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From the stockroom to the boardroom

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Maxx-Studio)

Retailers have a decision to make: It is tough out there and it is now do or die.

Retailers you have two choices. Either start thinking outside your shop walls or begin preparing for your impending going out of business sale. It really has gotten to that point.

This may sound dramatic, but retail is struggling and it is clear to see on our high streets up and down the country.

So, who are the people in charge of a retail outlet? Are they the store administrators or the shop managers? If they are the latter, why are they spending their time on administrative tasks? If they are a leader, why keep them chained to a desk in the back room?

It is a tough time for retail, with 2018 being the worst year for the industry since the 2008 recession. What is becoming incredibly clear is that shopping outlets need to innovate to stay relevant. The good news is that senior management teams have two powerful allies to strengthen and improve their business: their frontline staff and their customers.

Retail locations are an important part of the shopping experience to 81 per cent of UK shoppers, an encouraging statistic. The keyword there is – 'experience’ – that is vital to your customers and under the control of the heroes on the frontline of your operations. You are not selling shoes or phones or jewellery. You are selling an immersive shopping experience. You are a customer service business and the service you provide is sending shoppers home with a package that delights them.

The research supports it, with 7 in 10 customers saying they spend more money with companies that provide good customer service. Customers value the retail experience. They want to buy from you, so get out of the way and let them. Your staff want to help customers and make sales. Do not hold them back. Empower managers to make it all possible.

Free your mind and the sales will surely follow

From the stockroom to the boardroom, everyone in the organisation must work together to ensure that the business delivers the best possible experience to customers. The right technology can enable this across multiple locations and departments.

Working with disparate data from multiple systems – from POS to inventory to HR – means executives can spend so long sifting data, that it is out of date by the time any meaningful analysis is done. Developing plans for the road ahead while looking in the rear-view mirror results in missed opportunities and wrong turns.

But pulling that data together and using artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically identify opportunities and offer suggestions for improvements, allows managers to make better plans and provide guidance that is timely, relevant and impactful. 

For frontline managers, being able to see what works and what does not in near-real-time (even sharing with other managers) means they are able to respond on the fly to challenges. For example, if 500 shirts sold last week, but only 250 were bought this week because they were in a different location in store, that information can be analysed and acted on quickly. Things move incredibly fast in retail. So much so that identifying a challenge or an opportunity can be the difference between giving customers a great experience and meeting sales targets and falling short.

Staff are not interchangeable either. Every one of them has strengths and weaknesses – and a good manager, with time to observe, interact and coach, can help ensure that employees find meaning and satisfaction in their jobs. This helps with staff retention, reducing costs associated with absenteeism, hiring and training. And happy staff deliver better experiences to customers.

So what’s the future?

Using a powerful AI-driven technology that nudges frontline staff to take simple actions to improve the profitability of their business is a simple step, but one that can deliver huge leaps in profitability at store level. On the flipside, executives can access granular visibility as to how each of their managers are performing. As a result, everyone benefits from faster decision making, better agility across the organisation and a stronger bottom line. 

You may still be on the fence about the idea of an empowered mindset enabled by AI assistance. If you can’t make up your mind, do not worry: Amazon will make it up for you. But you might not like the answer. With 10 pop-up shops planned for the UK this year, the technology-driven Goliath may be coming to your street soon. Don’t be caught empty handed. Plan for a future, don’t battle in the moment only to be left regretting that innovation strategy you never executed.

It’s time to eradicate the old-fashioned and inefficient styles of management. We need to start investing in intelligent technology - and empower frontline staff - now.

Julian Mills cofounder, Quorso

Julian Mills is the cofounder of operations management software, Quorso - which has raised more than $7m in funding.