Post-COVID: How Retailers Can Improve Productivity
A quote from a leadership course I attended has stuck with me: “Leaders manage the context.” The tutor wanted us to appreciate the difference between management and leadership, and highlighted the need to look up and consider the changing environment. COVID-19 creates significant context changes, and retailers need to flex their operation in response.
The biggest context change is how customer attitudes and behaviors alter. This will vary depending on what products you sell, geographies you operate in, by customer age, and by the customer's individual experience. While expectations of younger age groups are that their habits may not change significantly, and that there may even be a burst of pent up retail spending, most other age groups will retain a degree of ongoing concern about safety, either because of the customer’s own health concerns or to protect a family member.
For retailers, this increased desire for safety will increase costs. For example:
- Cleaning will be more extensive. Making your enhanced regimes obvious to customers will provide important reassurance.
- You may deploy colleagues to limit customer numbers in-store or encourage social distancing compliance.
- Time for check out will increase, where customers are six-feet apart in lines as the walk-up time between customers will be longer.
This extra workload cannot be avoided and will encourage customers to see your store(s) as a safe place for them to shop.
Given there will be extra workload and costs, what can be done to offset them and improve productivity?
1. Maximize sales, including multichannel.
Experts agree that COVID-19 will accelerate the shift to online, including click-and-collect. Our top tips for an efficient click-and-collect operation include:
- Where is your customer pickup point? Make it easy for customers.
- Place store parcels as close as you can to the pickup point.
- Organize your store so parcels can be retrieved quickly.
- Avoid paper checklists.
These will sound obvious, yet we’ve seen operations where it takes more than 10 minutes to retrieve a single parcel, or where paper trackers create delays and lots of admin.
2. Review your crisis operation.
Most retailers that traded through lockdown periods adopted changes that they may not have considered in more normal times. If you slimmed down your operation and it worked, make the change permanent.
3. Streamline counts.
Evidence shows that the more counts are done, the less accurate stock file figures become. Can you stop all routine inventory counts? When lines go negative on the stock file, auto zero them overnight. Reserve your count efforts for gaps to ensure availability for customers.
4. Watch stock levels.
Excess stock creates work. It needs moving around, counting, date checking, and taking to the shelf. Most of your sales will come from a small percentage of your product range so, minimize holding of less frequently sold lines.
5. Match team resources to changed demand.
The shopping pattern and workload in your stores will change. Too many colleagues on duty reduces productivity, while too few risks a sub-optimal operation and longer lines for customers.
6. Eliminate all nonessential tasks.
Do you need to balance every point-of-sale terminal, each day? Just do it weekly if the store is within error parameters.
- Can price changes be given to stores as batches, rather than every day to make it more efficient?
- Do area managers create extra trackers and reports?
- Remove as many tasks as you can that take time and don’t directly drive sales.
Retailers have always responded to change, and they will carry on doing that over the coming months as the new normal evolves.
Simon Hedaux is founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a world-leading productivity partner which helps businesses to drive efficiency, boost productivity and optimize budgets.
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Simon Hedaux is founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a world leading productivity partner which helps businesses to drive efficiency, boost productivity and optimise budgets.
Simon Hedaux started out on the shop floor and quickly progressed to Manager and then straight to Head Office. Becoming Productivity Manager at leading UK retailer Boots, he then became a Workforce Management Consultant before founding ReThink Productivity. In just nine years it has become one of the leading productivity consultancies — helping some of the world’s biggest businesses get ahead.