Retailers Discover an Investment

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Justin Fox of Bloomberg wryly notes that "Retailers Discover That Labor Isn't Just a Cost." This is an observation I have seen others make about employment in general, but I had not considered the full ramifications. Fox does, and for a type of job many might be inclined to think of as short-term:

One big set of targets are the scheduling systems that have allowed retailers to ever-more-closely match staffing to customer traffic, but in the process wrought havoc with many workers' lives by making their schedules so unpredictable. Jodi Kantor gave a face to this last year with a compelling New York Times account of the chaotic life of a single-mom Starbucks barista.

Kronos supplies Starbucks' scheduling software, and [Charles] DeWitt was quoted in the Times article describing its workings as "like magic." So it was a little surprising to see him on stage last week at O'Reilly Media's Next:Economy conference, nodding pleasantly and occasionally chiming in as a Starbucks barista, a labor activist and a journalist described the horrors inflicted by scheduling software. [format edits]
For contrast, Fox considers the "good jobs" strategy of Costco, but notes that this isn't any more universally applicable. This is buttressed by an economics study that showed that a retailer saw its best sales with an optimal mixture of full- and part-time help within a work force. This makes sense: Some workers want jobs for the long haul, and others don't. (And conversely, some jobs need more familiarity with a business than others.) It's good to see that fascination with technology-driven scheduling wizardry is being replaced by a search for a more ... multidimensional ... solution to labor investment.

-- CAV

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