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This Study Says Giving Workers Steady Schedules Can Increase Retail Sales

Retail apocalypse
A pedestrian walks past a Gap store in Miami. Gap reports earnings on Aug. 15, 2015. Lynne Sladky/AP Photo


Besides the time I was called “karate kid” or the time I set my tie on fire, the worst part of working as a waiter at a sushi restaurant was the seemingly random shift assignments.

If you work in retail or the service industry you know the drill:

Manager: “Hello Alex what's happening. I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Saturdays now.”

Me: “Well, I sort of had weekend pl—”

Manager: “Ahh, I'm also going to need you to go ahead and come in on Sundays, too.”

OK, so most of that exchange was from the movie “Office Space,” but we’ve all been there. In the retail industry, we sort of expect our schedules will change from week-to-week and hours will vary across each day.

It’s a pain for workers — so much so that Oregon enacted a law mandating seven days’ notice for scheduling changes.

But a new study shows stable scheduling (unlike that preferred by Bill Lumbergh and my former boss at that Japanese restaurant) can actually increase sales — by a lot.

How Gap Stores Made 7% More Sales With Stable Scheduling

The prevailing wisdom in the retail industry is you can’t set regular shift schedules for your employees because demand in this sector is all over the place. Well, researchers from the University of Chicago set out to challenge that assumption.

They studied 28 Gap stores across Chicago and San Francisco in which 19 encouraged stable start-and-stop times for shifts and more consistent scheduling across the work week. The stores in the study group also added shift-swapping through an app that didn’t require management’s involvement, among other measures to stabilize hours.

The stores with stable schedules saw a 7% increase in sales on average, according to the study, “a dramatic increase in an industry in which companies often work hard to achieve increases of 1–2%.”

Those stores added $2.9 million in increased revenue over 35 weeks. And the cost to Gap? Just $31,200 on additional staffing during the study.

What does this all mean? Investments in stable scheduling and more staff to facilitate it could mean higher sales in the long run, according to the study.

Is more hiring the key to slowing down the retail apocalypse at brick-and-mortar stores? This study says it it just might be the answer.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. Yes, he set his tie on fire while serving a volcano roll. Don’t worry, a customer graciously put it out with a Diet Coke.

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