Get ready for a new low in customer experience, brought to you by Ann Taylor and their new Ann Taylor Labor Allocation System, or ATLAS.
Reported in today’s Wall Street Journal “Retailers Reprogram Workers in Efficiency Push,” the article states “because the system awards more-productive salespeople with favorable hours, it gives employees an incentive to persuade shoppers to buy things.”
Among the article’s more chilling quotes, consider this one from Scott Knaul, Ann Taylor’s Director of Store Operations: “Giving the system a nickname, Atlas, was important because it gave personality to the system, so (employees) hate the system and not us.” Enamored with the insight ATLAS has helped Ann Taylor glean, Mr. Knaul said “If we know that it takes five minutes to work with a client when they walk in the store, we won’t go over five minutes.” (Mr. Knaul, if you’re reading this, please share which business thought leaders have inspired you lately.)
One Ann Taylor saleswoman shared her concerns. “The new system, Ms. Houser says, doesn’t reward her style of selling. It no longer pays to spend time developing relationships with shoppers who might not buy anything on a particular visit, she says. ‘My client (contact) book is fatter than anybody else’s in the store,’ she says. ‘Does that mean I will get a bigger raise next time? No. Not if my (average sales) numbers don’t reflect that.'”
Carl Steidtmann, Chief Economist at Deloitte, said “Because few retail workers belong to unions, it is easier for employers to ‘move people around.'” Hmmm. How do you spell “exploitation?”
I began to wonder who would really want to work under the ATLAS microscope. To help Ann Taylor find the best candidates, I formulated this brief employment questionnaire, along with the desirable responses below.
1) Oh no! Your Aunt Etta fell and she’s in the hospital with a broken hip. She needs you to help her complete her Medicare forms. But it’s the end of the month, and your store manager says if you miss any time, you’ll risk being demoted. Which of the following BEST describes the action you would take?
a) Come in to the store and focus on making my sales number. I’ll help Aunt Etta later.
b) Help Aunt Etta and see if I can persuade my manager not to demote me.
c) I’d have to think about it.
2) In sales, ethics
a) includes doing what is right for the customer
b) can probably be found in the dictionary somewhere
c) not sure why I would need to know this
3) You’re behind in achieving your weekly sales number. You have a customer who wants a dress and some accessories, but she only has $150 to spend. She likes a dress that’s on sale. You should
a) find out the credit limit on her Visa and steer her toward more expensive merchandise.
b) help her find a suitable combination, even if it means she spends less than $150.
c) tell her that your recommendations are motivated by making your weekly sales quota.
4) Two women enter the store at the same time. One is unkempt and has a fussy toddler in tow. The other one is by herself, holding a Nordstrom shopping bag and a Kate Spade purse. To meet your expected productivity goals, how many seconds should it take you to greet the woman holding the Nordstrom bag?
a) 1 second
b) 30 seconds
c) about a minute
d) don’t know. Shouldn’t she have time to browse?
5) Essay question: I’m all for feeling secure about my job, but employees need to understand that employers have the right to ________________, and __________________ . (use additional pages, if needed)
Correct answers: 1-A; 2-C; 3-A; 4-A
ATLAS is a euphemism for Employee Manipulation. Its use portends some eyebrow-raising sales behaviors. As far as productivity gains for Ann Taylor, a note of caution: be careful what you wish for, you might get it!