COVID-19 is putting immense pressure up and down stores organizations across the globe. With every decision, every action, and every reaction needed to be performed quickly and with no margin of error, store teams are feeling a level of intensity akin to peak holiday season. And we are in July! Stores can’t afford to waste a single minute of any shift if they want to remain open and keep their company solvent. With constantly changing market conditions, less sales opportunities brought on by reduced traffic, and more tasks to be completed with fewer staff this “holiday intensity” will remain for the foreseeable future.
Smaller Staff, Less Traffic, But Bigger Demands
Labor, the largest controllable expense for many retailers, is being cut. This is inevitable in today’s market conditions. This means that all members of a shift will have to wear many hats and venture out of their comfort zones. Sellers will need to focus on more operational tasks to ensure safety protocols are met, curbside orders are fulfilled, and merchandising activities are completed. Associates who have traditionally focused on more operational tasks will be required to do more selling. Store Managers and Shift Leaders will spend more time on the floor to support both selling and operational activities, taking away time from critical activities such as scheduling, shift planning, as well as coaching and managing the team.
Customer concerns for safety means that there will be fewer shoppers and those that come will be more focused. As a result, each shopper visit will need to be maximized. Not only will each visit need to be converted, but associates will need to drive key metrics such as basket size, return on visit, and sales per labor hour, looking to squeeze the most out of every customer interaction whether it be on the sales floor, at curbside pick-up or in fitting rooms (if they are open). At the same time, safety protocols will need to be completed in an open and visible way. While this is going on, the usual operational and merchandising tasks will still need to be completed.
The Keys for Success: Efficiency, Smarter Decisions, and Agility Driven by Data
To succeed, and not break under the intensity, the entire stores organization must create a culture where stores do more with less. This can be done by...
- Being efficient, by not wasting labor assets, time, and sales opportunities or not spending precious time away from customers (like analyzing reports from HQ, etc.)
- Making smarter decisions for allocating the right amount of labor to each store, creating schedules which provide the right time and associates to selling and operational activities, and creating shift plans that perfectly orchestrate every minute of the day
- Agilely responding to results, doing more of what is working and stopping what is not working
Achieving this requires store leaders to…
- Focus on the right metrics they can control
- Organize data in a way that is easy to understand
- Find relevant patterns from that combined data
- And take the right actions at the right times
The luxury of waiting a month or a quarter to see what is working and what is not is gone. The process listed above is difficult under normal circumstances, and nearly impossible under holiday-like pressure. Think about all the things stores cut back on to make sure they are focused during those essential holiday shopping days. Communication to stores from HQ is strictly controlled, no initiatives are started, no changes to procedures, systems or policies are allowed, and all energy is on execution not analysis or decision making. Now, that hyper-focus is the new normal. But the stores can’t sustain a world with no analysis, changes or planning.
Meeting these challenges requires the right tools. Artificial Intelligence (AI) based store tools can help retail leaders drive efficiency, smarter decisions, and agility across all stores. AI can automatically crunch mountains of data to spot issues and opportunities, and recommend strategic and tactic adjustments in real time. This removes the burden of data analysis and frees up time to put towards customers and tasks.
AI’s advantages are really felt when it comes to improving store performance on the fly. AI-powered tools that are connected to each other deliver unprecedented data-driven decisions. They can be tailored to each store and are responsive to the changing conditions of retail. Instead of applying one approach across the fleet, AI-powered tools can consider the unique circumstances of each store creating the right labor budgets, schedules, and daily shift plans needed to help stores do more with less. The benefits of this approach are extensive: time savings, less wasted efforts, maximum usage of labor assets, and a path to long term success.