The classic phrase “the devil’s in the details” rings very true in the retail world. A retail store may look simple and easy to mange on the outside. However, store managers and associates are constantly juggling multiple moving parts. From monitoring inventory levels to entering customer data, there are a lot of details to manage and a lot of opportunities for human errors to creep in.
While hiring competent team members will certainly go a long way, even the best employees need help in ensuring that everything is error-free. Everyone makes mistakes, and in retail, those errors can be costly.
According to the NRF, administration and paperwork errors account for 18.8% of inventory shrinkage in the United States. Since shrink costs retailers billions per year, admin errors add up to significant losses.
For this reason, you need to do everything you can to prevent and catch human error. The good news is, there are tools and steps you can take to do just that.
Have a look below.
Know which areas are prone to mistakes
You can’t prevent human error if you don’t know what mistakes are happening and where. So, take the time to get to the bottom of the issues that are plaguing your business.
In retail, human error often manifests itself in the form of shrinkage and missing merchandise. In some cases, the customer experience could take a hit. For instance, if shoppers can’t find products in the right place or if they’re always receiving the wrong items, it could be a sign of something amiss going on behind the scenes.
The best way to stay on top of these issues is to periodically evaluate your operations. On the inventory management side, be sure to do regular physical stock counts to verify that the inventory levels you have in your system match the number of products that you actually have in-store. If you’re always running into mysterious discrepancies and you’ve ruled out theft and fraud, then you may need to tighten up your procedures to prevent admin mistakes.
It’s also important to focus on store execution of programs and standards. For example, a solid retail audit workflow is incredibly useful for ensuring compliance and catching mistakes. They give you the opportunity to evaluate your store for compliance. This way you can rest easy knowing that your programs and initiatives are carried out properly.
Retail audits can also reveal mistakes in execution — not necessarily to “catch” team members, but to educate them. Audits allow you to correct course and prevent errors from happening in the future.
Create an environment for success
One of the best ways to prevent human error is to set up an environment that cultivates efficiency. Disorganized workspaces and stores are breeding grounds for mistakes. By simply creating a neat and orderly environment will go a long way in promoting error-free work.
To that end, equip yourself and your employees with the necessary organizational tools and equipment. Even small things such as setting up shelves, labeling materials, and having the right supplies can pave the way for smooth and productive work.
For example, having properly-labeled file cabinets or shelving not only makes it easier for people to find what they need, it also encourages them to stay organized. A properly-arranged workspace also means that team members can find the information and materials they need much quicker.
All in all, these things greatly reduce mistakes, and you and your employees can focus on getting things done properly.
Simplify your procedures
Whether it’s ordering merchandise, shipping products, or organizing a retail display, every retail store has a set of procedures for how things should be done. Processes are a must, but things get murky when your procedures are outdated or unnecessarily complicated.
If your business is fraught with human error, you may want to evaluate the procedures you have in place. Firstly, consider the length and complexity of your processes. Are there too many steps or people involved? Does a process really need to be that elaborate?
Take an honest look at how you do things in your business and find ways to streamline your procedures. If it’s possible to condense certain steps or to limit the number of people involved, give it a try and see how it works.
It is also wise to get feedback from your employees. Did a recent promotion fail to produce the sales lift you were hoping for? Conduct a post-mortem to see where employees got stuck or were confused about execution. Take that feedback and apply it to your next project to help reduce errors.
Automate whenever you can
Speaking of which, one of the things you can do to simplify processes and remove humans from the equation is to adopt solutions that can automate tedious and time-consuming tasks.
Tim Koster, founder at CleverCreations, explains, “a key element in reducing human error in retail is to use automated computer systems as much as possible.”
Computers and their algorithms, unlike people, do not get tired over time and are significantly less prone to error. The systems for this have an initial setup cost, but after that they are relatively cheap to maintain. People can be trained to reduce mistakes, but are capable of only so much.
In retail, some examples of tasks you could automate include:
Transferring information from one place to another
Many people make mistakes with data-entry, so it should be one of the first things you should automate. For example, are you re-entering customer data from your POS to your CRM? Find a way to integrate the two systems so that the data transfer happens automatically.
The same thing goes for your accounting software or payment processor. Instead of running two solutions separately, connect your technologies together so that information seamlessly flows across your systems.
