By Jeff Fortney
The Strawhecker Group
I've noticed an increase in the number of signs on or adjacent to merchants' doors lately. And I'm not talking about marketing signage. Sure, everyone has an open and hours sign, along with any disclosures required by law, but I now see other signs that were either nonexistent or rare before the pandemic. One is the mask sign indicating masks are either required or encouraged. Another common sign displays the curbside pickup/online ordering options. And the newest sign I see consistently is the help wanted notice.
I had seen help wanted signs earlier but assumed they were due to the fact that many workers found other jobs during the lockdown and business closures. A few current openings are likely due to this reason, but it seems many people quit their existing employment and decided to not seek other employment. This was due to three basic reasons:
It seems clear the extension of unemployment benefits was not one of the reasons people did not return to the workforce after resigning from their jobs. For example,Texas has the highest number of people resigning their positions and not going to other employment. This group is not eligible for unemployment, as Texas does not allow payment of unemployment benefits to those who voluntarily resign.
If you had asked six months ago what this has to do with our professions, I would have said nothing. I figured that most open jobs would be filled relatively quickly. Instead, the potential workforce has shrunken, requiring small to midsize merchants to search harder for workers and likely pay higher salaries when they find qualified candidates.
Now, the need for assistance with payment acceptance and other business solutions isn't going away just because merchants can’t find someone to hire, and this creates opportunity for our industry. They need alternatives to help them address their needs and pains, and we have them.
You might be thinking I have lost my marbles, that we are helping merchants collect payments and giving them the ability to sell more products. We aren’t workforce replacements. We pride ourselves on our ability to help them increase sales, which increases demand for our services.
I spoke to a number of small to midsize merchants and asked them what they needed in an employee and what they were hiring for. The most common answer wasn’t to man a cash register. They needed people to assist consumers, help stock shelves and fill online orders. The employees they had were working the cash registers and checking people out. They just could not find time for these other needs.
As a result, the shelves looked empty, even when there were items on the premises that could have been shelved. Sure, some empty shelves may have been impacted by supply line issues, but many told me it was just a problem of not having time to restock shelves.
There are two areas where we can assist merchants and potentially help them reposition their current employees. The first is to automate their inventory; the second is to speed up the checkout process. We can provide solutions for both.
For example, in the retail world, several existing POS systems will create barcode labeling for products and manage inventory. Merchants would need to take the time to scan and price their inventory initially, but once done, checkout could be accomplished with a scanner. As an ancillary benefit, changing pricing on items would become a little easier; it would require only printing new barcode labels.
I know, you are thinking that it takes employees to accomplish these tasks. But, the input of items can be done as speedily as possible during off hours, or slow times. And since the POS system speeds up checkout time and helps shorten the time it takes to manage inventory, it frees up staff for other necessary activities, reducing the need to hire more employees, who are hard to find right now.
Restaurants may not have as great a need to manage inventory, but they do have a great need to speed up the checkout process. Their current checkout process and dealing with tips takes time. For example, when you dine at a nice restaurant, they bring you the bill, you provide your card, and they leave to run the transaction. They return with the card and your receipt so that you can add the tip. Once you complete the receipt, the wait staff picks up the receipt. Before closing, someone must do the tip adjustment on this (and all other) tickets before they batch out.
A few restaurants have upgraded their software to add a QR code to the initial receipt. Using their phone, diners can open the QR code and pay their transaction while adding the tip. Thus, they eliminate the time it takes to recover the transaction and enter the tip. Some merchants have that option in their current POS; options are available for others to add this function without disrupting their current process by using a third-party service.
Some restaurants instead offer full pay-a-the-table functionality. Some of these use handheld units carried by staff; others use standalone devices on each table. Pay-at-the-table solutions are gaining traction, as more people find the ease of paying in this manner reduces the checkout time and speeds the entire process.
With these options, the wait staff is freed to manage more tables, with no reduction in the quality of service or support they currently provide. Servers won’t see an increase in work, but they will see an increase in income, as their tip revenue will increase due to the number of tables they will be able to support.
One ancillary benefit can be found when tip amounts consistently exceed a 20 percent threshold. By adding the tip before authorization there is no chance of the transaction downgrading solely for that tip adjustment.
Many retailers and restaurants will tell you that the only reason they haven’t upgraded their system was the cost of the equipment and the fee for the software. The simple answer to this objection is that if they free up time for their current staff they won’t need to hire as many people. This will address their immediate pain (which is a result of today’s new normal) while offsetting the perceived cost by the reduced workforce expense. And as their businesses grow, merchants may then need to hire again, and by then there may even be applicants.
Jeff Fortney, a senior associate at The Strawhecker Group, is a long-time payments industry executive and mentor. He is focused on sharing his industry knowledge and experience with others to help them grow their business. He can be reached at 214-458-1379.
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