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Retail businesses rely on the engagement and motivation of their employees to provide excellent customer service, maintain a positive work environment, and ultimately drive sales.

However, it can be challenging to keep employees motivated and engaged in a fast-paced, high-stress retail environment.

From giving employee recognition and fostering a culture of open communication to using a form builder for sharing employee experience surveys, we round up some actionable tips from various leading brands that you can rely on to create an engaging work environment that

promotes employee happiness.

5 Effective ways to improve employee engagement in retail sector

Discover five practical and proven strategies from some of the best companies to boost employee engagement in the retail sector. From improving communication and recognition to providing growth opportunities and work-life balance, learn how to create a more motivated and productive workforce in your retail business.

1. Arby’s: Caring about employee happiness

Arby’s is a fast-food restaurant chain founded in 1964. During the early 2010s, Arby’s restaurant empire was drowning. Employees were quitting, customers weren’t coming back, and the business vitals weren’t looking good.

Paul Brown was hired by Roark Capital in 2013 as the CEO of the company despite having no experience in the restaurant business. Turns out, this is the exact reason why Brown was able to save Arby’s after all.

Since he didn’t have all the answers, he turned to the people who might — the employees. He rounded up the oldest employees and asked them one question: what would you do if you were me?

This question got a lot of answers which helped Brown and his team discover two pressing issues:

  • The employees weren’t trained properly. This meant that they lacked the right information that would help them serve their customers effectively.
  • Arby’s didn’t communicate with them enough which made the employees feel undervalued.

Both the reasons above prevented Arby’s customers from getting the value they have been looking for while affecting the work-life balance of the employees. Consequently, employee engagement decreased which affected the brand’s overall performance.

Arby’s launched a Brand Champ program to help employees understand Arby’s goals and get an opportunity to understand theirs.

This annual employee training program equips employees with the right skills and knowledge to deliver value to their customers. Furthermore, it also helps Arby’s to understand the personal and professional goals of its employees.

As a result, the employees and Arby’s could understand each other which led to improved work-life balance.

Since its inception in 2013, nearly 400,000 team members have been trained through this program which kept the company profitably growing. Brown, with help from his employees, changed the tides which led to a consistent increase in Arby’s revenues since 2016.

The key lesson here for retail business owners here is to care about their most valuable asset — employees. It involves helping them understand your business goals, investing in them through dedicated training programs, taking time out of your day to recognize their individual goals, and actively listening to feedback.

Gathering feedback from your employees can be challenging when you are short on time and human resources. Paul Brown himself traveled to 50+ locations to talk with his employees! Although such interactions are valuable, not every retailer can do that.

A better alternative here is to create detailed questionnaires using a form builder and send them over to your employees via email or text message. This will take minutes for you to set up and will get feedback from all your employees in one place.

With the relevant data at hand, you can take the right steps to make your employees feel valued and promote a healthy work-life balance in the short and long run.

2. Nordstrom: Mythical employee handbook

Customer service is a crucial aspect of retail business. Great customer service keeps customers returning with their friends and bad ones drive them away. Retail businesses, therefore, go far and wide to ensure that their in-store employees are treating their customers properly.

It is not uncommon for retailers to round up their new hires and explain to them the whats, whys, and hows of interacting with customers. Although this works for the major part, this strategy is flawed due to the following reasons:

  • It makes the employee training process longer.
  • The majority of this phase of employee training consists of generic good advice that employees might not even need.
  • The interactions between employees and customers sound inauthentic as the former almost sticks to a script.

The above challenges often lead to poor customer service — the opposite of the intended effect.

Nordstrom, a luxury fashion retail chain that is known for great customer service, might have the answer.

Surprisingly, whenever a new employee joins the team, they don’t receive a list of strict guidelines to interact with customers effectively. Instead, they are handed a 5” x 8” gray card that contains only one rule of Nordstrom for their employees:


The short employee handbook helps Nordstrom cut training costs and also empowers their employees to drive customer interactions as per their best judgment. This also removes the micromanaging culture which results in an overall healthy work culture.

To sweeten the deal, Nordstrom gives employees a discount of 20% or 33% on a flat rate based on their designation. During festive seasons, the discount often increases by 10-20%, based on what the store managers decide.

Although not every retail business can reduce its employee handbook to one simple rule, you can definitely shorten it significantly by putting your faith in your employees to do their job.

Such a step will set simple but clear expectations for your employees and will make your internal procedures consistent thereby improving employee engagement and motivation.

3. Wegmans: Investing in employees

We have mentioned two things above that retail businesses should consider: employees are an asset and you should invest in them.

Wegmans, an American supermarket chain, recognized the importance of investing in employees. The store managers at Wegmans adopted a bias for action and have successfully fostered a nurturing workplace.

On top of that, Wegmans consistently invests over $50 million annually in employee training and development regardless of whether the future career goals of their employees coincide with Wegman’s business objectives.

