Shoppers are returning to stores, and we’re already seeing significant changes in what constituted a “normal” shopping experience pre-COVID. Supply chain issues abound, and retailers have little to no visibility into when the goods they’ve ordered will be stocked on their shelves. Meanwhile, hourly workers are scarce, leaving some stores to post limited hours because they can’t fill shifts. While these two factors are out of retailers’ control, everything else must run smoothly to keep consumers happy.
Consumers expect stores to be busy, and they also expect them to be clean and safe. Small things like messy bathrooms, no available shopping carts, slippery sidewalks, and overflowing trash bins all contribute to a poor experience. While these seem like simple tasks to resolve individually, they often get overlooked in the shuffle of assisting customers. However, there are no second chances when it comes to first impressions. To create satisfied, loyal customers, stores must ensure that their day-to-day processes are completed seamlessly. That means arming employees with the tools they need to accomplish these tasks.
There are several steps retailers can take to provide the best possible experience for their customers:
1. Ensure correct staffing for every department on every shift. Stores are filling back up, and that, coupled with ongoing labor scheduling challenges, could create real business issues. It’s important to take a historical look at when a store will be busiest, and staff accordingly. The right tools can help ensure that each department is properly scheduled to maximize efficiency, and track time and attendance across departments to adjust on the fly as needed.
2. Focus the team on the complete environment, not just the task in front of them. To-do lists are static, and do not empower employees to take charge of situations. If workers are just checking tasks off a predetermined (and possibly paper-based) list, where does an unplanned event, such as a “cleanup on aisle five,” factor against a COVID sanitation center that has run out of hand sanitizer? Does an empty cart corral trump a dirty bathroom? These tasks are all critically important to a customer’s experience. Empowering employees to make these decisions — and giving them the tools to do so — makes it easier to give customers the experience they expect.
3. Understand all the mandates the business needs to comply with. Mandates can differ from town to county to state. Depending on the reach of the organization, retailers may need to comply with different, conflicting regulations from store to store. Plans need to be in place for each store that align with the different regulations that may be encountered. For example, stores in regions with mask mandates could ensure that disposable masks and hand sanitizer are available as needed for customers as they enter the store. As part of their daily roles, certain employees could be tasked with monitoring this station on a regular basis to ensure it remains fully stocked.
4. Have the right systems in place to manage and automate tasks. Paper-based logbooks and tracking sheets can generate glaring errors. If they’re just being used to check a box, a potentially valuable source of information for monitoring and improving each store’s customer satisfaction metrics is being ignored. Additionally, it isn’t easy to review logbook data when it’s needed or scale logbooks when new processes are started, such as becoming compliant with new regulations. Having the right systems makes it easier to continually improve all processes vital to running the business in support of a strong end-to-end shopping experience.
5. Leverage the valuable data you’re collecting. Every retail outlet has metrics it wants to track. Maybe it’s health and safety compliance or protocol compliance. Maybe it’s customer service or inventory visibility. Paper-based systems may work for small tasks, but they’re virtually useless when it comes to spotting recurring trends that can really impact your business. Solutions are emerging that help retail leaders compare data across departments, stores, and states, using the metrics that are important to them. Using this data in real-time empowers retailers to react immediately to issues impacting the business.
Shoppers are anxious to get back to physical stores as the world emerges from the COVID era. Retailers, however, are facing significant operational challenges to make this experience seamless. This can be overcome by providing clean, well-organized safe spaces to shop. With the right tools in place to manage and automate workflows — from cleaning bathrooms to cleaning up a surprise spill — retailers can take large steps toward giving shoppers a five-star experience. And with the data they collect from these workflows, they can ensure that experience is repeatable and grows stronger over time.