Employee Recognition

10 Strategies To Build A Successful Retail Employee Recognition Program

Rebecca Noori
Last Updated November 27, 2023

Retail workers put up with a lot, from rowdy customers to shoplifters. While the average day is mundane, many stories in the news highlight just how dangerous this job can be. Retail employees often work long hours for a company that treats them more like a number than a person.

Hardworking retail teams are on their feet all day, support customers with their buying journey, and handle their requests and complaints with very little gratitude in return. These retail employees deserve appreciation for their contributions in a constantly changing job.

This guide digs deep into the benefits of giving and receiving recognition, examples of what it looks like, and how to set up a retail employee recognition program relevant to your organization.

What Could Employee Recognition Look Like For Retail Workers?

Employee recognition is the act of acknowledging and appreciating your workers' efforts, contributions, or achievements, either formally or informally. In the retail space, you might recognize an employee who:

  • Delivers a consistently high level of customer service.
  • Beat their sales record from the previous quarter.
  • Excels at diffusing confrontation in the store.
  • Shows initiative in taking on additional responsibilities.
  • Develops a new process that enhances store efficiency and productivity.
  • Mentors and supports their fellow team members, contributing to a positive work environment.

You can break the recognition process down into these three stages:

1. Recognizing Certain Behaviors Or Company Values

Recognition begins with acknowledging that an employee has done a great job. Praise might be something you have predetermined; for example, if an employee smashes their monthly sales goal, then recognizing that is straightforward.

However, identifying something less obvious, like employees that support a new cashier as they onboard, de-escalate a customer complaint, or raise a concern that helps the team thrive, can be just as important.

2. Delivering The Recognition

There are multiple ways to show your appreciation to employees, which you might do in a public or private setting. For example, one-to-one praise at the end of a shift might motivate some workers, while others prefer a public accolade delivered in front of the entire team. Here are some retail employee recognition ideas you could incorporate into your business:

  • Employee of the Month: Select an employee who has put in extra effort this month and award them in front of the entire staff. 
  • Handwritten thank you note: Your store manager could reflect on employee performance by putting pen to paper in a special hand-crafted message. 
  • Public shoutout: Call out the names of your deserving employees in team meetings, or promote them on social media.
  • Wall of fame: Print off blank stars to pin on your office wall. Have people write messages of appreciation to their colleagues and hand them out at the end of the month or quarter.
  • Slack channel: Give your employees access to this communication tool, and create a #Wins channel where you highlight accomplishments. 
  • Recognition software: Set up an account with a platform like Nectar to handle every aspect of the rewards and recognition process.

3. Tying Rewards To The Recognition

Some employers extend the recognition message by linking tangible rewards to verbal or written praise. These may be monetary, like a bonus, or non-monetary such as paid time off, or experiential reward, like cooking classes.

Create a culture people won't want to leave with Nectar

Why Is Recognition Important In Retail?

Retail workers aren’t volunteers; they receive compensation for their hard work. So, why should employers go the extra mile to recognize their contributions when they’re already being paid? Besides the fact that the average hourly compensation for a sales associate is just $12.78, there are some compelling reasons to commit to recognition.

Crafting A Better Customer Experience

Retail staff who feel appreciated by their employer are more likely to present a positive image to customers who shop in your stores. Nectar recently surveyed 800 US employees to discover the positive impact of employers appreciating their staff. When employee recognition happens in the retail industry: 

  • 73.58% of employees feel valued by their employer.
  • 83.02% of employees become more engaged after being recognized. 
  • 79.25% would be more productive if recognized more frequently.

These statistics show that frontline retail employees who lack praise don't bring their A-game to work, which directly impacts the customer experience. E-commerce writer Kaleigh Moore recounts a recent store trip:

“One reason physical retail is struggling; just waited in line at a store for 10 minutes to check out. Three people working, one running the register. Other two are just walking around the store. At the 10 min mark I gave up and ditched my items.” 

Asil Attar, Co-Founder and CEO of fashion, brand, and retail consultancy LEAD Associates, asserts how recognition can be a game-changer for employee morale and productivity. 

"Recognition and motivation boosts team morale and motivates employees to continue performing at their best. They will go the extra mile. Recognizing the hard work and dedication of your team fosters a sense of loyalty and engagement.”

