Retail employee holding a reward for working hard during COVID-19

Cost-Effective Incentive Ideas for Retail Staff During COVID-19

Times are tough. Here’s how to motivate and engage frontline employees without adding extra to your budget.

  • By Sarah Murphy

COVID-19 has given the world newfound (and well-deserved) appreciation and respect for frontline retail workers, and employers should be following suit by rewarding store associates with meaningful incentives for all their hard work and sacrifices. 

Stock shortages, health risks, and hostile customers have made store employees’ jobs more difficult than ever—making employee retention even trickier for the majority of retailers.

Retail and sales incentives are a great way to engage your staff, make them feel appreciated, and help them develop loyalty to their employer. 

That’s why we’ve pulled together a list of affordable incentives that retailers can offer their frontline workers during COVID-19.

Meaningful and Budget-Friendly Incentive Ideas and Rewards for Retail Staff During COVID-19


1. Can’t Afford a Raise? Give Them Some Praise! 

Giving your frontline employees praise is free, easy to do, and can make a huge impact. 

At a minimum, they should be thanked upon starting and finishing a shift—because anyone who shows up for work during a global pandemic has had to take a risk and make sacrifices.

And when tasks are completed well, give specific feedback about exactly what was done well (“That stack of jeans was folded so neatly!”) and how it is contributing to creating a positive workplace and great customer experience (“Now it’s easier for fellow associates to find sizes, and the product looks more appealing to customers!”). 

It’s also important to encourage peer-to-peer recognition, be it in meetings, on a board in the break room, or a digital communication hub where associates can recognize each other’s accomplishments for all to see.


2. Give Frontline Staff a Break

In many cases, the pandemic has added more customers (and more panic-buying), stricter in-store measures for associates to enforce, and more levels of stress for everyone involved. 

To keep employees alert, enthusiastic, and engaged, ensure they are given sufficient breaks.

Try giving them shorter, more frequent breaks throughout a morning or evening shift, or a longer break in the middle of their full-day shift, so they don’t get burnt out.

Obviously, paid break time would be ideal, but for those retailers on a tight budget, giving the option of unpaid rest could be beneficial, allowing them time to recuperate and recharge before returning to their shift.


3. Offer Free Health and Well-Being Resources

Keep a list of resources—like links to breathing exercises, instructional yoga videos, and meditation apps—to remind and encourage employees to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally.

If you have space (and it’s COVID safe), consider creating an inexpensive relaxation zone in the break room with yoga mats and cushions for employees to use throughout the day, or a dedicated space to take a breather away from customers and other staff. (Just don’t forget to have someone sanitize and disinfect the space frequently.)


4. Provide Access to Online Training and Skills Building

Engaged employees want to improve at their job and look forward to opportunities for promotion, so learning and development are key to preparing them for a future with the company—whether it’s as a department or store manager, or something even more senior at HQ.

Online training courses are a safe and easy way to keep store associates learning on the job, and improving on their everyday skills.

In addition to free online resources like YouTube, training can be cost-effective by bringing in senior-level employees from within the organization to lead sessions and incorporating video messages with instructions and advice from corporate.


5. Give Gift Cards and Celebrate Big Achievements

Finally, sometimes you’ll want to show your staff appreciation by giving them a tangible reward.

The prizes don’t need to be big. Something as simple as a coffee or paid-for lunch, or gift card—either for the store they work in or somewhere else—are small rewards that will encourage employees to continue delivering excellent customer experiences.

To ensure that morale stays high across the whole team, it’s also nice to mark events like birthdays and work anniversaries, or team achievements with celebrations that everyone can partake in.


Final Thoughts on Meaningful and Budget-Friendly Incentive Ideas for Retail Staff During COVID-19

Gestures don’t need to be grand and expensive to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work and sacrifices made by frontline retail workers during the pandemic. 

Talk to your team members to see what is most meaningful to them, and remember: we’re all in this together.

To learn how we help retailers streamline communication and engage employees more effectively, click here to set up a time to chat.


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.