Which Shift Pattern Should Your Retail Business Use?What's the best way to schedule your retail employees?

Between Brexit, COVID-19, and the upward trend in online shopping, retail has seen rapid changes over recent years.

Adapting to all these changes could mean changing how you manage your workforce.

Shift patterns are a way of scheduling employee work hours to best suit the needs of your business.

Which shift patterns are going to work best for you and your business going forward?

Key considerations when planning shift patterns

Customer requirements

First and foremost, your plans need to ensure customer requirements are met—and preferably exceeded.

Make a note of consumer behaviour—are there any patterns? Which are the busiest periods of the day? Busiest days of the week?  How do seasonal changes across the year impact shopping behaviour?

You’ll need to implement shift patterns which ensure you have enough staff to cover busier periods; then, during routinely quieter periods, it may be possible to save wage expenses by having fewer staff members on at any one time.


For most retailers, pay is one of their biggest outgoings.

Trimming back on the wage bill while maintaining a high standard of service is a key part of achieving the ideal schedule.

It might be worth evaluating the experience level of who needs to be on any given shift. More experienced employees tend to cost more, so make sure you aren’t doubling up unnecessarily.

Likewise, if you often have to call people in for extra unplanned shifts, there’s scope to find savings. Instead of paying expensive overtime bills, could you save money by utilising more part-time or temporary employees?

Competitor influence

Obviously, competitor behaviour can influence your workforce needs. You wouldn’t want to be unavailable while your competitor is open!  

With the recent shift towards a 24-hour society, retail stores have been inclined to stay open for longer, increasing the need for shifts to cover longer days.   

Online sales have also increased the need for round-the-clock assistance. To help with this, 80% of companies already use or plan to use chatbots.

Factor in how you are managing your online sales process and how this impacts your workforce requirements.

Employee safety and satisfaction

According to the Working Time Regulations 1998, every member of staff is entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of not less than 24 hours in each seven-day period.

Considerations around employee wellbeing are naturally going to have an impact on how you structure your shift patterns.

Asking employees to alternate between early or late shifts may be disruptive to their circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms are based around sleep/wake cycles and changes to these rhythms can cause sleep disorders. In turn, sleep disorders may lead to other chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.

You will need to plan for shift patterns that are lawful and fair to all your employees.

It may be that it suits some people to consistently work earlier, later or night shifts. Have conversations with employees—it may make your shift planning easier.

If there are no obvious volunteers for unsociable hours, then planning shifts which distribute those work hours fairly between everyone will become part of your shift planning.

General retail trends

External influences and trends can impact your staffing requirements.

Stay up-to-date on expected changes so you can be prepared.

Analysts have noted that e-commerce now accounts for more than one quarter of all retail sales in the UK. This number is expected to steadily increase in the years ahead, and would reach nearly one-third of all retail sales by 2024.

Scheduling your shift patterns

Armed with all the information you have about busy periods, budgets and employee availability, you can start to schedule your shift patterns.

If you have employees willing to do night shifts, this could be quite straight-forward. Where employee availability is more difficult, you may need to look at rotating shift patterns to ensure fairness.

You should always plan your shift rotas in advance, to give everyone fair warning to plan around them. You may have to allow for a little adjustment—a scheduling solution that allows employees to request changes can strike the perfect balance of control and flexibility.

Get it right and enjoy increased productivity

Which shift patterns work best for you will be influenced by your unique circumstances.

Taking the time to assess your needs, then effectively matching people to expected workload, will instantly put you in control though.

When retail workers have stable schedules, sales and productivity go up.

So it pays to make your shift schedules easy to read, routine, and fair.

Start scheduling your staff online.

No credit card required, nothing to download, no mailing lists and no surprises.