Conduct a Retail Audit in 10 Steps

This post details what happens before, during and after an audit or inspection for merchandising, service and/or loss-prevention in a store. Here’s how to conduct a retail audit/inspection in 10 steps.

Step 1: Schedule the audit

First, using your enterprise calendar or your Compliant IA built-in calendar, schedule the audit. Some audits are announced to the store’s management. Other audits are unannounced, or “surprise” inspections. 

Announced – This is typically the case with merchandising audits. Particularly when a merchandising inspection precedes an in-store merchandising campaign or seasonal program. The intention is to prepare for significant upcoming dates and execute the facets of the seasonal program as laid out by head office.

Unannounced – The district manager shows up without prior warning to conduct an on-the-spot audit/inspection. This is often the case with service and health & safety compliance. Here the purpose of the audit is to gauge the store’s compliance with standards on a typical day with no additional preparation or training before to the audit.

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Tip for Compliant IA users: When you conduct a retail audit, you can choose to make your inspection “Announced” or “Unannounced” when scheduling the audit in the built-in Calendar. Announced audits send an email to the store’s management, and the audit appears in the store’s own calendar.

If the inspection is unannounced, the audit appears in the district manager’s calendar but not in the store’s calendar and no emails are sent.

Step 2: Prepare for the audit

Familiarize yourself with the current ownership and management. Look up, compare and analyze past audits so you can put the latest information into perspective. Next, look for trends, repeat unacceptables and location to district averages. If you have any notes or questions, compile them ahead of time.

Tip for Compliant IA users: From your dashboard, look up the selected store to view specific details, including current ownership and management. While on the store page, click on “Visits to store” to view all past visits. 

You can also use the “Trends” report to view a color-coded history of issues at that store. Last, use the “Location vs. average” report to compare this store’s performance to others in its district or the national average. If you’d like, you can add notes to the scheduled audit; they will carry over when the visit begins.

Step 3: Conduct the audit

Audits usually proceed from the outside in. Whenever possible, lay out sections to match the natural path of a District Managers visit. Start with the exterior (parking lot if applicable) including the main windows and or facade of building. Then work your way in, around the aisles and into the back of the store.

While you can jump around between sections during or after the visit, setting up your audit questions according to the natural flow of a visit saves time and is more intuitive.

Check out How to build a retail audit checklist for more best practices.

Tip for Compliant IA users: Build the form online using the built-in “Form builder” or build it in Excel and import it (also using the Form builder) to conduct your retail audit.

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Step 4: Use the device that works best, switch if necessary

Some users conduct the entire audit on their smartphone. Others prefer the tablet. Still, others like to make a first pass on a smartphone or tablet then power up their laptop and augment the audit with additional notes.

Tip for Compliant IA users: Compliant IA is device-agnostic. Start the audit with the device of your choice and switch if need be.

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Step 5: Take photos and add them to the audit to illustrate key points

65% of people are visual learners. FastCompany says one of the best ways to drive the message home is through visual content. Taking pictures and adding them to an audit is both quick and easy. It helps the auditor illustrate what exceptional performance looks like and gives a clear example of any issues or concerns.

Tip for Compliant IA users: adding a photo to an item is simply a matter of selecting the item, clicking the camera icon and taking a picture with your mobile or tablet or uploading from your camera roll.

Step 6: Don’t just report problems, assign them and get them fixed with the action plan

An action plan is an opportunity to apply corrective actions to problem areas. It fosters ownership and accountability at store level. Use the action plan to designate an individual responsible for rectifying each problem. This includes anything deemed substandard or non-compliant by the district manager during the audit/inspection.

Last, assign a target date for resolution. For more strategies, read more about the action plan.

Tip for Compliant IA users: Assign issues to individuals one by one or in bulk. You control the granularity and whether no/some/all issues are assigned and to whom. You control the target date for resolution. And of course, Compliant IA allows you to track it all using point-and-click reporting after you conduct the retail audit.

Step 7: Get the store buy-in, acknowledge the audit

Once the audit is completed, you may ask the store to “acknowledge” the visit. This is akin to an electronic signature and allows the store to accept accountability for the audit results. It ensures the visit did in fact take place at the store, date and time specified.

Acknowledgment ensures a flow of communication from the bottom up as well as top down. Acknowledgment allows the store to participate and leave comments about the audit/inspection.

Tip for Compliant IA users: Using the form builder, specify who is authorized to acknowledge and sign off on the audit.

Step 8: Share the results with the store and head office

Share the completed audit with store management as well as head office for the purpose of non-compliance resolution and reporting. Emailing a link to the report, viewing the report online and/or exporting it to Excel or PDF should be easy to execute.

Tip for Compliant IA users: Use the form builder to set or restrict the visibility of the form by role and department if needed.

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Step 9: Follow up on the action plan

Following up after you conduct a retail audit can be time-consuming and potentially involve many back and forth emails or phone calls if you use email. Thankfully, Compliant IA makes this considerably easier, faster and more effective by automating the communication and tracking outstanding action plan responsibilities.

Tip for Compliant IA users: Use the “Action plan responsibilities” report to find out exactly what action plan items have been fixed, by whom and when and which remain outstanding.

Step 10: Plan your next audit

Retail never sits still, neither should audits. Repeat the cycle by scheduling your next audits and watch your store’s compliance and sales numbers take off!

The Definitive Guide to Retail Audits

This comprehensive guide to retail audits is for multi-unit retailers in industries like restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacies, spas and clinics, telecommunications, and alcohol retailers. This guide also helps parking operators and manufacturers or distributors of consumer packaged goods.

If you need to collect or validate data in stores, this definitive guide to retail audits is for you!

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Other resources

To help with your in-store execution, store data collection and retail audits, Compliant IA has also created these guides for you:

  1. How to choose a retail audit software vendor in six steps
  2. The purpose, scope and best practices of store execution
  3. How to build a retail audit checklist
  4. How to implement a retail audit process

Compliant IA is a complete retail execution and store communication platform running on mobile, tablets, and laptops. It combines task management, social collaboration, smart checklists, action plans and photo verification to ensure store programs are communicated and executed on time, in full, at all locations.


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