While conducting physical inventory counts will always involve some form of manual work. You can streamline parts of the job by foregoing clipboards or pen and paper. Discrepancies happen when employees manually update stock levels after the count. A far more efficient alternative is to use a barcode scanning app. Try a solution that can automatically update your inventory levels once you and your team are done counting the merchandise.
Manually following-up or sending reminders
Whether it’s reminding team members to do something or touching base with a vendor on the status of your order, following-up is an important step in communication. But it’s also prone to human mishaps. People may forget to follow-up or do it at the wrong time. Prevent all that by having a system that can be programmed to send follow-ups at certain periods.
Bindy, for example, streamlines the follow-up phase of retail audits by automating tasks and corrective actions, so managers don’t have to do it themselves.
Communicating with groups of customers
There’s a lot of value in one-to-one communication, but this doesn’t mean that you have to type the same messages repeatedly. There are plenty of customer communication solutions in the market that can help you send personalized messages without the need for manual work.
Equip your business with a robust CRM and marketing communications tool so can run tailored campaigns with ease.
Encourage people to be open about mistakes
The best way to correct mistakes is to learn from them. You can’t do that if your team members are always covering up their errors.
Consider changing how mistakes are viewed in your organization. Rather than discouraging or cracking down on human error, encourage your team members to be open about any issues or mishaps. Make them feel comfortable about asking questions or calling out things that don’t seem right.
And when an issue comes to light, view it as a learning opportunity rather than a chance to reprimand your team. Doing so will result in open communication, harmonious relationships, and, ultimately, fewer errors.
Remember that solving issues, particularly when it comes to human error, is a team effort — which why is getting people’s input is so important. As Stewart Dunlop, CEO at PPCGenius, says, “the best way to prevent human error in retail is to make your employees part of the solution.”
“Resolving the error silently on your own is only a short-term solution to the obstacle in your retail store,” continues Dunlop. “This is particularly true for errors that happen persistently. In order to make fewer mistakes at work and address underlying concerns associated with the problem, you must involve your employees when attempting and executing the solution.”
Invest in staff training
Knowledgeable and skilled humans are less likely to make mistakes. This is why it’s important to invest in training your team. Proper training also improves your team’s knowledge and skills when navigating tricky situations.
As Tal Shelef, the co-founder of CondoWizard notes, periodically training your staff “strengthens your employees’ problem solving abilities and helps them be better prepared in handling unexpected issues that may suddenly pop up.”
Make sure people understand how tasks should be carried out in your business. If you’re using tools and apps, see to it that your team members have the know-how so they can put these technologies to good use.
No matter what you’re training people on, it always helps to use a variety of learning techniques — including face-to-face training, hands-on programs, videos, text, and more. Remember that employees have different learning styles, so select the teaching method that works best for them.
It takes more effort, but the more effectively you can train your team, the less likely they are to commit human error.
Pair up your employees
Two heads are better than one when it comes to error prevention, says Baron Christopher Hanson, lead consultant and owner of RedBaronUSA.
“The very best way to prevent human error in all retail operations and administrative procedures is to employ the buddy system of two or more people, at all times or during each critical workplace step,” he says. This strategy includes cross training retail employees in groups of two or more, ideally after store hours or even remotely or online.
Hanson continues, “the Navy SEALs (and most military teams) use the mantra *two is one, and one is none* in all operational missions and training sessions to always have a back-up. In retail, a second set of eyeballs will improve operational and administrative results greatly. Whenever retail employees work entirely alone, the potential for human error increases dramatically.
Ethan Taub, CEO at Goalry, offers up similar advice. “If you are struggling with human error in your warehouses, I would always suggest having more than one person work in an area at a time. When you give one person the ability to stock check everything, it can be a lot to handle. Figure out sections and have a pari of people work on it, that way, they can fact check each other. The process will get quicker as time passes, and will leave for very little room of error again.”
Avoid using too many communication platforms
Miscommunications lead to errors, so you can minimize mistakes in your business by streamlining how your team members communicate with each other.
One of the best ways to do this is to stick to one reliable (and secure) communication system. Rather than juggling multiple channels and methods (e.g., email, SMS, web chat, etc.) select a single platform on which to communicate. This ensures that your employees can have all the information they need in one place, so they can perform their jobs more effectively.
Left unchecked, error in retail can lead to shrinkage, diminish the customer experience, and decrease your profits. The good news is that most mistakes are preventable. With the right tools and processes, you can empower your team to work with confidence and keep your business running like clockwork.
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.