Traffic-Based Labor Planning in Retail Stores

January 2016 | Parrish, Blake

Staffing decisions are crucial for retailers since staffing levels affect store performance and labor-related expenses constitute one of the largest components of retailers’ operating costs. With the goal of improving staffing decisions and store performance, we develop a labor-planning framework using proprietary data from an apparel retail chain. First, we propose a sales response function based on labor adequacy (the labor to traffic ratio) that exhibits variable elasticity of substitution between traffic and labor. When compared to a frequently used function with constant elasticity of substitution, our proposed function exploits information content from data more effectively and better predicts sales under extreme labor/traffic conditions. We use the validated sales response function to develop a data-driven staffing heuristic that incorporates the prediction loss function and uses past traffic to predict optimal labor. In counterfactual experimentation, we show that profits achieved by our heuristic are within 0.5% of the optimal (attainable if perfect traffic information was available) under stable traffic conditions, and within 2.5% of the optimal under extreme traffic variability. We conclude by discussing implications of our findings for researchers and practitioners.



  • Howard Hao-Chun Chuang
  • Rogelio Oliva


Production and Operations Management

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