Supporting Employee Health

Frontline employees, including retail staff, can find their roles draining. A recent Microsoft study finds that 60% of frontline workers want more support for physical exhaustion, while 57% want help for mental health issues, including stress.

While recognition may not completely alleviate retail work's physical and mental side effects, regular praise could make employees feel more appreciated for their efforts. Speaking on the "Redesigning the Employee Experience for Frontline Workers" podcast, Ben Eubanks, Chief Research Officer at Lighthouse Research and Advisory, shares: 

"The big thing that stands out for those workers who say their manager is not yet supporting them, the number one way they can do it is just recognizing them. "Notice me when I do a good job," which seems like such a low bar, right? Just notice when I do well and let me know you saw it. Yet that's not happening so often that that stands out when that does happen for these workers. When a manager says, "Hey, I saw that. I saw what you did—great job on that. I'm so thankful you're on my team," it costs them nothing. It takes virtually no time, and yet it stands out for them because they're so used to getting none of that in their jobs."

Retaining Employees

The retail and hospitality sector employs more people than any other sector in the US but is known for its high employee turnover rates. Recent McKinsey research finds that the quit rate in retail and hospitality outpaces the average US quit rate by 70%. Significantly, almost half of US frontline retail workers and two-thirds of frontline managers are considering quitting their roles in the next few months.

In contrast, the UK retail industry appears to be in good shape—Quinyx’s State of the Frontline Workforce report reveals that 64% of retail employees believe their work is recognized by their bosses, up 7% from the previous year.

Karim Doukir, Founder of The Fresh Prince of Retail, weighs in on the relationship between retention and recognition in the retail space. 

"Feeling unappreciated is a universal reason why employees leave their jobs. In retail, where frontline employees interact directly with customers, recognition for their hard work becomes even more critical. Failure to acknowledge and reward their efforts can lead to a decline in motivation and a willingness to seek opportunities in more appreciative workplaces."

Pinpointing Potential Leaders

Retail recognition programs are a powerful tool for identifying potential leaders within your workforce. Employees may have the necessary traits for leadership if they consistently:

  • Exceed their performance benchmarks
  • Demonstrate initiative
  • Show an aptitude for mentoring their peers

Recognition is a strategic business move that shapes the trajectory of both individual employees and the broader retail business. Acknowledging employee achievements ensures you cultivate future leaders for your organization by keeping their minds in the game.

Solidifying Core Company Values

Is your organization guilty of drawing up a mission statement or a set of company values but never revisiting them? You may even forget to show your employees how to live and breathe them. Recognition is an excellent opportunity to embed your values in your everyday company culture by calling out the behaviors that positively reflect what your organization stands for.

Example: Sales assistant Barbara notices a partially-sighted customer struggling to find the right size jacket. She takes the time to locate the correct item for them, then ensures it's a good fit. She also escorts the customer to the front of the store to await her ride home. Although this briefly distracts from her task of refolding sweaters, Barbara's manager spots that her behavior aligns perfectly with the company's core value of "providing exceptional customer service." Based on her actions and the company's values, Barbara wins the Employee of the Month award, and receives a gift card as a token of appreciation.

Encouraging Positive Employee Behaviors

Consistent recognition is also important if you want to encourage positive employee behaviors. Positive reinforcement is crrucial if you want an employee to continue doing something. Recognition tells employees what they are doing is important, helpful, and appreciated. Some recognition platforms like Nectar take this a step further by introducing employee challenges. Challenges are a way to incentivize activities that you'd like your employee to do. Simple tasks like exercising regularly, taking an employee satisfaction survey, or even referring a friend can become gamified through challenges. Here are some employee challenge ideas to give you an idea of what's possible.

Six reasons recognition is important in retail

10 Ways To Create A Retail Employee Recognition Program

The power of recognition in the retail sector is undeniable, and there are dozens of ways to extend gratitude to your hardworking employees. Here's a step-by-step approach to creating your bespoke retail employee recognition program:

1. Define Goals For Your Employee Appreciation Program

Approach employee recognition like any other business area—with a plan. This begins by determining goals for your recognition program (or what you'd like to get out of it.) One way to do this is to create SMART goals that are: 

S = Specific

This step should provide clarity about what you want to accomplish:

  • Example 1: Increase the frequency of peer-to-peer recognition in the retail store.
  • Example 2: Implement a monthly recognition ceremony to acknowledge outstanding employees and their achievements.

