Temporary Staffing 101: How to Prep Employees For the Holiday Shopping Rush

Temporary Staffing 101: How to Prep Employees For the Holiday Shopping Rush

Temporary staffing | Shopify Retail blogIt’s October, and that means that the 10 busiest shopping days of the year are just around the corner. For many shops, that means it’s time to prepare for a welcomed, but stressful, retail rush.

So, how do you know if you’re ready for the holiday retail season? And above all, is your staff ready?

If you’re feeling shorthanded, it may be wise to consider bringing on some seasonal help to handle the influx of foot traffic and sales.

Here are some tips to help you prep your current employees and bring on some extra temporary staff this holiday season.

Staffing Up for the Season

Tips for Finding Seasonal Employees

Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar shop that needs salespeople and check-out clerks or an online-only shop that needs people to pack and ship product, many stores find they need to hire seasonal holiday staff to keep up with increased, albeit temporary demand. Here are a few tips to ensure you have enough people to do the work:

  • Hire early. You’re going to need to train the staff before the shop has its busiest days and you don’t want the best temp staff to be hired by your competitors. You may also need them to help with the pre-holiday inventory check.
  • Temporarily switch some part-time staff to full time, if they’re agreeable.
  • Reach out to college students who have worked for you in the past who are home for the holidays and could use extra cash.
  • Reach out to temp staffing agencies.
  • Post flyers in the shop window or online that you’re looking for extra holiday help; online stores can even use remote help for some tasks, like answering product questions.
  • Ask friends and family if they can work for you for a few hours a week.
  • Anticipate that your regular staff will want to take holidays to spend time with friends and family, and that it’s very common to be sick during the holidays; over-staffing a little is a sound plan.

Be sure to check out your province/state and federal regulations regarding seasonal workers and abide by all laws.

No matter how you source your temporary staff, you want to ensure that they’re capable of handling the holiday rush with warm customer interactions and great customer service. And that's where solid training comes into play.

FURTHER READING: Need more help finding and hiring temporary employees? Read our guide on seasonal staffing.

Train Your Staff (Both Old and New)

If your existing staff is forgets the proper lock-up procedure at the end of the night, they neglect to mark an order as fulfilled, or if you have new staff altogether, now is the time to train or re-train them instead of when you’re right in the thick of the busy holiday season.

While training is certainly a time investment, shop owners can simplify some processes. Checklists are great — they’re ideal tools for simplification. Take some time to think through what you’d train staff on doing in your shop so they could start work tomorrow — what portions of those lessons could be turned into simple checklists they could follow instead?

FURTHER READING: The learning curve can be steep for new retail employees. That's why we've compiled this list of tools to help make training just a little easier.

Now jot down those ideas and actually create checkable lists they can use daily on the job. This reduces training time, task complexity, and minimizes errors. If you end up having high seasonal staff turnover, then at least someone else can be trained to fill in quickly.

It doesn’t matter if it’s digital checklist or a paper one, do what works for your staff best and lean on these handy tools when possible.

While there are some things that you’ll just need to explain and other things staff simply need to learn on the job, the more you can minimize training time for temporary staff, the better.

Set Your Staff Schedule

While scheduling retail staff can sometimes be a headache, there are some low-cost and even free apps that you can use to efficiently manage employee schedules. 

Read our guide and check out some of the solutions now, pick your favorite, and onboard your staff onto the app or software during their training session. This ensures they'll be comfortable with the tool prior to the busiest working days of the year.

You'll also be able to set the appropriate staff levels once you map out the high-traffic holidays (don't worry, we'll get to that next).

Getting Your Temporary Staff and Permanent Employees Prepped for the Holidays

Communicate Important Dates

Shoppertrak, busiest holiday shopping dates in 2014 | Shopify Retail blog

Shoppertrak's 10 busiest shopping days of 2014. Image Credit: ShopperTrak

To get ready for the holiday rush, the first step is to prep your store and staff for the appropriate dates. Everyone knows that Black Friday, the first Friday after Thanksgiving, is the busiest shopping day of the year, right? Well, maybe not.

While Black Friday marks a very important start of the holiday shopping season, a study from Foursquare in 2014 showed that the Saturday before Christmas actually beat Black Friday when it came to foot traffic.

The study demonstrated an increasing trend of last-minute retail shopping right before Christmas. This makes sense as online shopping continues to skyrocket in popularity with most consumers now doing most of their shopping online.

