Nobody said running a retail business would be easy. Even the most conscientious retailer can get bogged down trying to juggle the tasks that comprise day-to-day responsibilities. That’s why business operations need to be approached strategically. From managing sales associates to keeping a fresh flow of inventory stocked on the shelves, you can cut costs and create a more successful customer experience by streamlining your store processes.
We’ve consulted with industry experts and come up with 4 ways you can create a more effective, strategic retail operation. Let’s take a look.
Optimize Your Store Layout to Keep Traffic Flowing
Want to improve your customer’s experience? Put yourself in their shoes. When you walk into a store, do you see paths that allow adequate customer flow and eye-catching displays that organically lead foot traffic from one place to the next? If not, it may be time to rethink your store layout. According to Consumer Anthropologists Kizer & Bender, there are three factors that determine how long a customer will stick around once stepping foot inside your store.
Factor #1 – Enablers
You know that ‘warm, fuzzy’ feeling you get when you walk into a store with a pleasant atmosphere and smiling staff? Turns out, that feeling is a major factor in driving sales.
“Enablers are the little things that make customers feel welcome; a friendly greeting from each associate they encounter, displays and signs that attract attention, carts and baskets that do the heavy lifting, aisles that are easy to navigate, and creative merchandising that makes shoppers excited to buy,” says Bender. It’s extra touches like these that keep customers coming back.
Factor #2 – Inhibitors
As the name suggests, these are the obstacles that––quite literally––inhibit customers from having a positive experience in your store. “These are the potholes and shopper-stoppers that disrupt the buying experience,” says Bender. “Think empty fixtures, product that’s displayed too high, or displays that are packed so tightly it’s impossible to shop.”
Be aware of these pitfalls and teach your staff to recognize them when they arise, so your team can nip them in the bud before they begin to cost you. Constant maintenance makes managing these retail roadblocks a much simpler task.
Factor #3 – Impression Points
Impression Points begin before a customer walks through the front door and continue as they make their way through the store. “These are the impressions that create the perceptions customers carry with them as they peruse the sales floor,” says Bender.
Interactions with a product, a feeling, or an emotional connection to an item or display are what Bender refers to as “Moments of Truth.” She says that a store visitor can have as many as 25 Moments of Truth in a single visit, so it’s important to make these moments impactful. Target your displays to your store’s demographic and be sure to feature items that pop.
Streamline Store Functions With Collaborative Task Management
Technology can make or break your ability to run a smooth retail operation. It can be difficult to manage all of the moving parts manually––employee schedules, delivery schedules, task management, retail audits, inventory, reporting, charting, content management…the list goes on. Trying to track manually all these moving parts can lead to a number of human errors that cost your bottom line. But why focus on putting out fires from human error when you could be running a successful business? Melissa Gonzalez, CEO, and Founder of The Lionesque Group says it’s all about gaining a single view of your retail operation.
“Communication and workflow strategy are critical in streamlining store operations,” says Gonzalez. “In today’s world where customers are communicating with your brand across multiple touchpoints, it is more important than ever that brands and retailers have processes in place that allow store operators to see the customer under one consistent lens.”
Cost-effectiveness is a leading factor for business owners to keep in mind when trying to streamline store operations. But there is a way to incorporate helpful technology without breaking the bank. According to McKinsey, there are three major tasks to tackle when it comes to slashing operating costs:
- Direct product costs, or the cost attributed to a specific product you’re selling: Direct costs can be reduced by building relationships with vendors to gain first access to deals and fresh shipments, by buying products in bulk online, or by attending tradeshows to source high-margin goods.
- Indirect costs of goods not for resale, such as office materials and other costs associated with running a business: You can limit these by purchasing wholesale office supplies/shipping materials/etc., which you can gain access to by entering your resale license on wholesale websites. For SMBs, if you don’t want to purchase an excess of supplies at once, membership-based warehouse format shopping clubs, such as Costco or Sam’s Club, may be your best bet. Also, consider eliminating paper-based processes.