M = Measurable

Ensure your goal includes quantifiable criteria or metrics that can be objectively tracked and evaluated:  

  • Example 1: Achieve a 10% improvement in employee satisfaction scores related to recognition efforts in the next quarterly survey.
  • Example 2: Receive at least five monthly positive customer feedback mentions regarding exceptional employee service.

A = Achievable

Only include goals your organization is capable of achieving and promise actions you have the resources to provide: 

  • Example 1: Recognize all retail staff who hit their revenue targets by sending personalized thank-you emails from the management.
  • Example 2: Establish a recognition budget allowing at least one small gift or token of appreciation per Employee each quarter.

R = Relevant

Align your goals with your company's needs and core values to stay on the right track:

  • Example 1: Create a recognition program that encourages behaviors that promote excellent customer service.
  • Example 2: Implement a recognition initiative that supports the retail store's business objective of increasing customer loyalty and repeat business.

T = Time-bound 

Provide clear dates that you want to achieve your goals by. Avoid dates too far away as you could lose motivation, but also dates that are too soon where it would be impossible to hit your goals on time. Three to twelve months is a good goal for most programs.

  • Example 1: Within three months, launch an online platform for employees to nominate their peers for outstanding performance.
  • Example 2: Conduct quarterly reviews of the recognition program's effectiveness and make necessary adjustments within two weeks of each review.

Setting goals when building your retail employee recognition program

2. Create A Budget For Recognition

There's no entry barrier to recognition programs, even for companies on a smaller budget. SMEs, startups, and large corporations can all get involved due to the number of free ways to recognize retail workers, such as promoting people on social media or posting their photos in-store. 

However, your recognition program will incur costs if:

  • You use a recognition platform where there may be an annual or per-employee-per-month fee, along with administrative or setup costs.
  • You pay for rewards attached to your messages of recognition.

The last thing you want to do is pull the plug on recognition because your funds run out mid-year, so plan ahead by:

  • Researching and understanding the costs of your recognition program, including whether you're paying a one-off or per-user software fee, which may change according to your headcount.
  • Determining what rewards to offer and considering custom rewards (like an extra day of PTO) which mean a lot to your employees but may cost less.
  • Providing monthly limits on the amount of reward and recognition points your employees can award each other.

At Nectar, we allow companies total control over their recognition budgets. Budgeting is an essential step of the implementation process. Our sales and customer success team has a lot of helpful resources to help you set up custom budgets so you are aware of how much money you are putting into the system every month. We also have built-in financial reports to see where your money is going each month and how much your employees have sitting in their Nectar accounts. Do you want to learn more about budgeting? Check out our article about rewards and recognition budgeting.

3. Be Inclusive

When we think of retail, it's easy for our minds to go straight to in-store sales staff, who directly serve customers. But these aren't the only people who keep your business running, and it's important to craft a retail recognition program that acknowledges everyone who plays a part. Be inclusive by extending recognition to everyone on your payroll, which may include:

  • Security guards 
  • Warehouse and shipping staff
  • Parking attendants
  • Cleaners and janitors 
  • Stockroom personnel
  • Department managers
  • Maintenance and repair staff

4. Set An Example

Your employee recognition efforts are more likely to take off if everyone participates. Actively involve your store managers and senior leaders as part of your program; ensure they're vocal about recognizing employees and set an example of how to do this meaningfully.

Our recent employee recognition survey found that 40% of employees valued recognition from their managers most, while 33% valued recognition from the CEO and executives most. When leaders are involved, this encourages a store recognition culture and persuades others to follow.

Manager recognition isn't the only form of recognition that matters to employees. Some employees prefer recognition from CEO/Executives or their peers.

5. Introduce Your Employee Recognition Program 

With the foundation of your recognition program in place, it’s time to speak to your employees and tell them:

  • What your employee recognition program is, and the type of behavior or goals you'll be recognizing.
  • Why it's happening, including the benefits for the company, customers, and employees.
  • Administrative information, such as log-in details or access to a rewards catalog.
  • How employees can get involved in sharing recognition.

