The scope of this post is to discuss what should happen before, during and after an audit for merchandising in a store. Here’s how to conduct a merchandising audit in 10 steps across your stores.
With a view to sharing best practices with in-store execution, store data collection and retail audits, Compliant IA has also created these guides for you:
- How to choose a retail audit software vendor in six steps
- The purpose, scope and best practices of store execution
- How to build a retail audit checklist
- How to implement a retail audit process
Step 1: Schedule the audit
Using your enterprise calendar or your Compliant IA built-in calendar, schedule the audit. Some audits are announced to the store’s management.
Announced – This is typically the case with merchandising audits, particularly those preceding an in-store merchandising campaign or seasonal program. The intention being 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. This is often the case with service and health & safety compliance. Unannounced audits gauge the store’s compliance with standards on a typical day with no additional preparation or training before to the audit.
Tip for Compliant IA users: You can choose to make your visits “Announced” or “Unannounced” when scheduling the audit in the built-in Calendar. When you “announce” and audit, Compliant IA sends an email to the store’s management. Additionally, Compliant IA schedules the audit in the store’s own calendar.
In contrast, if the visit is unannounced, the audit will only appear in the district manager’s calendar but not in the store’s calendar. 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. Identify 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.
Lastly, 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; notes carry over when the visit begins.
Step 3: Conduct the audit
Most audits 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) the main windows and or facade of building then work your way in. Move 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).
Step 4: Use the device that works best, switch if necessary
Some users like to 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.
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 easy. Select the item, click on the camera icon and take a picture with your mobile or tablet or upload 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 by designating an individual responsible for rectifying each problem (anything deemed substandard or non-compliant by the district manager during the audit) and a target date for resolution. For more strategies, Read more about the action plan.
Tip for Compliant IA users: Issues can be assigned to individuals one by one or in bulk. You control the granularity and whether no/some/all issues are assigned and to whom and their target date for resolution. And of course, Compliant IA allows you to track it all using point-and-click reporting.
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 by allowing the store to leave comments about the audit.
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
The completed audit will typically be shared 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: Using the form builder, set or restrict the visibility of the form by role and department if needed.
Step 9: Follow up on the action plan
Following up on an audit can be time consuming and potentially involve many back and forth emails or phone calls. Thankfully, a dedicated retail audit software 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!