- Labor costs, or the money that goes into your employees’ paychecks: You can reduce labor costs by maximizing employee productivity when they’re on the clock though tracking employee schedules, KPIs (key performance indicators), and requesting verification once tasks are completed. By monitoring KPIs and task completion you will discover which of your employees are the most productive at certain tasks and you can schedule accordingly to get more done in less time––ultimately saving your business money on billable hours.
Since you don’t want to cut corners on providing a quality product, you may want to focus on the latter two to whittle down your operating budget. Shopping around for more affordable shipping, reducing paper waste, and implementing an intelligent task-management system into your store’s day-to-day operations can help you do that.
Taking advantage of good store communication software can also benefit your budget. Task management tools allow you to assign certain tasks to different stores and even to request photo verification once those tasks have been completed. Streamlining the task management process creates a more efficient workflow, cutting down on staff overtime costs. In fact, a whopping 88 percent of Compliant IA customers report improved task completion and store activities after implementing the solution.
Activate Your Sales Force by Investing in Your Associates
When a customer comes to your store and encounters sales associates that know less than they do, a disconnect happens. “Today’s customer walks in the store after having spent a great deal of time researching online and will often know all of the technical specifications and options available before setting foot in the store,” reports Carl Boutet, Retail Executive at Highline Beta.
“One of a retailer’s greatest challenges is making sure their staff is at least at the product knowledge level equivalent to the customers they are serving,” Boutet adds.“Investing time and money in making sure your associates are always trained to the highest degree will always pay off.”
Investing in your staff can have a gigantic impact on the overall success of your retail operation. When in doubt, consider that 90 percent of consumers are more likely to buy something in-store when helped by knowledgeable staff. So, make your stores worth the trip by investing in associate training, as well as using AI-based scheduling and reporting tools to keep employees on task.
Compliant IA has content publishing, task management, signature/photo verification tools, and everything else you need to improve workflow on one simple platform that you can access remotely. Why keep doing things manually with paper checklists, excel sheets and emails, when you can facilitate accountability within your organization from wherever you are at the moment?
Invest in Secure Technology
Though many retailers have welcomed technological advancements with open arms, the fear of cyber attacks leave some wary of new technology. That insecurity, coupled with an unwillingness to make a substantial financial investment, is leaving some organizations in the dark.
However, the very technology that some retailers seem to fear can actually help keep customer information secure and make cyber hacks a near impossibility. Gartner reports that risk management and privacy concerns will drive security service spending through 2020 for more than 40 percent of organizations. Security can be a substantial but necessary investment.
To mitigate security costs, reach out to your current technology partners and vendors. For instance, many SaaS providers have loss prevention tools built into their offerings so you don’t have to shell out more than necessary on additional security. See what security protocols (firewall, encryption, hacking plan) your SaaS partners have in place and identify what you can move over unto their already secure platforms.
If you do need to purchase additional security, look for software that keeps security at the forefront while offering monthly fees that won’t break your budget. Most importantly, don’t let the fear of a cyber attack keep you from taking your retail store operations to the next level.
Bringing It All Together
Managing a thriving retail business requires not only time but the ability to multitask. With new technology changing customers’ expectations, it can be easy for simple operating tactics to get lost in the shuffle. Thankfully, that same technology can be used to streamline your business operations.
A high-functioning retail business doesn’t happen by accident…it requires strategic steps to get moving in the right direction. Recrafting your store’s layout to improve the flow of foot traffic, implementing effective task management tools––like Compliant IA––to keep employees on-track, and investing in smart technology to protect sensitive data will put your store on track to becoming a more streamlined operation.
Jasmine Glasheen is a frequent contributor and provides thought leadership on the retail sector for The Robin Report, IBM, Retail Minded, Sourcing Journal, and many more. She’s been a Vend Top 100 Retail Influencer for 2 years running. Her Instagram is listed as one of Vend’s 15 Retail Instagram accounts to follow.