Lean on your existing communication channels to distribute this information. For example, you might use a combination of:

  • Company emails
  • Slack channels
  • Team meetings
  • Town halls
  • Internal newsletters

6. Provide Guidelines For Giving Recognition

"Recognition" may seem vague, so it's important to zone in on how employees share praise and feedback with each other. You don't want discrepancies such as one manager mumbling a quick thank you to an employee at the end of their shift while another manager takes the time to speak in front of the entire team.

In his book Trust Factor, neuroscientist Paul Zak recommends the following framework to provide recognition that hits home. His approach ensures that praise is prompt, unexpected, personal, tangible, frequent, and public/visible. Here's how each of these aspects works:

Prompt Recognition

Timely praise for a job well done ensures that an employee links their particular action or behavior with the credit they receive. Managers who do this on the day or within a week of someone going above and beyond will see the biggest impact.

While awards like Employee of the Year are popular, they're also retrospective, meaning someone might wait up to twelve months to receive formal praise for their performance. Many retail staff could be looking for a new role by the time they receive recognition.

Unexpected Recognition

When employees don't anticipate receiving praise, it generates a more meaningful response and strengthens their commitment to the company. As Paul Zak explains:

“The brain loves surprises because it means something new has happened, and this focuses our attention on it.”

Personal Recognition

Steer clear of generic “good job!” or “well done!” comments, as they don’t carry much weight. Instead, use language that acknowledges an employee's unique contribution and what they've accomplished.

Example: Juan's manager delivers the following message: "The effort you put into our store display this week was tremendous. We noticed an increase in foot traffic thanks to your hard work. On Friday, at lunchtime, we counted X customers on the floor, which is Y% higher than average."

Tangible Recognition

As we've mentioned, recognition doesn't have to be expensive. Publicly acknowledging someone or printing out a certificate is free and can do wonders for motivation. But providing tangible recognition through gifts or monetary rewards incentivizes employees to strive for excellence.

Example: Check out a selection of tangible rewards available through Nectar.

A look at some of the gift cards Nectar offers to users. Your team could get gift cards to popular stores like Amazon, AMC, Chipotle, Nike, Starbucks, Target, Texas Roadhouse, and even a Visa gift card.

Frequent Recognition

There's no such thing as overkill when delivering praise—the more frequent, the better. Nectar's employee recognition statistics reveal a clear correlation between how an employee perceives their worth and the frequency of praise:

  • 94.4% of employees feel valued when receiving weekly praise.
  • 68.2% feel valued when receiving quarterly recognition.
  • 37.2% feel valued when receiving annual recognition.

Remember: This doesn't mean you need to dish out monetary bonuses every week, but you should give high fives or verbal encouragement as often as possible.

Public Or Visible Recognition

Public recognition honors the employee while motivating others to reach high standards and do their best—everyone will want a piece of the pie. Create social recognition by:

  • Sending company-wide emails to announce noteworthy achievements.
  • Presenting custom awards in a team meeting or as part of a special event.
  • Providing shoutouts in a group feed of your employee recognition software.

7. Eliminate Bias From The Recognition Process

Over 188 unconscious biases exist in the workplace, seeping into every aspect of organizational decision-making, including recruitment, performance reviews, promotions, and even recognition. Here are some to be aware of when using a retail recognition program:

  • Halo Effect: When an employee's positive trait overshadows other characteristics, leading to unwarranted praise or recognition. A charismatic and outgoing salesperson may consistently receive praise, despite missing sales targets regularly.
  • Horns Effect: When negative behavior receives more weight than positive, preventing an otherwise high-performing employee from being recognized due to a single mistake or mishap.
  • Confirmation Bias: When managers or colleagues favor employees whose actions confirm their preexisting beliefs. A manager might consistently recognize employees who share their work style or approach, thereby overlooking others with different yet equally effective methods.
  • Affinity bias: When we warm towards people “just like us.”

Example: Tina has worked in a store's Returns Department daily with Cassie for the past three years, and they've developed a close friendship outside of work. As part of the company's recognition program, Tina is allocated 50 points to give to high-performing peers, and she frequently gives most of them to her friend Cassie, even though Cassie is often late to work and tends to blame others for mistakes, such as issuing incorrect refunds.