According to the 2021 Global Employee Engagement Study by Great Place To Work, 90% of Wegmans employees agree that it is a great place to work, compared to the national average of 57%.

An official from Wegmans explained in an interview how important customer satisfaction and retention is for them. To achieve that goal, it was important to put the employees first. They added, “in order to be a great place to shop, we must first be a great place to work.”

Although it will be challenging for most retailers to invest in their employees on such a level, they can certainly adopt the following practices from Wegmans:

  • Set up procedures and protocols that employees are comfortable with: A great way to put it into practice is to request your employees form small groups and actively participate in creating these procedures.
  • Ensure that these procedures are consistent for everyone: Treating employees in the same way while respecting their positions in the company is crucial for nurturing team spirit. This will improve collaboration within the organization which increases employee engagement.
  • Share the wins with the team: Whether it is higher sales, business expansion, or someone’s work anniversary, use these moments as opportunities to bring your employees together.
  • Listen to employees' grievances and act: Employees coming forward with a complaint or a suggestion is great as it takes the guesswork out of where you need to invest. Besides, it shows that your team members are willing to help you to make the workplace better.

The above methods of investing in employees bring them closer to your brand by increasing their involvement in your store’s success which increases employee engagement and motivation.

4. Recreational Equipment Inc.: More paid leaves

Working in retail is challenging. Dealing with multiple customers, working for long hours with small breaks, and ensuring store policies are followed correctly are some of the many challenges that retail employees face on a daily basis.

If there is one thing that retail employees want it is more paid leaves.

Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) started by giving two more leaves to its employees than the industry standard to help them “go out and get inspired”. On holidays such as Thanksgiving and Black Friday when retail employees are busy at work, REI prefers to reward its retail employees with paid time off.

Recently, REI announced that they will also give paid leave to their employees to vote during the Presidential elections.

This allows employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance and inspires them to respect their employer and their colleagues. By putting the employees’ happiness first, REI ranked #4 in the Fortune Best Workplaces in Retail 2020.

More paid leaves will increase employee happiness and morale, directly affecting their work performance. A well-rested and rejuvenated employee is more likely to perform better than a tired employee under the same conditions.

Consequently, your employees will remain more engaged at work and will be motivated to deliver the best experiences to your customers.

Apart from adopting REI’s strategy to give more paid leaves, you can help your employees get more rest by:

  • Hiring more employees to decrease the workload of existing ones.
  • Introducing half-days during certain times of the year.
  • Increasing the duration of breaks your employees take at work.

5. Starbucks: Paying with more than money

So far we have shared examples that illustrate how retailers have improved their workplace better by caring about their happiness, providing them with the right training, respecting them, and giving them more time off.

But there is a way that works better than all — perks.

Just like customer expectations, employee expectations in retail have evolved. Retailers now have to provide more than a steady paycheck and paid time off to ensure employee satisfaction.

Starbucks has understood this and went above and beyond to provide its employees with the following perks:

  • Goodies and discounts: Each shift you can get up to four free drinks and a food item from the menu; every week you can take home a free bag of coffee, Tazo Tea, VIA Ready Brew packets, and a box of 12 K-Cups; and a 30% discount on anything whenever you shop from any Starbucks.

  • Free tuition to Arizona State University: Part-time and full-time employees working at standalone Starbucks locations can get a 100% scholarship while pursuing an online bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University. You can choose from over 140 programs.

  • Maternity leave: Mothers working at Starbucks stores who clock in over 20 hours/week are eligible to receive six weeks of paid time off. If they are working in Starbucks’ corporate offices, the paid time off is extended to 12 weeks.

  • Savings plan for the future: You can start throwing money in Starbucks’ Future Roast 401(k) retirement plan after working for 90 days or more. The best benefit is Starbucks will match the first 5% of your contribution for each pay period!

  • Pocket-friendly health benefits: Part-time and full-time employees who log in more than 20 hours/week and have been working for more than 90 days can choose their preferred medical health plan which also covers their dental and vision requirements.


When employees are appreciated through tangible means over a mere pat on the back, their commitment to the job, engagement with the organization, and motivation at work improve.

Although not all retailers can match Starbucks in terms of additional perks, they can surely increase their offerings for their employees. For instance, you can consider offering employee discounts, freebies, maternity leaves, and secure retirement plans.

Summing up

Engaged and motivated employees in the retail sector are crucial because they:

  1. Provide better customer service which increases revenue.
  2. Are less likely to leave their jobs which saves money.
  3. Share crucial feedback that helps you improve your business model.
  4. Reflect a better brand image to the public.

Top retail brands that are known for treating their employees well such as Arby’s, Nordstrom, Wegmans, REI, and Starbucks invest heavily in improving employee engagement and motivation by creating dedicated training programs, offering paid time off, providing employee discounts, and more.

Ultimately, a satisfied workforce is a key factor in the long-term success of any retail business.

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