Online shopping is of key importance, but the point here is to remember that you can’t breathe easy after Black Friday. Retailers must stay on alert for a big rush right before Christmas, and for last-minute purchases that are too late to deliver on time. That means having enough staff members on hand not just for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also on the days leading up to Christmas.

This is also applicable for special events during the holidays. Black Friday shoppers are up and ready to spend early. They line up, waiting for stores to open to snap up deals first.

If you’re in an area with great foot traffic, it’s to your advantage to open up early, late, or on a day you normally wouldn’t be to seize the opportunity.

Is your town organizing a night time Santa Claus Parade? Stay open later to accommodate families who are already in the holiday spirit. Does your local Chamber of Commerce organize a holiday sales event? Stay open and take part — even if you run a coffee shop rather than a shop where people would buy gifts, shoppers will still want somewhere to take a break and buy a snack or warm drink.

Ensure your staff is aware of upcoming key dates, including the dates with higher foot traffic. Communicate expectations, sales goals, and any other relevant information for these dates well in advance. And consider mapping out the busy shopping dates and any special holiday events on a communal calendar that employees can regularly reference.

To avoid employee scheduling headaches, modify your staffing levels well ahead of these events. It might be wise to even request a couple of staff members work on call on the busiest days of the season, just to ensure you’re prepared for an influx in foot traffic and online orders.

Understand Key Dates for Your Business

The same 2014 study also shared some useful insights about what types of goods people were shopping for, and when.

Foursquare foot traffic by category, holiday shopping 2014 | Shopify Retail blog

Foot traffic by category, Foursquare 2014. Image Credit: Foursquare

This chart shows shoppers visiting electronic, clothing, and home improvement stores more on Black Friday, then shopping at toy, sporting goods, and department stores more on the weekend before Christmas.

This also makes sense — Black Friday is almost synonymous with big screen TV sales at big-box stores. But after that purchase is made, there’s still a lot left on the “nice list” to shop for, and that’s when shoppers make their way into other storefronts.

Be aware of when consumers are looking for the types of products you sell, and be ready for the rush based on your offerings — and of course, ensure your employees are scheduled accordingly.

Learn from the Past

If this isn’t your first year in operations, look back at your holiday time sales from a year ago. Your Shopify backend (both online and your Shopify POS) takes meticulous records for you. Look up which days were busiest for foot traffic and for sales for your particular storefront(s). Did those days coincide with special events, and are those events repeating again this year and on what days? What else do you remember from last year that you want to repeat or want to avoid?

JOIN NOW: Try Shopify POS to make selling your products at markets, pop-ups, or in store easier than ever.

Armed with this data, you can make an informed decision about staffing levels and employee schedules.

If you’re a newer business and don’t know the answers, ask your neighbors! For brick-and-mortar stores, shop owners adjacent to you can share some tips about how the seasons shaped up in previous years. If you’ve moved and don’t know the area, ask a fellow tenant about what the foot traffic is like during holiday season and what to anticipate.

Take notes and learn from this year to improve your process next year. You may find a certain product is more popular on some days, just as the Foursquare study showed. And this brings up a key consideration — inventory.

Prepare Your Inventory

The last thing you want is to have put in all the effort to drive foot traffic into your store and run out of the thing that everyone wants to buy. If you kept good records from previous years, now is the time to study them—what sold well? What didn’t?

Also look at product trends in the market — what items are popular and make sense for your store?

Now, this part is always painful, but do a complete and proper inventory of your store. This can be labor-intensive, dull work, but will help you get properly prepared. You’ll thank yourself later that you did it now.

If you have an online store and you drop-ship from manufacturers or other suppliers, you’re not off the hook; are they ready for the holiday rush? Call up your account manager at your key suppliers and ask about their holiday preparedness plan for increased volume, staffing and if they have special seasonal escalation procedures if things go sideways.

Moving Forward With Temporary Staffing and Seasonal Training

Holiday shopping can be trying for both consumers and store owners, but the key to survival is thorough preparation. Know your customers, key dates, hot products, your inventory, ensure your staff is ready, and you’ll be celebrating the holidays instead of stressing over them. Happy holidays in advance!

How’re you preparing your staff for the holiday shopping season? Share your insights in the comments below.

About the Author

Guinevere Orvis is a media strategist, former digital producer, and mother of two young kiddos. She holds an MBA from the Ted Rogers School of Management and is enamored with her adopted city of Toronto.

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