Canada’s retail industry went through significant upheaval during the pandemic. Workers faced reduced hours, minimal traffic, and lockdowns — adding stress to their working experience and often impacting their income. Companies were quick to pivot to online retail with considerable success: from 2020 to 2022, e-commerce sales increased by 67.9%.

The industry continued to adapt to consumers’ needs, upleveling online shopping experiences, including expanded curbside services and in-store pickup, even as COVID-19 restrictions eased. Canadians are increasingly interested in coming back to physical brick-and-mortar stores and, despite economic trends, say they plan to spend more this year than in previous years. 

But, while it’s clear major indicators point to a meaningful retail recovery, labour supply shortages paired with increasingly high turnover still loom. Demographic shifts, an aging population (especially as the 65 and older share continues to grow in Canada), and historically low unemployment rates mean workers can get choosy about their jobs and demand changes in their workplace – and, too often, they’re choosing not to pursue or continue retail careers. 

Retail HR and talent acquisition leaders must focus on shifting their recruitment and retention approach to stay competitive going forward. By adopting a more proactive go-to-market strategy, including building and maintaining a solid recruitment pipeline and investing in employee tenure, retail employers can create a work environment that attracts — and keeps — loyal employees. 

This article explores strategies for revisiting and, when necessary, reimagining your hiring and retention practices, ensuring your business can get and stay ahead. 

Responding to a changing retail workforce

Before diving into pipeline-building strategies, it’s important to understand the forces influencing today’s retail talent pool – and ensure that, when you engage potential hires, they’re ready to take action. 

During the pandemic, many retail workers took on extra responsibilities, covered shifts, worked with new hires making more than they were, and remained underpaid – 34% live within a lower income bracket with CAD $40,000 or less per year. 

What motivates the modern employee?
60% of retail job seekers are motivated by a better salary.37% cite better benefits as the primary reasons for change.

Source: Indeed, Understanding job seeking behaviour in UK, US, Canada, France & Germany, September 2022

Given the added responsibility and, in many cases, low wages, seven in 10 retail employees want to change jobs immediately, and many are looking to break into a new sector altogether. 

And yet, the desire to change jobs isn't about wages and benefits. Compared to past generations who sought linear career paths and prioritized staying with the same industry – or even company – until retirement, the current workforce is much more focused on flexibility and work-life balance. 

Dubbed the “W+E Workforce” to reflect the well-aligned goals of both workers and employers, these modern employees value agency over when and where they work, appreciation, and family time. In fact, three in 10 retail employees surveyed by Indeed said they were focused on joining a “quality employer.”

To attract and engage retail employees, employers must also focus on fostering all-around satisfaction with a positive, adaptable work culture for both new and current workers. By focusing on promoting your employee-centric culture and perks through branded company pages and job posts to build a proactive talent pipeline, qualified talent will come to you for open roles or to learn more about your company. 

And don’t forget about your current talent. While strong, employee-centric job posts can help build a robust talent pipeline, if new hires don’t live the environment and day-to-day experience as promised, they’re more likely to leave. Take meaningful steps to deliver what retail employees want right now, promote it through your company page, social channels, and website, and ensure workers experience those positive experiences from day one. 

Tap into existing relationships 

With your talent-facing messaging front and center, the next step is to focus on relationships. Cast a wide net, and don’t underestimate the power of relationships when it comes to building awareness and excitement among new recruits. 

Current employees are a good source for building your talent pipeline. They already understand the job, work culture, and responsibilities — they’re experts in what they do and can find other potential candidates who are a good fit. Communicate open jobs and other recruiting initiatives to your existing team, and consider offering bonuses or other incentives for hard-to-fill roles. 

Customers can also be a great pipeline-builder. Shoppers with positive interactions with your brand and employees may be your next great hire – or know someone who could be. Don’t be afraid to advertise hiring events and open jobs on your website, in-store, or via email to your mailing lists.

