How to Be an Agile Retailer: 6 Expert-Backed Ideas

Between rapidly changing consumer trends and more competition, agility is a super power in the retail industry. If you want to thrive today and in the coming years, it’s critical that you learn how to be fast, nimble, and adaptable. 

This post explores the topic of retail agility in more detail, and sheds light on how businesses can be more agile in how they operate and move in the market. 

Let’s dive in. 

Motivate your employees to move faster

Improving your agility as a business will be virtually impossible if your employees don’t share the same mindset and goals. That’s why it’s important to:

a) ensure that you have the right people on board; and

b) empower those team members to be faster and nimbler. 

Rick Watson, founder of RMW Commerce Consulting, says that one of the first steps to being an agile retailer is to upgrade your talent. “The #1 challenge retailers are facing with change is not due to technology, it is due to the talent level of the staff. The retailer’s existing talent may have always done things a certain way and can’t imagine, or is afraid of, change in order to move forward,” he says.”

In such cases, it’s a good idea to orient your team on the benefits of change or bring in people who share your views. 

If you already have a solid team in place, you can empower them to be more agile by reducing bureaucracy and hierarchy in your organization. 

According to Olivia Tan, co-founder of CocoFax, “The key to an agile approach is disrupting the hierarchy. The goal here is to reduce the layers of control with smaller, dynamic teams, and networks of teams.”

She continues, “Removing hierarchy will call for a redistribution of responsibility. Agile retail relies on empowered staff at every level of experience  —  putting innovation in the hands of those closest to customers will increase their motivation and grow expertise.”

Jason Brown, founder and CEO at ApprovedCosts.com, adds that giving employees more autonomy helps retailers be more agile. “To become an agile retailer, you need to have the support of your team. To gain their support, the best route is to empower them. You need to encourage them to make tough decisions, especially if the situation requires it. By being independent, anyone can react to any circumstances at any time. Your autonomous company culture will greatly go hand-in-hand with agility,” he explains. 

Rely on data

Being an agile retailer isn’t just about moving quickly. It’s about moving quickly in the right direction. 

To do this effectively, you need to have accurate and updated data that can inform your business decisions. 

As Watson puts it, “One of the reasons retailers don’t change is that they aren’t monitoring their businesses closely enough. They are looking at the top-line numbers and their profitability numbers only. They aren’t segmenting their customers well enough, and their consumer offers are not personalized enough. Better insights mean better visibility, which leads to better decisions.”

Tricia Gustin, senior director of marketing at The Parker Avery Group, echoes this and says that “Agility for retailers entails using the vast amount of data that’s now readily available (internally and externally), coupled with advanced analytics and artificial intelligence.” 

“Agility comes down to the ability to react quickly to realistic consumer demand signals informed by the data and driven by intelligence. That intelligence comes from a myriad of different data sources: internal sales history, competitor intelligence, social media, product reviews, economic conditions, pandemic responses, and more.”

There are a lot of data points and metrics to track, which is why it’s important to invest in a solution that not only enables you to collect information, but can also help you make sense out of your data so you can turn insights into action. 

Know your priorities

There’s always a never-ending list of projects, tasks, and initiatives you could implement, and there’s simply no way to do them all. Part of being agile is figuring out the right moves to make. 

“You need to be smart with your priorities,” says Brown. He recommends having a list of just 3 or 4 priorities and focusing on those. “Once you complete a priority, you then can replace it with a new one. By applying this approach, you can focus on what needs your attention the most.”

Another way to view this is to focus on improving a specific area of your business instead of trying to revamp everything across the board. 

Bernadette Welch, technical director at Uke Tuner, recommends finding a part of your business that delivers the most efficiency, and then focus on optimizing that first. “Spend more time and effort on improving that part, instead of trying to grow all parts of the business.”

Then once a specific priority or component is fully optimized, you can set your sights on the next thing to improve. 

This principle can also be applied to the in-store experience. While it’s tempting to completely overhaul your stores, it may be more beneficial (and agile) to redesign certain parts of a store on a continuous basis. 

Doing so will help you move quicker and adapt to rapidly-changing consumer trends.

“Many retailers still only refresh their store formats in three- to five-year cycles. That’s an eternity in today’s world, where consumer demands and behavior are changing rapidly,” explains Luish Mahida, SEO expert at Global Vincitore.

Rather than the traditional approach to store designs, Mahida recommends “continually making one-off, high-impact changes rather than department-wide or storewide remodels.”

“Retailers must adopt a mindset of ‘never being done’; format redesign should be an ongoing process of implementing solutions quickly and refining them constantly, with retailers keeping their fingers on the consumer pulse and adapting store formats to respond to evolving consumer needs.”

Adopt the right technology

Inefficiencies, manual processes, and human error greatly hinder your ability to be more agile, so it’s important to have systems and tools to prevent these issues. Having the right technologies in the following areas can greatly improve your agility:

Automation. Equip your business with tools that automate manual and repetitive tasks such as data entry and other administrative work. For instance, if managers are still spending time manually scheduling shifts, it may behoove you to adopt an employee scheduling app that streamlines the process. 

Remember, the less time you and your employees spend on manual work, the more energy you can devote to higher-level tasks. 

Communication. Team members all need to stay in sync to effectively operate day-to-day and execute your initiatives. Keeping everyone on the same page is much more difficult if you’re using disparate communication channels — e.g., email, phone calls, SMS, etc. 

So, make sure you have a strong communications and collaboration platform. Ideally, the solution should enable your entire team to send messages and collaborate using a single system so everything is kept in one place. 

Visibility. Adopt solutions that provide real-time visibility into the various aspects of your business, including sales, inventory, customer behaviors, etc. This will give you deeper insights into your retail performance, ultimately allowing you to determine if you’re on the right track and what you can do to improve further. 

Collect feedback from shoppers

Being in touch with the needs of your customers is critical, particularly as you make changes to your business. 

As Tan says, “One thing that retailers can do to be more agile is to determine what their customers need, and work backwards.”

She continues, “Customer feedback is the holy grail, and acting swiftly to it is critical. Thankfully we’re in an age when customer data is more readily available — and interpretable — than ever before, and shoppers are increasingly vocal.”

As part of your data collection efforts, see to it that you’re able to glean insights into consumer preference and behavior. You can accomplish this by adopting social listening practices, as well as by actively encouraging shoppers to share their feedback. 

Audit your efforts

It’s not enough to come up with new ideas and initiatives; you need to ensure that any programs or changes that you’re making are executed correctly. 

To do that, conduct regular retail store inspections and audits and evaluate the implementation and performance of your programs. If you’re introducing new store policies, for example, have your district managers visit your stores to ensure that your guidelines are being followed. The same goes for marketing campaigns and product launches. 

To make this more effective, use retail audit software that digitizes the process. Rather than using paper checklists and clipboards, for instance, a solution like Bindy enables managers to use their mobile devices to configure their lists.

Task management and accountability are also improved, thanks to features like photo verification, time stamps, task notifications, and more. 

About the author:

Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.

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