Your employee recognition program will only be successful if people believe it's fair. No one wants to see their peers rewarded for anything other than merit.

Eliminate bias by providing ground rules on how peers should give recognition. For example, you might require them to attach examples of core values the recipient has demonstrated. You could also set some internal guardrails so employees are limited in how many points they can send to one person monthly.

8. Choose Rewards For Your Retail Recognition Program

Your instinct may be to provide company merchandise as employee rewards. If your business is a large department store stocking everything from designer clothing to the latest electrical gadgets, your employees could find this appealing. But not all employees will feel connected to your product range or appreciate rewards linked to your brand.

Instead, consider giving employees points they can exchange for rewards in a portal, such as a retailer gift card or a physical product. Your workers will choose something they value rather than browsing through products they're not excited about.

Are you still trying to figure out what to offer? Involve your employees in your recognition program by conducting employee feedback surveys, and asking them what rewards they'd enjoy.

Streamline service awards, birthday bonuses, and more with Nectar.

9. Measure Program Effectiveness

Circling back to the SMART goals you set during the prep stage, now's the time to track your progress working toward them. Determine relevant metrics to track and monitor how well your program is doing. These might include:

  • Average customer service ratings 
  • Employee retention rate
  • Qualitative data from pulse surveys, feedback forms, and team discussions 
  • Exit interviews 
  • Percentage of employees participating in the recognition program
  • Performance metrics pre and post recognition
  • Number and frequency of recognition messages delivered 
  • Impact on productivity or sales figures

Track your metrics consistently and measure your progress monthly, quarterly, annually, or at whatever cadence makes the most sense to you. Course-correct if you notice any roadblocks, or set new goals if you've already reached your targets.

10. Invest In Employee Recognition Software

Employee recognition software is the easiest way to set up and launch your program. This investment will streamline your process and ensure that peers, managers, and leaders give and receive recognition and rewards in a timely fashion. Here are some pointers to consider when researching the best employee recognition platform for your retail business.


1. Learning Curve

Your team is likely already grappling with several different types of software for inventory management, shipping, accounting, and other tasks. The last thing they need is a complicated recognition system that takes hours to learn. Look for software with a user-friendly interface and easy-to-follow tutorials to make the onboarding process smoother for employees.

Example: Nectar uses an intuitive feed similar to familiar social media platforms where employees distribute shoutouts and recognition points to each other.

2. Multi-Platform Compatibility

Ensure your employees can access your digital recognition program by choosing a platform with desktop and mobile accessibility.

3. Non-Branded Email Addresses

If your retail workers don't have official company email accounts, select a platform that allows sign-ups from free email addresses like Yahoo or Gmail.

4. Integrations

Make life easier for your HR team by choosing a platform that integrates directly with your existing tech stack. For example, integrating with your HRIS means that any new joiners will immediately be enrolled in your rewards and recognition software. Alternatively, these integrations also make it easy to remove workers as they leave your company.


5. Analytics

Keep on top of your program progress and check key metrics like participation and reward budgets by opting for a platform with built-in analytics. Gain immediate insights into the data that matters and make adjustments as required.

Investing in employee recognition software can take your retail recognition program to the next level.

Recognize And Retain Your Retail Employees With Nectar

Nectar enables retail businesses to motivate and develop employees by introducing a consistent recognition framework. Our rewards and recognition platform offers a range of features that support retail employees in the following ways:

  • Recognition: Retail employees from any rank or area of the business exchange recognition with each other to celebrate a job well done.
  • Awards: Companies can create awards like “Employee Of The Month” or “Salesperson Of The Quarter” and share them through Nectar. 
  • Challenges: Leaders set up employee challenges relevant to their retail operation. These could include completing onboarding, updating customer service training, beating monthly sales goals, or signing up for a company volunteering event. 
  • Rewards: Employees can redeem their Nectar points for five reward types: gift cards, Amazon products, company swag, charity donations, or custom rewards like additional PTO. 
  • Discounts: Nectar has a built-in discounts tab that would allow retail workers to save money at other retailers across the country.
  • Milestones: Celebrate employee tenure and birthdays by plugging these dates into Nectar and rewarding employees accordingly. 

Ready to learn the power of appreciation? Book a free demo to take Nectar for a spin and transform the employee experience for your retail teams.

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