Understand, Analyze, and Improve Retail Workflows via Process Automation

retail workflow

Customer experience is of prime importance to all businesses. Customer expectations have hit an all time high with digitization creeping into every facet of their lives. Today’s customer expects proactive service, personalized interactions, and connected experiences across digital channels.

Manual retail workflows are incapable of delivering the customer experience that the modern day customer expects. A successful retail workflow management strategy must be aligned with evolving customer expectations. Automation in retail is key to delivering superior customer experiences across different channels. This article discusses retail workflows, retain automation and the advantages of automating retail workflows.

What is a Retail Workflow?

Retail store operations involve a number of processes performed on a continuous basis by different members in the retail chain. The retail workflow processes are fairly similar between different organizations, as companies have shared best practices and experiences over the years. Understanding the basic retail processes and workflow can help businesses structure operations.

The Main Operations in the Retail Workflow Include:

1. Purchasing 

Retail store managers often handle purchasing duties for their sales outlets. Organizations that operate large retail chains have centralized purchasing systems where the front-line managers are only incharge of reporting inventory levels to the main office.

On the other hand, organizations that operate smaller retail chains have their store managers handling all purchasing activities. Purchasing activities include taking stock of the inventory on hand, which includes goods on the shelf and goods in storage. Managers place orders with suppliers either on a regular basis or when they reach the optimum reorder point for specific items, to ensure that their outlets are always fully stocked.

2. Inventory management

Inventory handling is part of everyone’s job in the retail team. Inventory management starts when shipments are received, which includes unpacking boxes, sorting received items, and packing and disposing of materials.

Storage of new inventory items is carried out according to company policies, usually following the first in first out rule. Restocking of inventory is done on a need basis. Not just stocking, but store associates are responsible for maintaining the aesthetics of storage spaces by rearranging or straightening items after customers handle them. Other reorganizing duties include cleaning all objects regularly, reorganizing shelves and displays to give a fresh look, and keeping customers engaged and interested while shopping.

3. Customer service

The core element of retail store operations is customer service. It holds the entire retail workflow together. The main focus of retail stores is to provide an outlet for customers to view the available goods, and handle and purchase them.

All the activities in the retail store are focused on serving the customer. Activities related to customer service can be broken down into 3 categories- in-store assistance, transaction processing, and grievance/complaints management. In-store assistance activities revolve around helping customers find the right product for their requirements.

Transaction processing activities include ringing up transaction totals, accepting payments, and packaging goods for the customer to take home. Customer complaint handling activities include dealing with returns, short-change claims, handling issues between customers and store staff, and any dissatisfaction with the quality of service provided at the retail outlet.

4. Accounting 

All the activities carried out in individual retail outlets are reported to the main office regularly. Reporting financial information to the accounting department is the main component of retail workflows. Store managers are responsible for sending daily updates on sales numbers, refunds, lost inventory, hourly payroll data, and information related to bank deposits before the workflow cycle begins the following day.

7 Ways to Better Retail Workflow Management

Any process requires good planning that considers the company’s motives to determine what strategies to implement. Retail workflow management can be improved by implementing the following best practices.

1. Goal setting

Setting short-term and long-term goals is important for better business outcomes. In addition to setting organization-wide goals like increasing sales, management must set standards regarding which project performances need to improve, specific revenue goals, and ideal profit margins for each item. Goals can be categorized as internal and external objectives.

Internal objectives in retail management revolve around pulling reports and setting practical sales and revenue goals based on product performance. Monthly, quarterly, and annual goals can be set for motivating employees and ensuring that they stay focused on boosting sales. External objectives focus on the retailer’s overall performance in terms of customer experience. Customer service and retention, loyalty, and product pricing are examples of external goals.

2. Market analysis

Retail outlets need to stay updated on market trends so that the goods they offer are currently in demand by target consumers. Detailed market research helps understand consumer requirements, competitor strategies, performance, and weaknesses. Based on the findings, companies can develop a plan of action that enables them to fulfill customer needs and gain a competitive edge.

Any risks and opportunities that the company may be exposed to are also revealed via market analysis. Effective risk management and planning enable retailers to anticipate upcoming events and plan for them accordingly. Not just competitor analysis, but market research and analysis, help identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Based on this knowledge, organizations can work towards improving weaknesses.

