Addressing Employee Retention In Retail

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an unprecedented shift happening in the labor market. 

Retail got hit especially hard with hundreds of thousands quitting their jobs over the last few years. The November 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that retail employment was 176,000 lower in November 2021 than pre-pandemic February 2020. Wages have been rising, especially in the retail and hospitality industries to be competitive, but yet many retailers are still struggling to hire and retain their staff.

While things have started to become more normal and more people are going back to work, the question that has been on the minds of so many business owners is how to retain their employees that they had before this job crisis as well as how to keep their new hires happy. 

What Caused So Many People To Quit? 

A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that “low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year.” 

There has also been a growing desire, specifically among younger generations, to find more meaning in their work and to be unsatisfied with jobs that aren’t as lucrative. In many cases, retail has a reputation for being entry level and less inspiring. 

As the Pew survey indicated, low pay, lack of advancement opportunities and feeling disrespected were top reasons why people quit their jobs. Let’s look at those three things and see what we can do differently.

Low Pay

Now, this one’s a bit of a tricky subject. At the end of the day, everyone has a budget and payroll is always a huge part of that. You can only do what you can do. Most small businesses can’t afford to pay a minimum of $15/hour to their cashiers. However, it is important to try to retain your top talent. If your staff members have shown they are hard working, dependable, and trustworthy, do your best to honor that with pay increases as you can. 

Many businesses offered attendance bonuses during the craziness of the pandemic to thank their employees for showing up. Others issued extra paid time off as a reward. 

While you may not be able to offer raises to everyone, be willing to be creative and offer different benefits to your employees that would be meaningful to them. If you’re a smaller company, you may not be mandated to provide health insurance, but you could offer a stipend to help offset the cost of healthcare. 

There are plenty of ways that businesses can get creative with bonus structures and benefits that may not exactly equal an hourly pay increase, but will offer some assistance to their employees that may address this issue. 

Advancement Opportunities

Advancement opportunities will look different in a small business as opposed to a giant corporation. Once you hit manager level, there’s not a whole lot beyond that. But, what you can offer to your employees is increased opportunities to try new things, add new responsibilities, be creative, and give them room to experience leadership in their roles. 

Many employees that seek to advance in their company want to know that they are trusted and valued by their leaders. Give them opportunities to fail and learn along the way. Offer opportunities for them to be mentored in areas that are of interest. Do you have an employee that is hungry for knowledge? Offer to pay for a certification that would benefit your business (and be tax deductible) and show the employee that you value their contributions to the team. 

Yes, you run the risk of them leaving if you pay for them to get a certification on your dime, but you also run the risk of them staying with you for the long haul and being an incredible asset to your team. Depending on the person, this may be a very worthwhile gamble. 

Lack of Respect

The Pew survey indicated that this feeling of disrespect came from both employers and customers. You can’t control how your customers behave, but you can work hard to create a respectful work environment. This always starts from the top. Set the example for how you want your employees to treat each other by how you treat them. 

Another issue noted by some that left the retail space was crazy hours, lack of care for their personal lives, and lack of flexibility. While there are always going to be times when the team needs to step up to cover for someone that missed a shift, try to be understanding and be extra appreciative of the team members that step up in a pinch. Again, if leaders in the organization are recognizing teamwork and honoring that, it has a ripple effect on the entire team. 

Hire Smarter and Invest In Your Team

Retailers need to hire smart and make sure they are getting the right fit for their store and the culture they have. Onboarding new employees is very expensive, so be careful to hire the right people. 

After you’ve hired someone, make sure you have them in the right seat on the bus. You may be hiring for a sales floor associate, but the person you just hired may have a knack for organization, so try to find tasks that person can thrive doing. Your other sales associate on the same shift may be a master at basket lifts, so you would want to free them up from stocking shelves if you can.

Take the time to really get to know your team members and figure out how you can best utilize their skills to not only provide them more fulfillment in their jobs, but make your business run smoothly and efficiently. 


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SENPA is a non-profit organization with a core focus on strengthening the success of independent natural retailers and aligned manufacturers, while nourishing their human connection with consumers. We are a leading voice, supporter and advocate for the natural-products industry, rooted in the experience of enhanced health and the power of personal relationships.

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