When the pandemic erupted, retailers had to change. Many were forced to rollout initiatives in weeks versus months. Making decisions that were instinctively the right thing to do, retail leaders acted. And it worked.
With the days of sweating the details on store re-opening plans now behind us, it’s time to use this as the catalyst for taking equally decisive action on what will be one of the deciding factors of retail success – and for some survival – in the months ahead.
The main concern? That poor retail and VM standards will derail plans to rebound.
Stores need to pull out all the stops. With people still shopping less, retailers need to dangle more than a cluttered and chaotic retail experience. Standards matter to shoppers, even the ‘invisible’ ones. They are an intrinsic part of what builds confidence and trust – vital to lure shoppers into stores and spend money.
In truth, many retailers were suffering from a systemic erosion in quality of store standards long before events of the last fourteen months. Failure to invest in the management of effective retail and VM standards, daily routines, positive habits and accompanying management checks, tools and actions, saw decline become deep rooted. For some it proved fatal.
With pressure on stores to perform, getting the balance between the ‘need to trade’ and the need to maintain and improve retail and VM standards is critical.
Gone are the days of waiting around for best practices to emerge.
Already, the reality of operating stores in a post-pandemic world will be causing some retailers to hurriedly review and rewrite retail and VM policies. Every element of policy will have to be evaluated immediately and refined as necessary—a tough task, but one that the team at Visual Thinking has taken in its stride many times before for the likes of Australian retail powerhouse Big W and UK retailer Wilko.
Execution excellence is a muscle that needs to be exercised. It’s a marathon not a sprint, so the emphasis should be on creating standards policies that are more customer focused, serve the needs of your stores over time, and can be delivered consistently by store teams in every store, every day.
Store teams have been brought back to work after being away for months. Retailers may feel their recollection will be strong enough to pick up where they left off, but skills and proficiency can and do expire.
Those working in-store will be overstretched in the months to come – more to do, less time, less training, and less specialist support to do their best work. In a new world where shoppers have come to enjoy the ruthless efficiency of buying online, that’s a recipe for irrelevance.
Retail leadership must define what good looks like, assign responsibility and drive closed-loop accountability. Store teams make high-stakes decisions every day when interpreting retail policy; the result of the choices they make having a direct effect on store standards and performance. That means everyone must have certainty and clarity about what needs to get done by whom, when, and why. Intended behaviours must be understood, and stick. Any communication helps a little, but detailed information on standards policy helps much more.
Reset is not a phrase, it’s a way of operating. At times of high uncertainty, every store must be given a platform needed to operate at the highest level; and the sooner that process begins, the better. Yet we’re struck, again and again, by how few retailers appear to place the kind of importance on standards policy that its role in store performance demands.
The path to improved standards needn’t be long or complicated. The rewards for success can be seen in those retailers who have already taken decisive action. All are in growth, all positioned for long-term survival.