Phonebooks and iPads:Lessons Retail Should Learn from the NFL
(How retailers can take a page from the NFL’s “playbook” and maximize customer engagement in their stores. Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of 2)
Remember phonebooks? I do. No, I’m not talking about iPhones, this is not a typo. I mean the paper ones. I can remember staying at hotels in New York City as a youngster and being amazed that NYC had not one but TWO phonebooks (A-L and M-Z) — each of which were twice as big as my hometown’s phonebook of Indianapolis, Indiana. It took 5 minutes just to find the phone number of the pizza place when I was hungry. Now I can speak into my iPhone and have the number within 5 seconds.
Fast forward to last week, when I was listening to ESPN radio. Radio talk show host Colin Cowherd was interviewing Peter King, a well-known sports writer, about NFL Football. Cowherd wanted to know why there are now so many successful quarterbacks compared to ten years ago. Cowherd said a decade ago there may have been 12 good quarterbacks in the NFL but that by his count there are currently 23 quarterbacks who are at least “good.” King, a thoughtful and insightful sportswriter, said he thought the driving force behind the advancement of college quarterback development in the NFL today is the speed at which they learn. In particular, King referenced how the training of QBs in NFL pre-season camps has transformed from reading Manhattan phonebook sized playbooks to a league where new QBs view coaching points, practice videos, and playbook segments on their iPads.
It wasn’t so long ago that when rookie quarterbacks came into the NFL they were handed a playbook the size of War and Peace and told to “Read up.” King compared that to today and provided an example of watching EJ Manuel, a rookie quarterback for Buffalo, as he reviewed his entire practice and the key coaching points for his development 45 minutes after a pre-season practice. It was nearly real-time, it was EJ’s custom development plan, and EJ could visualize and correct his mistakes that he’d made an hour ago. This is the world we live in. Quarterbacks are getting better faster. It’s all about speed.
As a former retail professional who works every day to help retailers operate more efficiently, King’s story connected with me immediately. At one point in my retail career I was tasked with writing our company’s version of operational “Phonebooks” — our Standard Operations and Procedures binders. These three-ring binders sat on the bookshelf or desk of every Store Manager. We wrote these phonebooks with the best intentions. They were relevant, accurate, and helped guide field leadership on the most important operational issues – or so we thought.
During my years as a store manager, the binders were never more than 3 feet away from me in the office. The problem was that I wasn’t in my office much. Furthermore, many of the things I spent time with on a day to day basis were not covered in the phonebooks.
The 2013 world of retail is no different than the 2013 world of NFL Football from the standpoint of speed. Just as in the NFL, the world of retail is faster. Customers have access to product and pricing information and reviews by other consumers on smart phones while standing in the aisles. Retailers who can’t engage with these well-informed customers risk losing the sale to a competitor and being left behind.
Brick and Mortar retailers are under tremendous pressure to perform. Some retailers now actually expect their B and M same store sales to be flat to single digit negative due to the explosive growth of their Internet business. Two or three years ago, this would be unheard of. Wall Street did not take kindly to retail chains that didn’t have same store sales increases. Retailers that showed flat sales were punished by the market — executives of a chain that showed negative sales were usually shown the door. The internet, the increasingly knowledgeable consumer, and the ever expanding marketplace are applying tremendous pressure to B and M retailers. The consumer simply will not tolerate a poor shopping experience. It’s too easy for them to find a better way. From Amazon to Google, customers find what they are looking for – fast.
How can retailers respond? The company I work for, Reflexis Systems, has a solution. As a leader in the retail task/workforce management space, Reflexis has been at the cutting edge of in-store execution optimization for nearly 14 years. Our platform of solutions such as Reflexis Task Manager and Reflexis Workforce Manager help retailers ensure consistent store-level execution of their long- and short-term merchandising, product, and labor operations plans. But several years ago, our chief of R&D and engineers saw that something else was needed. Something that not only allowed retailers to execute their planned strategy, but also respond in real-time to rapid changes in their stores that directly impact the customer shopping experience. It’s called Reflexis StorePulse. In part two of this post, I’ll discuss more about this in detail and how Reflexis StorePulse enables retailers to take a page out of the NFL’s new digital, real-time playbook.
– Kevin Tapscott is a Solutions Consultant for Reflexis Systems, Inc. In addition to his seven years of experience at Reflexis, he has 15 years of experience as a retail operations professional for a Top 200 global retail chain with more than 500 stores.