Seasonal or temporary workers can also be an ideal talent or referral pool. These hires may be open to year-round employment if it aligns with their other commitments – or if there’s some meaningful incentive or benefit that aligns with their current needs and goals. Keep in touch after their engagements end, consider what enticed them to sign on for short-term work, and look for ways to activate them in the long term. For example, a retiree may be willing to take on flexible shifts or fill in when teams are short-staffed. Likewise, a student may be open to working at their local store or supporting teams virtually. 

Above all, focus on transparency and ongoing communication. Check in with past applicants, referrals, and seasonal workers. Request updates or schedule occasional phone check-ins to see what’s changed and if they have any new, relevant experiences that could align with your hiring strategies. By staying engaged, you’ll have a pipeline of go-to candidates when roles open up. 

Keep Recruiting – Even When You Aren’t Hiring
Especially if you have frequently open roles, it’s important to keep recruiting even if you aren’t actively hiring for a specific position. Virtual and in-person recruitment programs – like Indeed Hiring Events – streamline the process by promoting your events, screening and scheduling candidates, and communicating before and after. 

By continuing to recruit while keeping applicants engaged (even if you don’t have the right role right now), you’ll maintain a strong talent pipeline now and in the future. 

Engaging underserved, emerging, and hidden talent

Retain underserved and often overlooked talent while building your pipeline. Some former members of the Canadian Armed Forces may be eager to start new career paths as they transition into civilian life. Meanwhile, immigrants represent almost a quarter of the Canadian population, many of whom are young, well-educated, and eager to grow with a company. Colleges, universities, and trade schools are brimming with students and recent graduates looking to start a career and gain experience. 

Set yourself apart by establishing rapport with community hubs like veteran services, immigrant organizations, and college job fairs and recruitment centers. Emphasize how you’ll support new hires in transition and the career development opportunities you offer.

Also, consider “hidden talent” – people who would be a boost to your organization but who are likely passed over by traditional recruitment practices. To maximize your talent pipeline, consider jobs you’re frequently hiring for and review the requirements in detail. Is it necessary for candidates to have a four-year university degree – or advanced college degree – if they have significant work experience? Do they need the level of pre-existing technical knowledge that your post lists, or can they be trained on the job? Is it necessary they’ve used your specific point-of-sale system?

If requirements aren’t mission-critical to succeeding in the role – or can be trained once hired – consider removing them to drive more applicants. 

Maximizing Retail Employee Retention 

Four in 10 employees say they’re unlikely to be working in retail in five years. When focusing on recruitment, current employees are your most valuable asset. To retain current workers, companies need to identify and deliver on what employees value:

  • To stay competitive, revisit employee compensation and benefits. More than half of retail employees say they’d be convinced to stay at their current position if offered paid vacation, and another 37% would stay if they could access partly subsidized private health insurance.
  • Stay flexible. Today’s workforce values agency, flexibility, and appreciation. Work with your employees’ schedules and familial responsibilities so they can effectively balance work and life and open up the option for remote and hybrid work schedules. Beyond compensation, your current and potential employees value thoughtful, quality retailers who demonstrate appreciation through gestures big and small.

Keep Building Your Recruitment Pipeline 

By building a dynamic talent pipeline, retail organizations can have a continuous supply of talented and interested candidates available to quickly fill vacancies when they arise. Having a strong pipeline also means much of the leg work gets done ahead of time, cutting down on lengthy recruitment and interview processes, disruptions to business, or the pressure to take on inexperienced workers just to fill open positions. 

As you’re building your pipeline, leverage sponsored jobs ads to get in front of the right candidates to keep adding and engaging talent. To stay competitive, highlight your brand’s values by including transparency expectations around the hiring process, compensation, and benefits. 

From there, coordinate your company’s job listings across platforms with branding hubs. Candidates want to know everything that will impact them, so give a full picture of your company and day-to-day employee experience by providing information on career pathing, diversity and inclusion, compensation, benefits, and your reputation among current and past hires.

These simple strategies, paired with referral programs, hiring events, and exploring hidden talent, will ensure you have the retail workers you need today and tomorrow.