We are often asked what should go on a store merchandising checklist. Sometimes this question comes from a consumer packaged goods company starting a new merchandising program. Other times, it comes from a CPG, wholesaler or distributor with an existing program, looking to curate or improve their current checklist or automate the process. Regardless of the circumstances, we have prepared a list of best-practices, intentionally high-level, to help consumer packaged goods company, wholesalers, distributors and retailers with this task.
Think about the checklist’s “metadata”
Metadata is data about data, that is to say, information about the store visit. Customers who use Excel-based forms typically expect user-entered fields such as store number, completed by, date, etc… Metadata is largely automated with retail audit software. The user information is derived from the login, the store pick-list is built specifically for each user according to the security settings and the user’s current location and the date is selected using a popup calendar.
Group items into sections, sort sections according to the visit’s “natural flow”
Whenever possible, sections should be laid out to match the natural flow of a visit (a merchandiser physically walking the store). Start with the exterior (exterior signage if applicable) and 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 the form according to the natural flow of a visit saves time and is more intuitive.
Think about “non applicable” items and sections
Certain sections or items may not be applicable to all locations. For example the “Floor displays” section may not be applicable to a small store format located in an urban center. Likewise, certain promotional signage may not apply to all retail banners in a merchandiser’s territory. Retail audit software allows you to disable entire sections and items at certain stores according to the store type or banner. Doing this saves time and again, is more intuitive.
Make sure your merchandising checklist form has adequate coverage
While individual situations vary, you should address some or all of the following areas, each represented as a section (for further details, refer to our merchandising checklist):
- Store exterior and signage
- Store layout: aisles, product, displays, hotspots, fixtures and gondolas
- Shelves: stocked, planograms, pricing, signage
- In-store promotions: signage, displays, bins
- Staff: training, customer service, product knowledge
Avoid large sections
Instead of creating a small number of large sections, consider creating a larger number of small sections. This helps with data-entry on smart phones and also renders the reporting more granular and meaningful.
Assign points to items according to their relative importance
Assign points according to the relative importance of each criterion. While it is easy to think of everything as important (and if a criterion is not important, it should not be on the form), some items are often more important than others, even critical to the continued success of the business. Seasonal merchandising and CPG-paid bulk floor displays come to mind.
Assign points and make use of the “Critical” flag accordingly. A critical item sets the value of the entire section to zero, regardless of other items, if found non-compliant during the visit. Don’t worry about keeping track of the total score. Retail audit software automatically calculates the visit score and a score by section for you as the visit takes place.
Be specific, descriptive and visual
Standards should be clear and unequivocal. Don’t use vague words like “recent” or “good”. For example instead of saying, “Product ordered recently”, consider using, “Product ordered less than 2 calendar days ago”. If referring to the number of product facings or lapsed times, give actual numbers. Clearly spell out what the standard is. If it takes one paragraph to define the standard, use one paragraph. If you have one, attach a best practice photo to an item to illustrate the standard; a picture is often worth 1,000 words and more likely to make an impression than words alone. Some retail audit software allows you to attach “best practice” pictures and supporting documents to any form item and section.
Think about visit frequency
The frequency of merchandiser store visits (at least visits involving the merchandising checklist) seems to vary greatly from one organization to the next. On one end of the spectrum, some organizations tend to conduct as many as one visit every week. Other organizations may only conduct one visit per quarter. Some organizations use a hybrid model. They use a standard form to capture their core merchandising standards (say twice a year) and create a number of smaller forms for visits throughout the year, sometime tying these visits to seasonal programs. Retail audit software allows an organization to create any number of forms, each with its own start and end date.
Discuss the form/checklist with your Merchandising team
Discuss the form with your merchandisers, field and sales managers. Solicit their input and feedback. We call this phase “calibration“. A merchandising checklist is as much an audit tool, as it is a vehicle for continuous improvement. Define the standard, communicate and measure it. You will meet the standard and achieve your sales goals.
Decide whether you want to build your own merchandising checklist software from scratch or buy a ready-made package
The factors that need to drive your decision are your costs, your return on investment, your time-to-market and the value and benefits that you will derive from the software you chose. Read more on buy vs build: Retail Audit Software: Buy vs Build