How Big Lots saved millions with an intelligent communication platform

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For Big Lots, inviting frontline workers to share feedback through The Beat, their Firstup platform, uncovered millions of dollars in hidden costs.
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What do you get when you give 11,000 frontline workers, never before able to communicate directly to the c-suite, the chance to share their ideas?

A trove of invaluable insights that saved one business more than $10 million.

Big Lots, a discount retailer headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, that prides itself on allowing its customers to ‘Live Big, Save Lots’, shared this incredible story at Attune ‘22, the annual Digital Employee Experience Summit hosted by Firstup.

Watch dozens of keynotes and sessions from Attune ’22 in the On-Demand Library, including Big Lots’ session, Sure, Megaphones Are Loud. Doesn’t Mean We Hear You.

Harnessing an untapped resource

Retail employees on the store floor often know better than anyone where resources are being inefficiently funneled or where unnecessary costs can be cut across the business. But without two-way communication in the workplace, the c-suite remains unaware of these hidden costs that, over time, significantly impact the bottom line.

With more than 1400 stores across 47 states, Big Lots has long understood the importance of effective communication in the workplace, including gathering input from its 35,000-strong workforce. For years, Big Lots has been running a campaign, Save Big, to encourage employees to share their tips for cost savings across the business. But before The Beat, Big Lots could only solicit insights from certain sectors of employees; they had no way to capture crucial feedback from those on the frontline: in-store and distribution center associates.

Big Lots had another reason for seeking out an intelligent communication platform, as Julie Holbein, VP, Talent Development at Big Lots, shared during the Attune session. The HR team had an inkling that their processes for training their frontline associates were more time-consuming than they needed to be, whether it was briefing employees on promotions or educating them on best practices.

“Return overrides: those in retail know there are some things you can return, and some things that you should not ever return,” Holbein explained.

“Our managers were overriding these things, letting people return them. It was costing us tens of thousands of dollars.”

Time to tune in

The Beat allowed 11,000 Big Lots associates, who had never before been able to communicate directly to the c-suite, to share their insights on cost savings and wastage. The first time Save Big was promoted as a post on The Beat, the campaign solicited double the amount of submissions than before, when reach was limited.

Savings opportunities identified based on insights gleaned from employee Save Big submissions totaled $1.1 million – compared to just $293,000 before The Beat.

In other words, Big Lots more than tripled savings by implementing an intelligent communication platform that enabled all employees to have their voices heard.

Drive strategy with two-way communication

Data gathered through The Beat revealed another critical insight that had previously been invisible to the c-suite: customers rarely engaged with ‘circulars’, the printed materials placed at the front of the store advertising deals and specials.

“Expensive wrapping tissue – that’s what we discovered the circulars were mostly used for,” Joey D’Amico, Manager, Internal Communications at Big Lots said in the Attune session. “When customers buy a fragile item, associates would wrap it in that.”

“From this feedback, that was $10 million in savings that we reinvested into a profitable digital media asset.”

“How do you drive strategy without communicating with your frontline workers?”

And what about those return overrides?

“We did a ‘learn and earn’ campaign, advertised it on The Beat, and drove people to the platform to learn about it,” Holbein shared in the Attune session. We drove return overrides down by 10 percent. Tens of thousands of dollars saved.” 

Employee training has been significantly streamlined, and is much more engaging, thanks to the real-time capabilities of an intelligent communication platform.

“We’ll ask associates, ‘How do you drive our reward sign-up?’ They will post videos to The Beat from their phone to share best practices.” 

“There’s no better trainer than somebody who’s doing the job right now. Think about a training team, sitting in a corporate office: what do they know? But when they see a peer say, ‘This is what I’m doing,’ it’s real to them. ”

Visit the Attune 2022 On-Demand Library for even more insights from Big Lots and dozens more Firstup customers.

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Erin Van Der Meer

Erin Van Der Meer

Erin Van Der Meer is the Content Marketing Storyteller at Firstup, dedicated to telling customer stories that spark inspiration, action, and positive change. Prior to joining Firstup, Erin spent more than 10 years as a multi-platform journalist, writing for publications including The New York Times and The Daily Beast.

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