The shopping experience has changed a lot over the past 10 years. But the experience of applying for a retail job is pretty stuck in the past.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 there were nearly 5 million retail sales jobs in the U.S. While the retail industry is changing fast and moving from brick-and-mortar to online, retailers still employ a large demographic of Americans. And retailers that want to attract and retain those workers will need to stay innovative.

We asked Kimberly Carroll, principal at HR consulting firm IA, how she sees recruiting and hiring changing among her retail clients.

Goodbye to Paper Applications

“If you can’t hire people quickly, you’re in trouble,” she says. If you’re working with paper applications, like a lot of retailers still are, you slow down the hiring pipeline and deter young applicants. “Especially with seasonal hiring, you need to be able to get candidates in quickly and stay in contact with them.”

Many retailers hire thousands of seasonal employees around the holidays. When you have to manually process paper applications, you can’t quickly assess, hire and onboard candidates — and you likely can’t stay in touch with them about future openings. For all those reasons, paper applications are quickly on their way out as companies move to fully digital hiring processes.

A Better Application Experience

Even the retailers that offer online applications for hourly employees still have big opportunities to improve the user experience. “These days, it’s all about the candidate experience,” she says. Retailers can take a page from tech companies’ playbooks and spend more time understanding their users: the applicants.

“Create a more unified experience,” she says. “Don’t send applicants to different apps and websites to do E-Verify and background checks. Keep them on one online platform, with one look and feel.”

Same-Day Hiring

Carroll mapped out a typical retail hiring scenario. A candidate goes to the mall to apply for jobs. They fill out a paper application, they talk to the store manager — and then they leave the store without a clear answer about next steps, since the manager has to get the employee into the system and go through approvals to make a hire.

But other retailers, maybe at the same mall, support same-day hiring. The candidate can walk a few yards away from that first business and get a job on the spot. “As soon as an applicant leaves, you’ve lost them,” she says.

Amazon is a retailer that’s set a new standard for hiring speed. At Amazon, candidates can fill out an application online and schedule an interview, after which they can be hired on the spot and even start working that day.

When it comes to competing for retail talent, it’s all about speed, Carroll says.

Daily Pay

Not only are companies figuring out how to hire someone right away, Carroll says she’s talking to companies that are paying employees every day.

“Companies are looking at paying retail employees on a daily basis. They’re saying, ‘Can we support that? And if we can, why not do it?’” She says employees are drawn to the instant gratification of immediate pay for every day they work, instead of waiting for a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly check.

Retention Programs for Hourly Employees

For most brick-and-mortar retailers, the largest employee demographic is hourly workers. Retaining hourly workers is always a challenge, but there’s an opportunity to retain and promote those employees, offering them growth beyond entry-level positions.“If you keep losing those employees, you’re losing the skill set you might want in the future. So, the most successful retail organizations are building leaders from within, focusing on retaining more of their hourly workforce,” she says.

She suggests building a career path that starts at the entry-level, hourly position. “People put such a focus on higher education, but there’s nothing wrong with starting at an entry-level job and moving up,” she says. “Take an interest in those employees. Teach them skills, help them process, and turn the job into a career. Retailers need to extend their retention programs to hourly workers, not just salaried employees. ”

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