Offering an attractive 401(k) plan that employees are excited about and take advantage of is a great motivator and retention tool for many employers. But for retailers and other service-oriented businesses with hard-to-reach employees, it’s a lot easier said than done.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Why the challenge for retailers? For one thing, the nature of the frontline employees’ work – standing in front of customers all day instead of sitting at a desk. For another, retailers–even small ones–with multiple locations have employees scattered around the landscape, making it tougher for centralized HR to connect with them.

The negative impact of low 401(k) participation rates is familiar. First, a means of attracting and retaining good employees is lost. Second, with lower participation rates among front-line associates, adverse discrimination test results limit retirement savings opportunities for management and owners.

Headaches disappear

But those traditional headaches disappear if you take advantage of new mobile technology tools that have already enabled pioneering retailers to achieve participation rates at around 90%, and average savings rates above 7%.

You can forget about trying to find time to herd employees into meetings to explain your 401(k) and promote enrollment. You can also say goodbye to subjecting employees to cumbersome, financial jargon-laden enrollment processes (paper or electronic) that sap the limited time of both employees and the managers tasked with making it all happen.

Instead, you can embrace a paradigm shift to understand the alternative. First, recognize that smartphones are leaving “dumb” phones in the dust from a market share perspective, and are rapidly overtaking desktop computers as the access point for just about everything online.

And second, know that the sophistication of technology designed for smartphone users is way beyond anything you could have done on a powerful desktop device just a few years ago.

Give them the keys

Video and “dynamic personalization” applied to 401(k) enrollment can guide people through the setup process and get them rolling with their retirement savings program themselves in a few short minutes. Integrating a short video on the front-end walking your employees through the process, in plain English preferably, can go a long way toward driving adoption. (Who likes reading foot-sized booklets about fund management these days anyway?) If you can make it interactive enough to answer any questions they might have, even better.

Dynamic personalization minimizes the information that employees need to supply (including login names and passwords), and boils down their choices to only those that are pertinent. Result: The pace of enrollment is accelerated dramatically. It can be accomplished in the span of a 5-minute coffee break.

That’s quite a contrast to the old school pattern of overwhelming employees with information and forms to take home, digest, and fill out, with predictably disappointing results as inertia kicks in and the process bogs down.

With the new mobile platforms, direct involvement from HR staff is not required.

Optimized 401(k) plan design complements the technology to get employees off to a strong start. That typically includes auto-enrolling employees with a default deferral rate (we set it at 6% ourselves) and an appropriate investment such as target-date funds. Our system lets employees tweak their plan parameters if they want to, with the click of a button.

Bottom line: By using advanced technology to create a more engaging and user-friendly, smartphone-based platform for retail, service workers and other hard-to-reach employee groups, your 401(k) becomes a broad-based benefit that appeals to employees, and helps you sail through discrimination testing requirements.