff. Never understaff. Always look at your requirements and factor in 10% more. It’s easy as a business when looking at costs to run your retail endeavour with a bare minimum of staff. But it’s also easy to miscalculate demand. Understaffing can lose vast amounts of revenue for your business and may negatively affect the customer experience. Hire more and plan for extra.

6. Train All Your Staff Correctly

This is an extension of the previous tip. Training retail staff is one of the most important steps in hiring. What might seem second nature or intuitive to you isn’t necessarily the case for everyone, especially new employees. But again, many businesses neglect the onboarding and training of holiday staff as they see them purely as a resource to throw at an increase in demand. Badly trained employees can kill the holiday spirit of any shopper and you may find customers fleeing to shops with more knowledgeable staff.

7. Accommodate As Many Preferences as Possible… But Be Firm on Your Requirements

It’s natural for staff members to want to spend more time with their families over the holiday season. On the other hand, retail stops for no one. It’s important to find a balance when looking at staff leave requests over busy times. Yes, it’s nice to let your employees enjoy the holiday away from work. But you also need to consider the staffing levels of your business to make sure it can meet demand.

Many of the most successful retail businesses strike a balance with staff by being firm on the days they must work (Black Friday, etc.) and allowing flexibility and extra time off on others (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, etc.). Our advice is to:

  1. Ask for special requests for leave to be given early by a fixed date.
  2. Use a uniform procedure for making requests. State how many days staff members can request and say which days everyone must work.

In Conclusion

It’s important that you get your retail holiday staffing ready for a successful holiday season. But don’t wait! Get your scheduling and staffing issues figured out early so you can worry about the millions of other things you have to do over the period.

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Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)