Mobility in the Retail Sector: Current Trends & Future Outlook 09.2.2022 | Jennifer Connell

The pandemic did more than feed our collective insatiable appetite for online shopping. It created fundamental shifts in the retail industry. And even as we turn the corner into a new normal, many of these new consumer habits have stuck. Companies embracing these buying behaviors for the foreseeable future create space for new talent with fresh ideas and very specific skill sets. So, where does mobility fit in?

Before COVID, we were seeing global mobility as tactical, with many GM managers grappling to seize a seat at the executive table…a trend that was definitely not exclusive to the retail sector. The pandemic was a game-changer, dramatically shifting the world of work and redirecting the focus to the retention and recruitment of talent. GM Managers, notably those within the retail industry, finally have the floor to talk strategy with senior leadership and business managers to help achieve these objectives.

As workforce mobility aligns more closely with talent management, companies are keen to learn how their peers and competitors are navigating this era of change and getting the right people where they are needed. Weichert’s David Fennell, Vice President of Business Development and I recently hosted a roundtable with a group of 10 retail industry leaders managing global and domestic programs. Here are some of the top insights, successes, and best practices gleaned from our discussion around retail’s new normal.

Remote Working & Mobility Strategies

We opened up the floor with a question to gauge the culture of each participating organization in relation to mobility. Many participants reported that corporate staff are currently operating under hybrid and remote models, and that mobility is seen favorably across their employee base as an attractive vessel for career growth and development. This is encouraging leadership to look at the mobility function from a strategic lens.

Weichert’s research within this space indicates that as employers continue to compete for talent, and talent looks for employers with values that align with their own, large retailers have found success in investing in managerial relationships and upward mobility.
Navigating Supply Chain Challenges

Supply chain challenges have touched nearly every industry, and several external factors – from inflation to spiking home and rental prices – have driven major supply chain shortages in mobility.  The retail sector, like many others, has been challenged to find creative solutions to talent mobility. Many of these companies that are still catching up from the impacts of supply chain shortages are investing time into evaluating how to continuously bring new talent in the door, particularly ones with critical skills, including technology.

Program Cost Containment Strategies

Naturally, off the heels of rising costs and labor and talent shortages, we re-directed the focus to how companies within the retail space are successfully respecting their budgets amid the growing costs of relocation.

It’s a precarious balance to reduce or cap benefits while maintaining a supportive, positive employee experience and a magnetic relocation program. Attendees agreed that communication – and storytelling – are critical at this juncture, to ensure that stakeholders are aware of average costs as they change and are abreast of key location issues that may jeopardize cost containment (for example, the unavailability of housing and childcare in Vancouver).

A common emerging theme is the use of tiered policies for easier, cost-effective management and distribution of benefits. Some define tiers based on homeowners and renters, with others organized by job level, with a dedicated (more generous) tier for C-Suite talent. Core-flex approaches are also gaining traction, allowing employers to offer mobile talent the flexibility they want while maintaining a set of core covered benefits.

The top three mobility cost reduction initiatives reported by attendees, in this order:

  • Reducing the overall number of moves
  • Reducing benefits
  • Re-evaluating the supply chain.
Attracting Talent Through Mobility

Attendees reported little reluctance to mobility among employees – a great sign! This is largely due to a clear set of expectations in this industry regarding the expectation for mobility. Stores rely on managers to rotate among locations to gain experience or fill gaps. And assignments are necessary for support staff to expand into new locations.

Given the current talent climate, any approach must be employee-needs-focused. This doesn’t mean offering them everything they want – because they want a lot – but listening to what your mobile talent truly needs to be successful and engaged. And this will be different for every company and every location. Some organizations should prioritize robust tax and immigration support to help their employees navigate political challenges and delays…others may consider increasing destination support for employees moving to high-cost locations where housing markets are tighter than they’ve been in decades.

Keen to discover more sector-specific mobility insights to help you develop and maintain a competitive relocation program? Talk to us!

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Written by Jennifer Connell


Jennifer Connell, SCRP, SGMS-T, is Vice President of Weichert’s Advisory Services group. She has over 25 years of experience in the workforce mobility and employee benefits industries and is a recipient of Worldwide ERC’s Distinguished Service Award. She has spoken on workforce mobility topics at industry conferences throughout North America and written for mobility- and HR-themed blogs and magazines worldwide.

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