5 Steps to Implementing a Retail Data Collection Program

Retail data collection consists of capturing, storing and reporting on data about the state and performance of retail stores at a certain point in time and over time.

This post presents several guidelines and best practices for setting up a successful program, especially in the context of multi-unit retail.

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Define the scope of the data collection program

When done, here is content other readers find helpful:

What store data are you collecting? Are you interested in merchandising audits or customer-service checklists? Are you interested in collecting sales numbers? Or in capturing the store’s compliance with human resources best-practices or the company’s loss prevention policy?

Depending on the data you need to collect, different data “buckets” may involve similar tools (often applications running on PCs, tablets and smartphones) but will probably involve different teams, using different workflows, at different times of the year. For each “bucket” of data, pose the following questions:

  1. What data are we collecting?
  2. Where are we collecting it? Some stores only, all stores? Why?
  3. Who collects it?
  4. When is the data collected? At what frequency? Is the data collected on a fixed schedule or ad-hoc?
  5. Who looks at the data being collected?
  6. Is the collected data actionable? Does it or should it trigger a process or response when certain conditions are met?
  7. In what format (raw or aggregated) does the data collected need to be to add value to the store and to the organization?

Step 2: Implement “checklists” and other data collection forms

In its most basic form, a smart checklist is a collection of best practices to uphold, for a given data “bucket”. A data collection form is simply a form that specifies which data needs to be collected, when, where and by whom.

For information on building checklists for multi-unit retail, please refer to How to Build a Retail Audit Checklist.

See all checklists.

Step 3: Do you need an action plan?

Are you simply “collecting” data or are you making it actionable? While you may initially be only interested in collecting the data, over time the organization may expect non-compliant issues and deficiencies to be assigned and resolved.

In many cases, data collection is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If you are interested in tracking deficiencies through completion, consider the benefits of an action plan.

Step 4: Run a trial, calibrate your forms and the team involved

At the heart of any successful data collection program lies some well thought-out, field-tested forms. Additionally, you need a field-team well aligned with the objective and contents of these forms. Multi-unit retailers often carefully build, vet and “calibrate” forms with a sample group of users and stores prior to general launch.

For more information on the purpose and benefits of form and field team calibration, refer to Retail Audit Calibration – Purpose and Best Practices.

Step 5: Decide if you need to buy or build your retail data collection software

Should you buy or build your data collection software? The factors that need to drive your decision includes your costs and your return on investment. You should also consider your time-to-market and the value and benefits that you will derive from the software you chose.

A complete discussion on the economics of buying vs building your data collection tool is available at Retail Audit Software: Buy vs Build.


Refer to the Retail Audits and Inspections category for how-tos and best practices for retail audits and inspections.

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