Every retail store runs on tight margins, and operational efficiency is as important to the bottom margin as actual sales. Automating and often digitizing manual processes and gaining valuable in-store data help stores be more efficient and effective – and ultimately affect almost every aspect of the retail business.
In fact, utilizing technology for in-store operations can empower stores to reduce costs, enhance performance, boost profitability, and provide better customer experiences.
This article looks at the ways retailers are still using manual and repetitive processes, and how they can leverage advanced technology to automate and transform their in-store operations and frontline workforce task management for greater efficiency and store-by-store performance.
Automate in-store operations
Retail has long adapted to in-store technologies such as cash registers and barcodes. And no one would ever consider running a store without computerized systems. As retail stores face greater operational challenges (think growing demand for omnichannel fulfillment and the struggle around employee retention), innovative technologies open up opportunities for store staff to work smarter.
When stores automate manual tasks, they gain operational efficiency and free up store associates to provide higher-quality assistance to shoppers – and that leads to better overall results for the store.
5 Reasons to automate store tasks:
- Time-consuming for store associates
- Prone to human errors
- Less scalable – more stock or larger sales floor requires more staff
- Can negatively affect employee engagement and productivity
Real-time inventory efficiency
Relying on periodic inventory counts and using outdated data on inventory location is detrimental to operational efficiency, inventory accuracy, optimized inventory levels, inventory reconciliation and labor optimization.
The key to optimizing your real-time inventory management is implementing technology that promotes connected operations, starting with automating inventory tracking. Fully automated inventory management, with real-time, highly-accurate visibility into every single item, is a game-changer.
Analyzing that data on a cloud platform that can compare the data based on KPIs that matter to your business - for example, availability on the shelf, how often a style is taken to the fitting room, and which items are tried on together - can turn inventory location data into customer behavior data that can be optimized to increase sales per square meter in stores.
Let’s begin with counting stock. However critical, physically performing inventory counts, intake, and inventory reconciliation are tedious, time-consuming and become outdated shortly after they are performed.
Outdated inventory information pushes businesses to keep excess stock, tying money in safety inventory and frequently resulting in unplanned discounts, markdowns and waste. The lack of real-time data can cause brands to mark products with low stock as unavailable for purchase on their ecommerce store for BOPIS options, instead of trusting availability down to the very last item of its kind, no safety stock needed.
Labor hours invested in inventory stock counts add up. If completely manual, inventory management leaves your business burdened with labor costs, and reliant on how accurate and knowledgeable your store associates are. Unfortunately, employees tend to hate inventory duties, even when using a scanner. Therefore, the critical task of recording and tracking inventory is likely to produce results that are plagued with inaccuracies while negatively affecting employee morale.
In contrast, new technologies offer faster ways to record and count inventory, and innovative, fully automated solutions eliminate the need for it altogether. Inventory automation means smart systems detect nearby items and track them in real time. No staff necessary plus the critical benefits of minimizing human error and freeing store associates from this repetitive task.
Real-time merchandise availability
Ideally, fashion stores should have an overview of every item, including location and performance data. This is available for online stores but is still missing in brick-and-mortar.
Now fashion brands can bridge the gap with fully automated inventory tech.
With the right technology, merchandise is always connected and transparent. Real-time location allows you to instantly see availability as well as what’s actually on the store floor, in the fitting room or in the backroom, with unparalleled accuracy. Displayed on a dedicated cloud platform, it empowers management to answer critical questions, such as what items are on the shelf by style, size and color, and how many should be there.
From frontline associates to store management and headquarters professionals, this data supports store and chain operational efficiency, performance, and customer service.
Want to increase sell-through rates in your stores?
Support Omnichannel retail operations
Omnichannel retailing allows customers to move across online and physical touchpoints and have a unified experience. But truly omnichannel experiences need highly accurate inventory location tracking, and visibility into inventory across channels.
When it works, omnichannel models like click and collect and fulfilling online orders from the store create a level of convenience that customers love, and optimize inventory usage by allowing stores to perform as micro fulfillment centers.
For all their benefits, new online and in-store purchase, fulfillment, and return choices can make it harder than ever to make assortment and allocation decisions. But when brands have real-time visibility into their inventory, they have a much better chance to get it right.
Automation can also help store staff handle omnichannel tasks without dropping the ball on engagement with customers and their regular store tasks. A store app displaying automated and accurate location data for every item in the store helps frontline associates by making it so quick and easy to find and pick products for online orders.
The result: faster and seamless fulfillment and a better customer experience while reducing shipping and storage costs for the brand.
The rise in shrinkage, with its direct impact on bottom-line profitability, is a growing concern and is a big consideration for retailers eyeing inventory management solutions.
Today, anti-theft solutions are usually based on EAS (Electronic Article Surveillance) systems, cameras, or even security guards. These solutions all rely on the idea of activated tags sounding an alarm at the gates.
Connecting to the gates that retailers already have in place, new technologies provide improved anti-theft capabilities. Cloud-enabled security based on real-time item location recorded on a specialized app supports store crime prevention efforts in real-time, as it also enhances investigation and diagnosis capabilities, such as providing a timestamp when something is stolen.
