Mobile Platforms Save Time, Lend Insight for Retail

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In today’s retail world, mobile technology plays a larger role than ever before. Much of the focus to date has been on in-store devices for logistics or sales transactions, but now even more can be done with the use of mobile devices.  Dedicated teams are focused on in-store execution and are now completing more than 60 percent of data collection and reporting via smartphones. As a result, project managers have come to expect same-day data collection and corporate headquarters are expecting even faster turnaround for campaigns.

Why the rush? According to a 2015 survey by EKN Research, 70 percent of employee time is spent on merchandising and operational tasks, leaving a mere 30 percent for sales and customer service.

The faster employees can accurately complete campaigns and demonstrate compliance to management and headquarters, the sooner they can be back on the sales floor, helping customers find the products they want. Customers may comparison shop online, but 85 percent of consumers still prefer to purchase in store, where they can examine products in real time, and 90 percent are more likely to make a purchase when they receive assistance from a knowledgeable employee.

Digital Task Management Saves Time

It’s imperative that employees spend the majority of their time on the floor, helping customers, rather than in the backroom reporting to management. Therefore, the time that they do spend on behind-the-scenes tasks such as campaign execution and compliance reporting needs to be as streamlined as possible.

Executing campaigns can be a time-consuming endeavor. Consider the process behind preparing for a Black Friday promotion: in a typical system, managers receive detailed plans via email from headquarters, which might be difficult to read, and then print them out and rally the troops to execute them in time for a massive sales event. After a long day or night of execution, employees would then have to fill out paperwork to demonstrate that they had complied with the campaign, and email it back to corporate.

Moreover, corporate doesn’t necessarily have a systematic way to keep track of which locations across divisions have successfully executed campaigns in time for Black Friday. Unfortunate outcomes from typical systems include misplaced, missing, or mispriced stock; frustrated employees who don’t know where products are or what current promotions might be; or harried managers dealing with frustrated customers.

Fortunately, retailers can now take advantage of robust mobile task management platforms to simplify and streamline work that used to take days. These platforms can be installed on any mobile device, including those owned by employees if approved by corporate. They provide a quick way for campaigns to be disseminated. Corporate can send photos to illustrate exactly how end caps and displays should look, and once campaigns have been successfully executed, employees can return the favor by snapping a photo of their own and sending it back, immediately demonstrating compliance with the task they were assigned. In the process, they eliminate the need for a lengthy email chain. Everything is captured in real-time via the mobile device of the employee’s choice.

In addition to capturing photos, many task management platforms have built-in surveying capabilities, as well as the ability to capture signatures for sign off upon completion. Surveys allow headquarters to obtain much more data on specific campaign execution. When, where and how were campaigns executed? Did employees run into any problems? Were the directions complete? Were competitor products allocated around featured products? And so forth. If problems do occur, they can be mitigated immediately, rather than the following day.

Mobile platforms also give corporate an easy way to track the progress and monitor the compliance of thousands of retail locations at once. If 96 percent of locations are ready to go before Black Friday, headquarters only needs to follow up with the 4 percent that are not. This level of detail removes the obligation to nag hundreds of managers with mass emails—managers that should and would rather be spending time with customers on the floor.

More Data Leads to Deeper Insight

Task management is only one facet of modern retail data collection. A mobile platform also provides higher quality data. There is less room for error if information is entered as it is collected, rather than after it has been recorded and then transferred to an offline system in a back room and uploaded at a later time. Less time spent correcting errors means employees and managers can spend more time on the floor creating a great in-store experience for customers.

Analytics provide real-time insights such as:

  • Alerts and exception reports,
  • Big-picture productivity with operations insight reports,
  • Micro productivity with project dash boards, and
  • Charts and graphs that analyze structured survey data.

These analytics help managers configure and share standard or custom reports with corporate offices. Additionally, headquarters can see and analyze revenue and labor costs by project.

Once retailers are using mobile platforms and collecting data, they can usually integrate that data into third party-applications to extract even more analytics as necessary. This combination can paint a remarkably accurate and useful picture that will allow them to better streamline their point-of-sale processes.

Data analytics can lead to more accurate data forecasting as well. Since many retailers are driven by waves of promotions and campaigns that coincide with holidays (Memorial Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and so on), managers can use data from past events to help plan for upcoming programs—including how much stock and how many employees to have on hand for the duration of the event.

Mobile Platforms Mirror Plugged-In Employees

Retail is notorious for high employee turnover. The constant churn of employees frustrates managers, who must continually train new people on products and systems. Employee churn also affects a company’s bottom line, which raises hackles at corporate. But most important, employee churn creates negative experiences for customers—they encounter new faces every time they enter a store, and those faces don’t necessarily know where products are or how or how they function.

EKN reports that the “lack of skilled employees and lack of adequate knowledge about products and services are among the five leading challenges in managing in-store employees. Moreover, lack of skilled resources is the biggest technology challenge for 1 in 2 retailers, and lack of in-store associate training is one of the biggest challenges for a third of retailers.”

With mobile platforms, employees don’t need to be trained on store-specific devices or hardware. Most smartphone owners know how to open an app, use a baked-in scanner, click a few radio buttons and drop-down arrows, and type in a text field. The time it takes to onboard new employees is reduced, and knowledgeable staff can be on the floor, ready to give customers the type of attention they’ve come to expect from retail stores.

Real-world Proof of Success

There are real-world results that support the efficacy of this mobile-centric approach. Recently, a U.S.-based retail chain implemented mobile task management and experienced a 64 percent improvement in display compliance and 15 percent increase in floor time for sales managers. The chain also saw a $30 million reduction in communication costs and a 3.5 percent increase in same-store sales during the first 90 days of implementation.

The success of this chain and others embracing a mobile data capture reflects a simple truism: happy customers buy more. Customers are happy when they can find what they are looking for and encounter knowledgeable staff that can reliably assist them time and time again. A robust mobile platform that enables real-time communication, task management and analysis will chip away at that 70/30 imbalance to allow employees to focus more of their valuable time where it matters—on the customer.


Stefan Midford Natural Insight HeadshotAbout the Author

Stefan Midford is the Founder and CEO of Natural Insight and is an evangelist for simplification of the management of retail workforces. He has over 30 years of experience in information technology, operations and workforce management. His extensive business background provides him insight into the strategic challenges facing organizations with distributed teams.





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