The upsides of retail analytics are often better known than the downsides. The upsides: Real-time solutions help retailers:

On-Call Shifts 04-14-2015-C.jpg
Some retail workers must routinely call, text or e-mail before their shifts to find out whether or not they’re actually going to work — and get paid.

Real-time analytics can even help brick-and-mortar stores optimize the number of workers on the sales floor via “on-call shifts.” Workers call, text or e-mail just before their shifts to find out whether or not they’re actually going to work.

The downside? When they don’t work, they don’t get paid.

“Relying on sophisticated software that can track the flow of customers, retailers have increasingly pushed to assign just enough employees to handle anticipated demand,” The New York Times stated Monday. The result? “Far less predictable and less stable work hours for much of their part-time work force.”

This may be good for the bottom line, but it might also be illegal. The attorney general for New York State sent letters last week to 13 national retailers asking about how — if at all — these companies engage in this practice.

“A growing number of employers, particularly in the retail industry, require … their employees to call in to work just a few hours in advance, or the night before, to determine whether the worker needs to appear for work that day or the next,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated in the letters. “For many workers, that is too little time to make arrangements for family needs, let alone to find an alternative source of income to compensate for the lost pay.”

Schneiderman’s letters seek clarification on whether or not retailers:

  • Schedule employees via automated systems
  • Punish workers who don’t follow on-call procedures
  • Calculate savings from on-call shifts — or study the practice’s impact on worker welfare

“Employers in New York are subject to a rule that says employees who report for a scheduled shift on any day have to be paid for at least four hours at the basic minimum hourly wage,” Reuters stated Monday. “The companies have until May 4 to send in their responses.”

Retail analytics can do wonderful things for businesses, but it’s important to remember that this technology can do serious harm to real people. So we must use it responsibly.

Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher

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