An IT and store operations veteran looks at how to solve retail’s current and future challenges in the aisles.
When I think back to when I was a store manager leading a 70,000 sq. ft. supermarket with more than 200 employees, doing about $800,000 in sales per week, I had a long list of responsibilities and challenges. Some of the challenges were daily or weekly in nature. Others seemed to come out of nowhere and blindside me. The challenges in the daily/weekly category alone were daunting:
- Having the right number of employees at any given time for the actual number of customers and sales
- Making sure we had the right number and variety of products from one order cycle to the next
- Keeping track of what seemed like a million different metrics, all of which needed to come together to meet aggressive financial budgets
- Ensuring compliance with the myriad food safety, safety, and wage and hour laws
Retailers now have access to much more technology and automated systems than 15-20 years ago, which can help solve the above store operations challenges. We have forecasting engines that do a pretty good job of predicting labor needs based on labor and quality standards. We also have forecasting engines that accurately predict our sales and replenish the inventory stock with appropriate levels. Today’s highly configurable time and labor applications can be implemented much faster than 10-15 years ago and enable optimized scheduling and efficient payroll processing while ensuring labor law and business rule compliance. Task management systems allow us to sustain our store level execution and compliance at optimal levels.
Today, store managers and their corporate office counterparts have access to far more data than ever, and much of it is real-time data. Most Point of Sale Systems today report transaction log data every 15 minutes. This data is used to feed the forecasting engines to replenish the store, build optimized labor schedules, and help to manage KPIs to achieve financial results. The onset of “Big Data” and system integration has allowed us to create complex reports that analyze our business results from a multitude of angles.
All of the advancements and improvements I’ve described make it easier for store managers to do their jobs. However, store managers still have other challenges that technology is not addressing, and they are the same ones they’ve always faced, plus a few new ones: surprises that happen all the time, but are hard to predict in advance. The ones that seem to come out of nowhere and blindside a store manager. Examples include:
- Fulfillment of online-driven tasks such as Buy Online Pickup In-Store and ship from stores (this is fairly new but quickly becoming the norm as more retailers offer “Click and Collect”)
- Sudden customer fluctuations driven by promotions, weather, and more recently, social media
- The unforeseen arrival of a high value customer
- Trucks that show up too early, or too late
- Out of stocks of fast moving or high margin products
- Last minute employee no shows and sick callouts
- Adjusting labor throughout the day to match actual customer traffic
- Identifying and responding with best practices to real-time financial and operational KPIs and alerts
With all of this real-time data, system integration, and reports/analytics, why, despite spending billions of dollars annually on IT, have we as an industry not solved retail’s biggest store operations challenges?
The ability to consistently identify and rapidly respond to all of these last minute/second demands is the “Holy Grail” of retail. For any decent-sized store, achieving the Grail involves combining real-time data and alerts with best-practice guidance for actions store managers should take. If stores could do that, they could maximize sales, lower expenses, improve customer service, and compete better.
The good news is that Reflexis StorePulse®, a platform of processes and technology, has transformed workforce management by combining the traditional benefits of planning and compliance along with action-oriented solutions for dealing with surprises that currently vex store managers and will add additional pressure in the future.
Reflexis StorePulse provides a single application for viewing prioritized KPIs and alerts that come from workforce management solutions and other sources in the store technology eco-system (POS, Loss Prevention, traffic intelligence, supply chain, and so on). But most importantly, it does more than just raise an alert: it also provides best-practice steps in what to do next, with the ability to monitor completion status and ensure those steps are taken. To read a few scenarios of how Reflexis StorePulse does all this, click here
I wish Reflexis StorePulse existed when I was managing stores.
– Kevin Carleton is Senior Director of Customer Engagement for Reflexis Systems, Inc. He has 35 years of experience as a retail operations and IT professional. Prior to joining Reflexis, he was Director of Retail Technology for a large supermarket chain with seven banners and more than 1,500 store locations in the eastern United States.