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Tech Guest Viewpoint: Rethinking email in your store strategy


“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” That’s a famous quote from the comic strip “Pogo” by cartoonist Walt Kelly. Popular during the 1960s, Kelly was commenting on how humans are often the cause of their own woes in the world. To which I would add retailers could just as easily say, “We have met the enemy, and it is email.”

Email was invented in 1972. Many mid-sized and large retailers continue to use email to communicate all kinds of tasks, communications, and projects to stores. Any decent-sized retailer expects stores to execute a wide variety of tasks, many of which are specific to a store or group of stores, department within a store, functional role within a store, and so on.

In just one week, stores are expected to complete the following types of tasks:

  • IT projects such as improving systems or upgrading networks, with technicians arriving at different times, including overnight, over several days at various stores.

  • Launching of new department- and product-specific planograms tied to seasonal buying patterns.

  • A promotion in a group of stores, all of which are located in a specific state that is having a “tax holiday.”

  • Loss prevention training sessions such as updated visitor control policies and cash handling.

  • Product drawdowns from one group of stores where seasonal buying has subsided and transferring same product to a different group where sales are forecasted to ramp up.

  • Contests, announcements, recalls, customer surveys in the aisles, and oh yes, last-minute changes to all of the above.

Here’s how email strangles your ability to execute all of the above types of tasks as intended, while also impeding your ability to meet your customer service goals:

  • Communications overload to store managers besieged by non-prioritized emails, corrective emails, forwarded emails, “forwards of forwards,” and more.

  • Last-minute emails from a plethora of functional corporate areas, all of which think their tasks ought to be the priority, and none of which have visibility into overall task volume being rained down on stores.

  • Inability of corporate, regional, and store managers to track completion status in real time and manage by exception to identify and correct areas of underperformance and missed deadlines.

  • Difficulty in streamlining communications to target specific information to the right stores and roles, resulting in inefficiency due to information being blasted to everyone in the retail chain, whether it pertains to them or not.

  • Lack of two-way feedback to help the retailer respond to trouble areas in mid-stream and correct future missteps. Suggestions for improvement usually disappear into a black hole and are not used to drive continuous improvement.

  • Inability to efficiently monitor compliance to a variety of loss prevention, safety, HR, store appearance, and other policies and across all stores and rapidly correct areas of detected non-compliance.

Retailers across all categories have solved these problems by implementing retail task management and store auditing solutions. Here’s how:

  • Store managers view a prioritized to-do list in their daily planner. They instantly know what to do and when, with all required information in one place. When information changes, the system flags and updates the task or project as to presence of new information.

  • Instead of last-minute, incomplete emails from every corporate area, corporate gatekeepers can view the workload impact of tasks and balance their launch and due dates in alignment with retail strategy. Corporate communications uses templates to ensure all the information needed is included and expressed with clarity to avoid confusion.

  • Corporate, regional, and store managers can track completion status in real time in color-coded charts and graphs to manage by exception and correct areas of non-compliance.

  • Distribution lists based on brands, departments, roles, and store attributes such as size, operating hours, and sales volume simplify the creation and communication of specific information to exactly the right people. Others in the organization are no longer bothered with tasks and communications that do not pertain to them.

  • Closed-loop, two-way feedback to pro-actively respond to trouble areas and prevent similar mistakes in the future. Corporate planners can view post-completion survey responses and free-form text suggestions to support continuous improvement.

  • Retail store auditing on mobile devices enables efficient and fast identification of compliance issues. When detected, the StoreWalk application automatically assigns best practice corrective action to the right role in the store; the assigned task is tracked to completion in Task Manager.

If you are still using 1970s technology to communicate tasks to stores, I would ask: what would you rather have your best salespeople — your store managers — doing? Reading emails and taking phone calls in an office or directing associates and helping customers in the aisles? Do you want to help stores succeed, or would you prefer to continue to use technology that makes your store operations group your company’s own worst enemy when it comes to executing your go-to-market and customer engagement strategies.

Dave Andrews is director of marketing communications for Reflexis Systems Inc.

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