This solution also offers anti-tamper capabilities so that when a customer takes off the tag before purchase, such as at the fitting room, it discreetly alerts store associates that can immediately approach the customer and prevent theft.
Automating store operations is just one example of what innovative technology can do for retail efficiency. In-store solutions that automatically collect rich item-level data can use retail analytics to help retailers effectively access in-store customer behavior and draw actionable insights.
With advanced analytics displayed on a dedicated platform, retailers can easily understand availability, engagement, intent, and abandonment. In real life, this means they know things like which items customers pass by without stopping, which they’re taking off the rack to look at, and what they’re trying on but not buying.
Understanding the data helps to optimize store operations and quickly make changes to increase conversion.
Put into practice, smart tech can advise staff on everything from stock optimization (such as how much of each style to have out on the sales floor, or replenish in case of low stock or broken sizes) to optimizing merchandise location (move from back to front shelf or put on a mannequin). It can further help test layout (with localized heat maps), upsell (based on what items are often sold together) and more, depending on your brand’s goals and needs.
For headquarters, a dedicated dashboard presents data for better decision-making, down to the store level. Executives can review and improve in numerous ways: They can look at why some stores do better than others to improve performance in stores whose conversion is lagging, review whether a store has complied with visual merchandising instructions or only get notified when compliance is lacking, plan for better assortment localization and support other decisions.
Giving customers a personalized, high-quality shopping experience is increasingly critical to retail operations and success. 66% of consumers believe that automation can improve their shopping experience. And they’re right: brick-and-mortar technology that supports connected stores can offer a unified experience, with customers seamlessly moving across physical and digital.
When customers walk into a store and are met with service, care and attention by a staff that is less burdened with manual tasks, it can enhance their experience. They can also get what they want fast.
With Connected Stores, when a customer asks for this style of shirt in size 8, item-location technology enables store associates to instantly locate the item, whether it’s on the shelf, in the fitting room, or the backroom. In case it’s not available in store, they can check the store app for expected arrival times or suggest an alternative.
The store app gives frontline associates a host of tools to serve customers, upsell, and offer seamless checkout.
Seamless and frictionless don’t apply to online or omnichannel solutions alone. Technology can bring it to physical stores, enhancing operational efficiency and customer experience.
Many stores offer self-checkout kiosks, yet most customers and retailers agree they have too many issues.
To begin with, self-checkout is expected to get rid of wait times. Instead, customers stand in self-checkout lines. Then, they go to work, manually removing the clunky tags attached to the fashion items and scanning products, often with the help of store associates. Essentially, it’s hardly automated, nor is it truly self-checkout.
New NanoBT (Bluetooth) technology can deliver on the promise of efficient, fast, frictionless checkout from anywhere in the store. All customers need to do is click “check out” on their device and choose a form of payment.
Nano Bluetooth tags, for example, have an embedded EAS system that is disabled once the item is purchased, enabling the customer to exit the store with confidence without ever removing the tag. Self-return is just as easy and efficient.
Efficient checkout allows sales associates to serve more customers in less time, eliminating long queues while providing a top-level customer experience.
automate to free resources
No more putting excessive time and effort into tasks that don’t benefit from adding a human touch, like inventory counts or chasing an item around the store.
Instead, valuable time can be allocated to other retail store operations that can greatly benefit from it, most of all clienteling.
Improved in-store employee productivity and efficiency enable store management to do things differently. One strategy is to improve profitability by saving on employee hours. Another is to grow sales by more productively assigning in-store tasks and encouraging sales associates to be on the store floor, supporting customers and selling more, faster.
The Benefits of In-Store Automation
7 Reasons to Automate In-Store Operations:
- Improve efficiency – automating dull tasks is time- and cost-effective.
- Eliminate human error – smart tech works fast and reduces mistakes.
- Reduce costs – some manual processes don’t add value, whereas automated tasks have the added benefits of accuracy, speed and scalability.
- Optimize revenue – harness data to make decisions that consistently drive conversion and optimize sales across channels.
- Improve customer service – excellent customer service generates more sales and helps build customer loyalty. Automation drives faster customer service and better shopping experiences.
- Benefit employees – Automation frees up employees for more meaningful tasks and can boost morale and retention.
- Increase headquarters effectiveness – Data collection and analysis on a cloud platform gives executives real-time visibility, control, and data-driven insights.
Employee retention and satisfaction
As retailers struggle with post-pandemic labor shortages, they need solutions to mitigate the impact on in-store sales. Relieving employees from some of the most boring, hated tasks and empowering them to focus their energy on more engaging work can be part of the solution.
With more automation, employees can dedicate more time to customer service, and apply practical information (location of the white pants in XL that a customer asked for) and technological support (mobile checkout) for better results.
Store operations management can rely on technology to assist. It can minimize monotonous work, expedite in-store training and make new and temporary employees more effective with user-friendly systems and easy-to-follow instructions, and retain talent by increasing employee engagement and job satisfaction. According to research, happier employees are more productive: they work faster, perform tasks and make more sales.
Stores offer the ultimate immersive experience and the best way for brands to achieve lower fulfillment and return costs. Understanding how transformative it can be to move from manual to automated operations in the store, it’s crucial to find the right technology for optimizing in-store operations and performance, shaping retail stores into powerful touchpoints in unified omnichannel and Connected Retail.