Right Place, Right Time: The Efficient Retail Model

We look at the technologies retailers can wield in order to transform their business.

It’s been a tough old year for retail. The number of high street favourites succumbing to the threat of administration rose in 2017 for the first time in five years as companies battled against rising wage costs, a weaker pound and soaring business rates.

As well as rising commodity prices and staff costs, retailers are also contending with changes in consumer behaviours. Rising expectations for fast, convenient services and a demand for superior, tailored experiences make for a very tough crowd indeed.

But while all this may sound challenging, it’s not all bad news. Retailers – both large and small – now have access to more resources than ever to help solve many problems. These come in the form of agile technologies that are designed to deliver on speed, convenience and efficiency. It’s just a question of how to wield them.

Here’s your change

The main challenge for more traditional retailers is double-edged. They must first overcome any resistance from time-served employees who have grown accustom to working in one certain area in one certain way. And secondly, they must find a way to rapidly and efficiently communicate with their workforce throughout the day to ensure they’re in the right place at the right time for their customers.

The most efficient retailers are those who adopt a fluid approach to the activity of their staff – reallocating individuals at a moment’s notice in response to evolving needs. Whether responding to customer queries to restocking shelves; assisting at the checkout and fulfilling click-and-collect orders, such an approach enables a reduction in employee numbers and minimises those unproductive moments that often occur during quiet periods.

The online in line with the offline

What many retailers are still failing to realise, is that their bricks-and-mortar stores are still a key conversion tool in their arsenal. Rather than acting independently, online and offline channels need to be utilised together. A good starting point is using the data garnered from ecommerce channels to give invaluable insight into customers’ behaviour and buying journeys, to be used to inform in-store decisions.

You can then invite online efficiencies in-store by arming staff with POS tablet systems. Not only does this reduce the need to chain staff to the checkout, when synced with inventory and online data, it enables your workforce to access all the information they need to convert customers on the spot, wherever they may be. From accessing product information to ordering a product that is out of stock, the physical store can be just as capable as online counterparts for fulfilling demand and meeting expectations.

Most retailers with an online presence are actually already using cross-sell data on their ecommerce sites to improve average order values, but there’s no reason why the same strategy shouldn’t also help guide the layout of physical stores. For example, by arranging items of clothing in outfit groups rather than product type; positioning bundled items together can encourage further purchases as it allows the customer to see the bigger picture. Additionally, this data can be used to experiment with online vs in-store promotions to help find a profitable customer journey that works for your brand.

Apart from the obvious benefits to customers, offering omnichannel experiences is at the root of retail efficiency. It leverages every opportunity offered by every one of a retailer’s channels to get the most out of each one.

The right experience

The limitations experienced with traditional communication methods are still widely reported. The dated and somewhat intrusive nature of tannoy announcements, costly telephone contracts and inefficient pagers for example, do very little by way of promoting collaboration and often hinder the progress that many traditional retailers desperately need.

Thankfully, there is an increasing market presence for collaboration-friendly alternatives. The use of lightweight, wireless headsets – favoured by the likes of Apple and McDonalds – enable staff and managers to communicate immediately across the store. Sharing one digital channel, such solutions ensure that all staff, regardless of department, are continually connected, steering away from pagers or telephone calls that often go unanswered. As a result, managers can efficiently reallocate staff as needed.

What’s more, staff can easily communicate with each other – asking questions to product specialists or quickly checking stock availability. The immediacy offered by such a solution enables an entire workforce to work together as one team and improves overall efficiency and productivity.

Can I take your order, please?

Undoubtedly it is efficiency that drives  to still opt for click-and-collect services. Due to its ability to mitigate long shipping and delivery times experienced with online purchases, such services are still as viable a solution in today’s digital retail era.

Yet over the last 12 months, 43% of UK adults who used click-and-collect services experienced an issue. A further 26% reported long waiting times as a result of poor staffing and 18% said that their items couldn’t be located in store. So seemingly, the current model of asking customers to join a queue, provide purchase details and then step to one side while an order is fulfilled no longer delivers on the efficient experiences they have now come to expect.

So how can retailers deliver a high-speed, efficient and ever-relevant click-and-collect service that aligns with the need for an efficient customer service model?

The answer may lie in fast food. Yes, really.

With fulfilment process of roughly 90 seconds, drive-thrus are a tried and tested formula familiar to the vast majority of mankind. But what if the same model was to be adopted by retailers to achieve frictionless click-and-collect services?

Leveraging quick response (QR) codes within a purchase of receipt, retailers can enable customers to simply drive up and scan the code at the point of delivery. This immediately alerts both the order taker and warehouse operative that the customer has arrived via headset. The order picker can then find and deliver the item to the collection point.

This model can be further utilised to support those customers who are looking for a more engaging experience. Customers who typically order fashion items in bulk and want to try on in-store can collect their items quickly and then try them on, opening up a world of opportunity for retailers to offer a personal shopping-style service that again complements both online and offline channels.

Closing time

As retail models continue to evolve, it’s the duty of every retailer to ensure that consumer expectations are met to ensure their own survival. Offering dynamic, omnichannel operations is important but meeting the demands of the customer can’t be done through technology alone.

Staff still play an essential role in ensuring each customer has a great experience at every touch point and to achieve this, retailers need to arm them with tools that enable more fluid work processes than those found in traditional stores.

Not only does this create the seamless and efficient experience that consumers expect, but it puts them one step ahead of their competition and increases their chances of survival.


About Kendal Stacey