Retail experts weigh in on leveraging tech to optimise workforce management, streamline operations

Technological advancements, including AI and SaaS, must continuously adapt to meet dynamic industry demands and ensure seamless integration with existing systems.

The retail industry continues to thrive in a hybrid world, fuelled by both the online shopping boom and the unique experiences brought by brick-and-mortar stores. Consumers today expect a seamless journey between these channels, with convenience and personalisation taking centre stage.

With changing consumer behaviour also comes a shift in how businesses operate, highlighting the need for them to adapt and innovate constantly. Technology plays a crucial role in this transformation, allowing retailers to effectively navigate the challenges in the dynamic industry.

Josh Cunningham, Product Owner (Voice Network) at Woolworths Group, Robert Eichfeld, Director at Connors Group, and Darren Bretherton, Software Solutions Lead for Australia & New Zealand (ANZ) at Zebra Technologies have all had extensive experience in retail operations across their respective practices.

In this exclusive interview with Retail Asia, these industry experts offered their insights on the current trends and challenges within the retail sector, underscoring the power of SaaS-based tools and artificial intelligence (AI) insights to reshape the retail landscape.

Technology in workforce management

Workforce management in retail involves strategically staffing stores with the right number of employees who have the right skills at the right times to optimise customer service. However, this can be a challenge due to fluctuating customer demand.

Eichfeld recognises the role that technology can play in shaping retail workforce management in years to come, amidst ever-changing work rules and complexities in employee management. With this, he pointed out that AI-powered scheduling, mobile communication apps, and advanced analytics could streamline operations and improve employee engagement.

“This helps employees to cater to customer needs and complete their work on time without being rushed or feeling understaffed at key times,” he said.

For his part, Cunningham emphasised the benefits of SaaS solutions like voice networks in enhancing customer service and empowering employees. Citing SaaS solutions’ positive impact on Woolsworth Group, he stated how they were able to improve their communication model to become more flexible to team members.

Cunningham noted that this resulted in productivity benefits and device consolidation, reducing the number of devices that needed to be carried by team members and giving them the time to concentrate on the retail experience of end customers. He also shared Woolworths' strategy for optimising voice technology using the 5S framework (Service, Sustainability, Simplification, Savings, and Smarts). The approach focuses on measurable areas to improve, which results in a clearer approach to optimising services. “In turn, this improved our ability to provide suitable solutions during times like COVID-19, as we were able to identify areas of focus and respond quicker to business demand,” Cunningham said.

In addition to SaaS solutions, Bretherton discussed the rise of AI, particularly generative AI and its potential to revolutionise retail. He stressed that Zebra Technologies has embraced the trend, embedding AI and machine learning (ML) into its solutions to significantly enhance retail operations.

For Bretherton, AI’s capability to uplift and empower employees makes it a “real game-changer.” He stated that through AI, employees of any experience level can utilise the AI on their device to provide relevant information to any inquiring customer. “It levels the playing field, ensuring every interaction is informed and seamless, leading to a more enriching experience for employees and smoother outcomes for customers,” he added.

Eichfeld also spotlighted AI’s use in inventory management, specifically smart inventory management systems that help forecast demand and stock levels, reducing the stress and manual intervention needed from frontline employees.

Implementing advanced tech and user-centric design

It is undeniable that SaaS solutions or communication aids, amongst other advanced technologies, can deliver a wide range of benefits to retail companies. However, implementing them comes with challenges that retailers must overcome to experience the advantages they provide. Some of these challenges include initial investment costs, integration or replacement of existing systems, and ensuring data security. 

To overcome these challenges, Eichfeld offered retail organisations three major points to keep in mind. First, remember the reason behind implementing specific solutions and what problem the business was trying to solve. Second, simply installing a system of software is not enough. “Very few technologies can be successful without adaptation to the workforce and integrating them into the company’s way of operating,” he explained. Lastly, success involves the management of the implementation journey, including careful planning, honest measurement of progress, strategic partnerships, training & support, and employee buy-in.

He stressed that successful technology implementations must align with specific business needs, circumstances, financial frameworks, and employees. Given this, he believes that a “one size fits all” solution would likely fail to deliver optimal results.

Instead, the most important factors that make up a successful technology adaptation are a clear objective, cross-functional collaboration, engagement of frontline employees, honest measurement of all impacts of implementation, intensive change management, scaling or adjusting across pilots and trials, careful vendor selection, and dedicated resources, amongst others.

Having worked with major retailers in Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and Korea, Bretherton understands the need for user-centric design in retail technology. He recalled his experiences talking to retail executives and noted the emphasis placed on frontline sales as crucial for business success. They prioritise solutions that seamlessly integrate store operations and empower frontline employees to adopt them and deliver positive results.

“In the fast-paced world of retail, every solution must enhance, not hinder, frontline operations. It's a lesson I carry with me in every interaction and every proposal,” Bretherton emphasized.

Future-proofing retail

It is truly an exciting time for retail as the shopping experience continues to evolve into an immersive, attractive, and faster experience for shoppers. Looking to the future, Cunningham said, “I believe we need to continue to ensure our communication capabilities are ‘retail ready’ and adjust with the needs of our team members to support our retail ecosystem.”

He pointed out that the industry continues to be disrupted by software-defined solutions compared to traditional hardware solutions. With this, it is important to bear in mind that business value and customer experience are the cornerstones of retail operations.

For instance, Zebra Technologies’ Workcloud is a comprehensive suite of SaaS solutions designed to optimise retail operations. It offers workforce optimisation, enterprise collaboration, demand intelligence, and inventory optimisation solutions, all powered by AI and machine learning for continuous improvement.

Zebra Technologies has been partnering with Woolsworth Group and other retail giants through Workcloud, enhancing their operations on a daily basis.

To hear more success stories from Zebra Technologies and the company’s software solutions that push them to thrive and achieve excellence, be part of the exclusive webinar “Shaping the Modern Store: Navigating Challenges with Innovation in Retail” on 30 May 2024, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., SGT.

Gain valuable insights and connect with industry leaders shaping the future of shopping.

To learn more about the event, click here. Interested in joining the webinar? Secure your spot here. You may also contact the Retail Asia Events Team at +65 31581386 or [email protected] for more information.

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