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Are Store Managers Necessary In Retail’s Digital Age? (Kinda)


Mobile commerce, app-based marketing, interactive in-store technology… Are managers necessary in this new retail landscape? Aren’t they redundant, nowadays?


Yes and no to both.


Heads up: if you’re still relying on a traditional store manager figure, your brand will soon be left behind in the retail revolution.


After all, this industry is constantly evolving. It’s only natural that store managers do the same.

And yet too many retail brands are still focusing on an outdated role.


Retail store managers: relevant or redundant?


I’m not saying that retail store managers themselves are no longer necessary! It’s what you expect of them that must change.


The outdated store manager role in most stores (yours, too?)


Traditionally, a store manager was hired to oversee a branch while actually being a jack of all trades… and most brands still rely on this model! It actually makes me feel so frustrated to see this business model and see frontline teams really struggling.


For example, you might be expecting your managers to:

  • Run audits

  • Manage budgets

  • Meet certain KPIs and targets

  • Recruit, train, and supervise staff

  • Create schedules and rotas for them

  • Keep track of a store’s stock and shrinkage

  • Liaise with their area managers and head office

  • Take care of cash handling and maintain all financial records

In the meantime, the rest of the staff are left on their own on the shop floor most of the time.


They might go and grab the manager from the back office if they need help dealing with a complaint or using that new in-store technology you invested in.


Other than that, it was all very black and white, and it still is in most stores. But this outdated approach is no longer working!


If you’re still desperately holding onto it, let me be honest. You’re shooting yourself in the foot for three main reasons:


1. By maintaining such a strong divide between your manager and their front-of-house staff, you’re missing out on developing your store’s full potential. At a difficult time for retail, you’re making things even harder for your brand. How can your store managers identify existing problems and untapped opportunities if they’re not actually dealing with their staff and customers regularly?


2. If your store manager is always expected to delegate all tasks instead of leading by example, you’re fuelling discontent (and turnover!) amongst your staff. Remember that, in most cases, people don’t really quit jobs: they quit managers


3. Are they so busy with office work that they can’t actually be a part of their team? Then you’re putting too much pressure on your store managers themselves. No wonder they keep quitting! In fact, 46% of managers are planning to leave their current company within a year.


Will your store be next?


These problems can ALL be solved when you start thinking of your store managers in a different way.


“But Kayleigh: are managers still needed in my stores, then?”


What your ‘new’ store managers need to be and do


In retail’s digital age, your store managers are necessary and still relevant, but you must really start thinking of them as ‘leaders’, not ‘operators’.


Their priority shouldn’t be managing admin! It should be managing and inspiring their team. And, to do that, they can’t be hiding inside their ivory tower (= that out-of-sight back office).


Things are no longer black and white in retail. The new store manager must operate in the grey, navigating through people management, crisis management, and change management amongst other things. Not just schedules and stocks!


Store managers must be:

  • On the actual stage (aka the shop floor)

  • Coaching and spending time with their team

  • Leading by example and demonstrating storytelling

Remember: in retail’s digital age and revolution, people are no longer interested in buying products. If they make the effort to come to your physical store instead of just going online, they’re after an EXPERIENCE. That’s why managers are still needed!


If you want to survive and thrive in the digital age of retail, your store managers must make it worth it for your customers to want to visit⁠—and return to⁠—your branches.


So, you need someone with huge resilience and leadership skills, not an office ghost or a micro-manager!


Here’s how this shift will solve those initial problems:


1. When your managers spend most of their time on the shop floor, they’re actually aware of your store’s day-to-day reality. They can see what’s working and what isn’t, what can be developed and what solutions should be introduced, whether that new in-store technology is smoothening the buyer’s journey or making it more complicated, and so on


2. Your staff will no longer be left on their own to deal with all the things that a traditional store manager doesn’t want to do. They’ll finally have an inspirational mentor and leader working with them! Your managers will coach and motivate them to reach those KPIs together as a team, a team they themselves are an integral part of


3. By freeing them from those time-consuming admin tasks, you’re allowing your store managers to focus on what they wanted to be hired to do: be trusted as a leader, bring a team together, and be a part of this vibrant setting. You’re giving them a fulfilling job! This will want to make them stay and grow with your company instead of jumping ships every other year


So, are managers necessary? Yes, but they must go from ‘store operator’ to ‘store leader’!


Of course, your store manager will probably still need to be in the office, occasionally. What needs to change is how often and how long for.


Instead of spending most of their time in the back office, your store managers must be primarily on the shop floor, working directly with their team, and dealing with customers.


This will change depending on your specific situation, but I’d say: 80% on the shop floor and only 20% in the office. And I’ll go one step further: most of that office time should be used to plan future strategies rather than to focus on administration alone.


Now, I know what you’re thinking: “There’s NO WAY they could do that in my store!”


Maybe they can’t do it right now, but here’s the truth bomb:


if your store managers can’t be on the shopfloor 80% of the time, it’s your company’s responsibility to support them in ways that will make it happen.


Otherwise, you’ll keep on watching both your managers and staff quit regularly, and you’ll stay behind in retail’s digital age.


So, how can you free up time for your store managers to be with their team and customers?


For example, you could hire some administrators to deal with some of the tasks traditionally given to store managers.


Just because all that stuff still needs doing, it doesn’t mean it should be carried out entirely by one person! Not when that person has the potential of creating and maintaining an energetic, prospering environment in your store.


And one thing’s for sure: they can’t do all that from behind a closed office door.


Let’s future-proof your stores so that your brand can start thriving!


Basically, are managers necessary in retail? Yes, but you really need to change your focus: you hired a store manager, not a back-office manager!


Not sure how to achieve this game-changing and profitable transition in your own stores? Have you realised you’re not using your managers’ and staff’s full potential?


I’m here to help. With over twenty years of experience in retail, I’ll identify the problems that are preventing your stores from smashing those KPIs. We’ll work on them together, and I’ll help you create a plan to solve them so that you can start growing sustainably.


What most consulting firms achieve in twelve months, The International Retail Academy will accomplish in four!

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