How to Move From Traditional to Automated Retail Management
Anyone who’s worked in retail can testify that it’s largely driven by people. Whether they’re on the floor, in a private office or in the checkout line, all employees play a distinct role in the customer experience.
In such a people-centric industry, the idea of automation may seem mechanic, drab or unresponsive. How could a machine ever respond to a specific customer concern or make important real-time decisions?
Automation means something different in retail than in other industries in which automatic processes tend to replace real people. In retail, by contrast, automation empowers employees and managers to do their jobs better, faster and more efficiently.
Elevate the Customer Experience
Most automation in the retail space is built around inventory. Retailers now have the ability to automatically replenish inventory based on high and low counts, alleviating the need to manually place orders with vendors or conduct constant inventory audits to account for shifts.
Sensors can read traffic and environmental conditions, helping equip you to refine the in-store experience. For example, you can tidy fixtures based on traffic or set up a restroom-cleaning schedule based on the number of people who use them rather than arbitrary time frames. The more employees and technology interact, the better your customer experience can be.
By using infrared sensors, predictive analytics and real-time data feeds, the grocery chain Kroger ensures there are never more than two people in a checkout line. After being implemented in 2,300 stores across 31 states, the average wait time fell from more than four minutes to less than 30 seconds.
Automation systems also enhance managers’ capabilities, allowing them to gather real-time data, consolidate it into a single view, and delegate and act based on current needs — without ever stepping into the store. They also unify processes throughout retail locations so you can more accurately gauge manager performance across the board.
Finally, automated retail management strengthens brand perception across multiple platforms and touchpoints. It empowers and engages employees — your best brand advocates to begin with — and creates a consistent and seamless customer experience across your online and brick-and-mortar stores.
How to Implement Automation
Are you ready to implement an automated retail management system? Start with these three strategies:
1. Empower employees. Most retailers are overly concerned with molding customer behavior through technology, but changing your employees’ behavior is the best way to alter your customers’ behavior. Look for easy solutions that will simplify your employees’ roles and, by extension, your customers’ experiences.
2. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Analyze common problems across your retail stores, and see whether you can adopt better technologies to resolve inventory, store readiness or cleanliness issues. Once you know that a change moves the needle forward, you can tackle problems on a larger scale.
3. Scrutinize and shift your investments. Implementing automation software might seem like a costly endeavor, but automated management is an investment that can reduce costs and return higher profits when it’s properly implemented. Make sure every technology has a direct impact on sales. If you’re investing in analytics to give you insight but not technologies to help organize your workforce and measure execution, you might be wasting time and money.
Traditional retail management is a rearview mirror approach based on checklists, self-accountability and long-term performance. By retaining a top-notch workforce and training employees to use the technology, you can pull back the curtains on the brand vision, reduce inefficiencies, maximize profits and continue investing in the customer experience. Get in the driver’s seat with automated retail management and start delivering a better experience now.
Sam Bahreini, a seasoned operations officer and agile entrepreneur, is co-founder and COO of VoloForce, a company that helps enterprise retail brands understand organization implementation through automation and simplification.