Store manager training an associate to improve employee retention in retail

5 Ways to Boost Employee Retention in Retail When You’re on a Budget

  • By Sarah Murphy

Employee retention in retail is notoriously tricky, with turnover rates for part-time hourly employees hovering between 70 and 80 percent over the past few years.

Sure, high pay, bonuses, and fancy benefits packages can incentivize employees to stay with a retailer longer, but they are not realistic or affordable for most employers—especially during a global pandemic.

So, how can you focus on encouraging employees and improving retail employee retention on a budget?

We’ve collected five ways you can do exactly that and boost your employees’ longevity without breaking the bank. 

Read on to find out how to improve employee retention in retail, even when you’re on a budget.

How to Boost Retail Employee Retention When You’re On a Budget


1. Create a Great Workplace Culture

Each company’s workplace culture is different. Discovering shared goals and passions will bring a team together and drive them forward, while listening and encouraging each other will allow everyone to feel supported.

There’s no one set of rules that will work for fostering a great culture at every workplace. But Forbes contributor (and corporate wellness expert) Alan Kohll suggests following a few guidelines, which are summarized below:

Emphasize employee wellness: Provide tools and resources to help your staff maintain their physical and mental health.

Build and improve upon existing culture: You don’t have to scrap everything; keep what’s working well and improve upon what isn’t. 

Give employees purpose and meaning: People want to care about where they work and be proud of their employers’ values.

Create clear and attainable goals: Working towards common goals solidifies everyone’s values and trust in each other and the company.

Encourage positivity: Challenges should be met with a can-do attitude, so that everyone feeds off each other and stays optimistic, even during a difficult time.

Build social relationships: When co-workers bond outside of work hours, it makes work more enjoyable, and enhances employees’ lives beyond their shifts. Encourage socially distanced lunches or virtual meet-ups to get to know one another.

Listen to employees: Hear them out and make demonstrable changes to show them that you are taking their feedback into account.

Empower “culture champions”: Bolster team members who exemplify the values and attitudes of the company, and let them lead others by example.

And the best part? Creating a great work culture by following these suggestions doesn’t have to cost money. They’re mindsets and actions that should be fostered and completed over time, either in-person or via retail communication software.


2. Offer Ongoing and On-the-Job Training

Many retail employees leave their positions citing poor training and a lack of opportunity for upward mobility. And even when there are opportunities to move into management or corporate positions, store associates often feel unprepared due to a lack of formal education. 

To combat this, provide thorough, detailed training from the start. 

In addition to showing new hires their duties and responsibilities, be upfront about what their trajectory could be within the company. 

Teach them skills that will be valuable and transferable to future promotion opportunities, and encourage them to apply for openings that may arise.

Training can extend beyond on-the-job instruction and mentoring to include online workshops and webinars, as well as frequent refresher courses for all employees.

Many video training sessions are widely available online for free or for a low cost that will go a long way to making your staff feel appreciated, knowledgeable, and confident in their role. But if you’ve got a creative design or strong communications team, it’s a good idea to put together your own training content that can be continually updated, reused, and shared internally, so information stays relevant to your employees and their roles within the company.


3. Give Praise and Encouragement To All Store Staff

Managers can often spend most of their time trying to correct the behaviour of underperforming employees. It makes sense, since you don’t want them making mistakes in front of customers on the sales floor. But it can also lead to resentment from good employees, who may feel ignored and unappreciated.

While the feedback will be different for each employee, managers should strive to split their time evenly between all store associates. If they spend five minutes showing a struggling employee how to do a particular task, they should spend five minutes following up with their other employees—whether it’s to give them praise for jobs well done, to field any questions they might have, or just to check-in with them on a friendly level.

These measures make all employees feel valued and heard, which will contribute to them having a positive experience at work and encourage them to remain with the company—and it won’t cost a single cent.


4. Be As Flexible As Possible

Flexibility can be difficult in retail, because the nature of the business means that some associates, cashiers, and managers will always have to be working evenings, weekends, and holidays—and working from home isn’t an option for frontline employees.

You’ll unlikely be able to produce a weekly schedule that accommodates absolutely everybody’s preferences 100%l the time. But trying to meet employee demands or requests goes a long way with showing staff you care.

Check-in with your employees and see why they’ve submitted the availability that they have. Reasons like a second job or caring for a family member should take priority over someone who wants weekends off to sleep in—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone is spread thin. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a weekend off once in a while, but work duties need to be shared amongst the whole team, not just a few unlucky individuals.

You can also have flexible policies when it comes to covering shifts if something comes up or someone is sick, though the employee switching shifts won’t necessarily be able to make back their hours.

Aside from scheduling, you can grant your team some flexibility with their daily tasks. If your employees are well-trained, they should be able to cycle between assignments like managing fitting rooms, stocking shelves, working cash, and cleaning up, so that shifts aren’t always monotonous.

Essentially, as long as your policies are clearly communicated and employees understand them, do what works best for your team.


5. Provide Perks to Improve Employee Retention

They don’t replace solid benefits packages for your employees, but perks can help your team feel appreciated by and connected to their employer. And while Silicon Valley may have pioneered extravagant in-office perks, there are much simpler gestures retailers can take to show associates they care.

An in-store discount is usually a great incentive that can be implemented without a major financial hit to a retailer. Plus, employees who purchase and use products will become a greater source of knowledge and information to customers.

It’s also important to encourage your employees to use their breaks to rest up and recharge, so making minor improvements to a staff room can help. Investing in some comfortable chairs, a fridge and microwave, and some room dividers for privacy can help your associates make the most of their break time. Additionally, keeping the room stocked with grab-and-go snacks like granola bars and juice boxes will give your team an extra boost for relatively cheap. (Again, COVID-19 has created some hurdles in this regard, but these are definitely goals all stores should strive towards.)

Finally, use your personal or professional connections to leverage what you can. Maybe you have a relative who has season tickets to local sports games or a friend who can score free concert or movie tickets. Prizes like these can be great rewards for employees who do an exceptional job, and in turn, make them feel like a valued part of the company. 

Of course, providing perks shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of managers who are at the store-level. Consider purchasing items in bulk as an organization to cut down on costs.


Ultimately, keeping your employees happy can seem like a daunting task, but there are budget-friendly strategies you can implement to strengthen your team and improve retention.


About the Author

Sarah Murphy is a content marketing specialist with a background in journalism. She lives in Hamilton, ON, where she is mom to a 13-year-old wiener dog named Penny. When not watching bad reality TV, she’s probably chasing squirrels out of her garden or baking cookies.