3. Analyze customer behavior

Understanding the target audience is vital for the correct launch and promotion of products to attract customers. Retailers must understand what customers expect from products and brands. The first step is to understand what types of demographics are in the market for their product. This understanding allows them to innovate customized experiences and brand images to attract audiences. Continuous monitoring of customer feedback and preferences is essential for retailers to stay relevant.

4. Create retail strategies

Once target demographics are determined, marketing teams develop effective promotions for their products and company identity. The retailer must establish a strong image that attracts customers by illustrating their expectations accurately. A clear retail workflows strategy empowers businesses to remain relevant and competitive. The system could focus on product pricing, variety, quality, and additional features. The retailer must focus on providing a customer experience that cannot be received anywhere else.

5. Make short-term plans

The short-term goals of a company need to outline a step-by-step plan to achieve key performance metrics. For example, if the retail store wants to increase sales during the summer season, it should focus on targeted marketing tactics and floor design to increase traffic flow. Running digital campaigns and commercials, and exclusive deals are some of the ways in which sales can be increased. Redesigning and reorganizing the storefront is another way to attract customers. Even short-term planning must be done months in advance to ensure that all resources are adequately utilized.

6. Implement strategies

Once the market strategies and customer analysis are complete, goals are set, and plans are outlined, companies start to implement their strategies. Implementing some strategies requires additional changes to the business model, staffing, supply chain, or accounting. Employees may not be open to implementing these changes, as they may have to take on more responsibilities.

Implementing new changes requires a good amount of planning and apprising employees in advance about these changes. Offering incentives to employees that adapt well to these changes is a good way to motivate them.

7. Analyze performance strategy

Once new strategies and changes are implemented, their performance needs to be monitored to ensure that the improvements are consistent. Regular performance monitoring also helps identify any errors within a process. The key performance areas of retail workflows must be monitored to analyze performance.

What is Retail Automation?

In retail, several processes can use automation and retail workflows to simplify and streamline operations. Inventory management, customer service, billing, and purchasing, are some of the tasks in retail management that can be effectively automated. Automation platforms like Cflow can be used to automate key tasks in the retail workflow.

Retail automation software can be used to create a series of automation tasks that trigger specific actions and move the process forward. Retail automation solutions eliminate unnecessary human involvement, which reduces the time spent on repetitive, simple tasks. This way, more focus is on important tasks that add value to retail operations.

Automation in retail is all about using innovation and technology to improve processes to ensure efficient operations. Online retail workflow management examples include ERP for billing, automated checkouts, chatbots for answering service queries, inventory software, and POS (point of sale) software.

The adoption of retail technologies across the retail process lifecycle increases the need to adopt retail automation solutions to accelerate the retail workflow. Retail automation software comes with pre-built conditions and templates that allow users to create smart automation rules that fit well into your e-commerce workflows. With a workflow automation solution like Cflow, you can optimize your order routing, automate invoicing, and automate order fulfillment.

Strategies and Solutions for Retail Automation

Retail workflow management is not only about adopting the right automation solution but also about choosing the right strategy and solutions for retail automation. Workforce and workflows hold the key to productivity. We have put together a list of strategies for retail automation for building a streamlined and productive retail workflow.

1. Redefining process operations

Implementation of retail automation solutions brings new and better capabilities to businesses. Successful implementation requires changes in employee roles and responsibilities and operating models. Right from the company headquarters to the product store, the operating models must evolve with retail automation solutions.

One example is using intelligent robots equipped with shelf scanning features to take care of product scanning in the warehouse so that managers can switch to other jobs where the human factor is more critical. Such operational changes in tune with retail automation are required for the successful implementation of retail automation.

2. Reasoning roles and responsibilities

Implementing retail automation helps create a pool of hours with highly qualified employees. These hours can be utilized for performing more valuable tasks. When automation takes over customer-centric roles in the retail workflow, employees can be reassigned to roles that add value to retail operations.

Redeploying the workforce to serve the customers better is a winning strategy for retail automation. When all the routine tasks are automated, the team can focus more on improving tech and customer support. Deploying customer support specialists in customer consulting roles improves process efficiency and increases revenue.

