The retail industry is always evolving, and it seems that change is the common denominator that all businesses have to embrace these days. Spending patterns and, critically, trust in customers’ expectations for their buying experiences continue to change rapidly, as the retail sector adapts its business model on what seems like an almost daily basis.
Retailers need to ensure that their workforces are built with that same adaptive capacity, earmarked by agility and flexibility to survive and thrive. At the same time, these organizations need to balance their high service-level requirements on the shop floor while commanding a smoothly functioning logistics operation along the value-creation chain.
No retailer has taken these dictums to heart with greater success than H&M, one of the largest fashion retailers in the world. By evolving its initial Board implementation and growing it, the firm has transformed its workforce planning by embracing a resilient, integrated approach to retail planning across its 4,950 ‘bricks-and-mortar’ stores in 74 markets. Alia Strub, Head of Workforce Management at H&M, graciously allowed Board’s customers and prospects a ‘behind the curtains’ look at how workforce planning using advanced analytics from Board played out during a recent webinar. Here are some key takeaways from that insightful session.
First though, a call-out to the leadership of H&M’s Workforce Management department’s staff and employees, who implemented the sophisticated Board planning solution using the platform’s self-service capabilities. In taking ownership of the platform in this manner, rather than hand-off the task to consultants – Board’s or its partners – the retailer showed the industry how self-development of solutions is entirely possible.
The H&M relationship with Board began with a Business Process Management (BPM) system in 2012, using Board V8, with specific add-ons for H&M. A second system was added in 2014 called Function Planning, using out-of-the-box Board functionality, but in 2016 H&M made a move to build its first bespoke system based on Board. It was basically a reporting tool that could follow up on the latest Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that emerged from the first two systems. Sales data and receipt data could be found in 15 minutes, and with that, H&M created its first KPIs (for example, customer conversion rates).
By late 2018-2019, growth necessitated a review of what requirements for, and demands on, a Workforce Planning and Management System should be. The firm was at a crossroads and conducted a review of Board and other vendors. Requirements were grouped into four categories – Decisions with More, Decisions with Different, Decisions on Other, and Decisions on New. The result, in February 2019, was the launch of H&M’s latest system, called SYNAPS, which was an amalgamation of its previous systems and some new features. “This is when we really began building every tool, report, KPI, etc., in the Board platform. And we intend on expanding the system even more with Board,” noted Strub.
Decisions with More basically meant having a system to fuel decisions that would drive and accommodate more growth. For example, in 2012, H&M had 2,512 stores with four brands whereas today it boasts roughly 5,000 stores and nine brands. There are more KPIs as well, jumping from 12 in 2012 to 160 KPIs today. This required more data tracking and the ability to find it quickly. In 2012, the lowest level of data that Strub and her team looked at was from an end-of-day level, whereas today, they can have refreshed data every 15 minutes. H&M increased the tasks tracked and acted on across stores, necessitated by data levels that have increased 700 times in eight years.
Decisions would also need to be based on Different needs after identifying three main stakeholders (groups). All three groups had different expectations and assumptions about what they wanted from the data. One group wanted to optimize profitability. They remained interested in country and brand-level data, but profitability was foremost. The store-level management team wanted to assure the best possible customer experience from when one enters the store until one leaves it. And last but not least, the executive management team wanted to ensure that employees were kept busy with meaningful, productive work, based on the tasks that had to be done and broken down every 15 minutes. (To be clear, H&M doesn’t monitor employees’ activities every 15 minutes. It’s about keeping employees occupied with fulfilling yet profitable tasks that enhance the customer experience).
Employees needed to be equipped with new ways to make decisions and refrain from ‘guestimating,’ which is caused by having a lack of data points on which to make timely sound decisions. As the company and its data grew, Board provided H&M with more predictive capability and prescriptive decision-making. Strub adds:
“We all know that Controllers are fascinated by huge Excel sheets, but our store managers are not experts in, or enchanted with, Excel. We needed a system that showed the store manager where to look for information and also give them suggestions as to how to solve a particular problem or issue, which is what Board delivered.”
It boils down to that H&M defines Workforce Planning, as facilitated by Board, to mean having the right tasks done, at the right time and place, and by and for the right person to deliver the best customer experience possible.
H&M noted that Board helps accommodate the ebb-and-flow of user access during peak periods, allowing for the physical stores to open and closing, by having large numbers of users simultaneously access the system. Since H&M is operating 24-7, the technology is in use 24-7, there are always users in the system. Certainly, there are dips in usage, depending upon the time of day and size of markets. For example, in Europe – H&M’s biggest market – there are often nearly 500 users working concurrently on the system. Each day, an average of 450,000 procedures are run through the platform – which works out at five per second! However, it can be up to ten times higher during European business hours, but Board handles it expeditiously.
Alongside scalability, a system must be flexible. Over the past 18 months, public health and labor regulations on how businesses operated during a pandemic changed frequently. This placed more stress on proper workforce planning daily, all the while needing to maintain the positive customer experience that H&M is famous for. Since no one, to begin with, had the ability to change the in-store planning, H&M needed to build something quickly to give controllers the ability to plan hours better. Working with Board, this was accomplished in just over a week and involved remodeling the technical forecast technology and provided tools to the controllers. They were impressed with how agile the system was and how quickly they could adapt plans to meet changing regulations and standards with it.
H&M, using Board, can forecast long-range workforce planning using a combination of its corporate SYNAPPS tools and in-store scheduling system. Strub notes:
“We currently plan 13 weeks in advance – and can get the plan down to how many hours we will need on the tills (cashiers). We can identify in advance if we would be missing people. Although we consider a ‘13-week or 26-week ahead plan’ always a draft plan, the Board technology is flexible enough that, as the time approaches, we can make changes to ensure the plan is as accurate as possible.”
Customer behavior can be the X-factor in workforce planning since it is difficult to benchmark, especially across different regions. For example, credit card payments are slower in China than in other geographies. Or someone may have a question, which may slow down the queue. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it can enhance the customer experience and even lead to more sales. Board delivers is an idea of demand, allowing H&M managers to determine how many staff they will require for any given period and whether the store manager should open more tills than originally planned.
Based on the number of visits to its physical and online (‘omnichannel) stores, H&M’s key drivers for WFP included calculating the employee numbers needed to cover key store areas – e.g., the tills, stockrooms, fitting rooms, managerial tasks, and customer support – every 15 minutes, from 7am until 8pm, daily.
For H&M, there weren’t necessarily any surprises during the nine-year journey with Board – a journey that continues. Management is pleased that the examination of data is faster, more accurate, and generally more useful since Board allows H&M to drill down much further and model different scenarios (e.g., how many tills should be opened to optimize sales). Overall, “The Board system allows us to be much more accurate,” said Strub.
Want to learn more about H&M’s journey with Board? You can watch the entire webinar, on-demand, now and see just how the right Workforce Planning solution can drive people to operate at the right time and in the right place to enhance customer service and deliver the best customer experience possible.
In this exclusive virtual case study, Aila Strub, Head of Workforce Management, shares how H&M, one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, transformed workforce planning for its retail stores, using Board.