3. Reskilling the retail team

Tech-based changes within the retail team should be backed by training and reskilling employees to adapt seamlessly to the new changes. Retail automation with technology requires a complete reshaping of the company’s processes and skill demands. With a decline in the need for physical and other manual skills, automation brings about a steep rise in the market for technological skills.

Retails need to upskill themselves in order to stay relevant in their job. Reskilling the workforce so that the skill gaps can be sealed and the HR is not under pressure to recruit new talent.

4. Modifying the hiring strategies

Organizations need to approach their talent strategy broadly to address the demand for specialized skills and their scarcity in companies. The comfort of workers must be borne in mind while making crucial decisions on the choice of office location. Revamping the hiring strategies by including freelancers, independent contractors, etc in the hiring window enables HR to fill the hiring gaps quickly and reduce costs by paying only for the outcomes of the work done.

5. Making strategic investments in wages

Retail automation requires specialization in retail roles. Investing in high wages and focusing on additional benefits for your workers is a good strategy for retail automation.

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6 Examples of Retail Automation Implementation

Not every retail process is suitable for automation. Generally, processes that involve routine and mundane tasks that do not require human intelligence are best suited for automation. Some of the practical examples of retail automation implementation are listed below.

Inventory management

Managing inventory is a core retail function that comprises several routine and repetitive tasks. Automating inventory management takes care of all the repetitive inventory management tasks with very little human effort.

An automated inventory management process provides real-time visibility into inventory status, saves time, and reduces human errors. The retail sales team gets clear insights into the stock in-store and the marketing team gets insights into what is selling well. Moreover, C-suite executives get easy access to critical inventory data when inventory management is automated.

Returns processing

As e-commerce grows, the incidence of product returns also increases proportionally. Consumers of online shopping expect automated returns services from e-commerce companies. To manage the demand for automated returns services, retail brands need to strike a balance between the cost implications of returns in their business operations. The likelihood of customers placing more orders increases when there is an easy returns process in place.

Automation simplifies the otherwise complex and time-consuming returns processing. Automating the returns processing workflow helps e-commerce companies manage with little or no input from human workers.

Retail marketing

Providing personalized customer experiences is the main aim of retail marketing. The sheer volume of customer data that retail marketers have to process demands a lot of effort and time from the marketing team. Effective retail marketing enhances the effectiveness of retail campaigns and provides a personalized customer experience.

Automating the retail marketing process increases the effectiveness of retail campaigns and saves time. Other areas where automation adds value to the retail marketing process are personalized interactions, buying suggestions, customer retention strategies, and triggering marketing campaigns based on tagging of customers with specific attributes.

Distribution center operations

The day-to-day operations of company distribution centers can be effectively automated with workflow automation solutions. Distribution activities like inventory checks, material receiving, and storage can be automated effectively. Automating these operations help warehouse managers, procurement staff, inventory analysts, and warehouse operations staff, improve their productivity.

Distribution planning and delivery

Timely and accurate delivery of customer orders requires a well-planned distribution network. Automating the distribution planning and delivery processes saves time and improves efficiency. Planning, scheduling, and execution of customer order distribution are best suited for automation.

Automation of distribution planning and delivery operations can benefit order processing staff, warehouse operations staff, and fleet management, staff.

Store planning 

Retailers need to have a solid plan for their stores so that customers are served efficiently. They need to plan on what products attract customers, how to store products for maximizing sales, and how to create a positive customer experience and sales. Some stores have implemented sensors to detect and report aisles at which customers are spending the most time and which products they look at most. Data gathered from sensors can help store owners determine the best store layout for their customers.

Automation platforms provide data that enables the best store design and layout that provides customers with the most sought-after products to maximize revenue.

Conclusion

Automation in retail using workflow automation tools like Cflow helps improve the customer experience considerably. From retail store planning to distribution center planning, workflow automation shows the way forward. The visual form builder in Cflow empowers retailers to build customized workflows that align well with their retail operations. Not just the visual form builder, but Cflow offers a host of other features that make your retail operations efficient and streamlined. To explore Cflow, sign up for the free demo today.

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