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Customer Care

Retailers Need to Embrace Technology to Survive

Retailers that don’t use technology to streamline operations will lose business

Published: Thursday, October 28, 2021 - 11:03

For most of 2021, roughly 4 percent of the retail workforce has quit every month; in June alone 632,000 workers quit their retail job. Even though retail workers are quitting at a record pace, more new stores are opening than expected and looking to hire new employees. So how can retail chains retain and make sure they are prioritizing their employee base?

Cloud-based solutions can empower chain operators with the technology to simplify business operations and improve workflow, which leads to better customer service, employee management, and day-to-day functions. Businesses across industries including food and beverage, grocery, and fashion can simplify store management operations across multiple locations, with one seamless hub to provide real-time analytics to managers and operators.

But retail in particular is often resistant to change. Small and medium-sized businesses, often focused on short-term profitability, don’t see a financial advantage to implementing tech solutions. In addition retail has been managed a certain way for so long that store owners and managers are reluctant to look at changing the “way things have always been.”

However, those ways won’t cut it anymore. Customers are demanding more from retailers, as are employees. Unless retailers can keep up with these new demands, they will find themselves losing customers and disenfranchising their workers.

We spoke with Andrey Podgornov, founder and CEO of QVALON, a cloud-based solution that helps retail businesses monitor, manage, and magnify daily operations; provides checklist automation; and tracks store issues and tasks on mobile devices.

Quality Digest: From your perspective how has the retail landscape changed from prepandemic until now?

Andrey Podgornov: The most critical shift is the increased acceptance across the whole retail industry, especially retail business owners, in technological innovations focused on making operational processes automated, digital, and more efficient. The required adjustment toward contactless services such as online shopping (ecommerce); buy online, pick up in store; and self-billing and payments saw more investment in hardware like motion detectors, touchscreens, and laser scanners.

With that, the gap in industry leaders and chasers has widened. Businesses are willing to include more product offerings, which creates two major challenges for medium and small-scale businesses. First, the challenge of increasing their capacity to provide a higher variety of products although they typically serve a more niche group. Second, to make relevant changes quickly but without the budget or backing that major, larger companies have on hand. This relies heavily on improved supply chain management to procure raw material and semi-finished goods in higher volumes, while reducing delivery times of final products directly to customers.

QD: You have said that the most successful businesses right now are emphasizing empathy, safety, compassion and respect to foster lasting relationships with stakeholders, workforce, and customers. How does a business teach those soft skills?

AP: Businesses that cultivate an environment of close coordination among their employees succeed in fostering better teamwork through mutual empathy, compassion, and respect. Technology helps achieve this effort, which eventually perpetuates positive emotions.

With technological tools, one can conveniently assess high performers for appreciation, average performers for motivation, and poor performers for assistance and consultation. When this type of personalized approach is used, employees are able to feel valued, their concerns are heard and resolved, and their good work is rewarded and not overlooked. This inspires the workforce to want to do more good for their business, their teams, and themselves.

QD: What are some of the biggest problems faced when running multistore locations? How were these challenges impacted by Covid?

AP: In general, most, if not all, of the problems that were conventionally associated with multilocation retail businesses have worsened due to Covid.

For instance, it is tricky to uniformly, consistently, and closely implement standardized business processes and operational activities across an entire retail network spread over large geographies. Covid has caused local laws and regulations to change frequently—so each individual store may have drastically different regulations, situations, or changes on short notice. In such circumstances, it is difficult to do business smoothly because one process does not fit all.

The frameworks within which retail businesses have to operate are usually very volatile. Even more so in current times. In response to that, companies have to continuously change their policies, and it is difficult for them to effectively train all employees with each change and across each region.

Coordination is also a challenge when dealing with a large workforce spread over many locations. Now with scenarios like remote work and hybrid models with less employees, more or less hours, or varied availability, it is difficult for teams to collaborate and complete tasks together.

Finally, amid the ongoing labor shortage, it is difficult for the retail industry to hire, train, and preserve talent. Retail businesses are desperate for experienced professionals, and since such experts are in limited numbers, the companies are hiring inexperienced and unskilled people in large numbers—meaning quality and consistent training is even more important. This risks efficiency and quality of operational processes during the transition.

QD: How can retailers address common issues?

AP: These problems are a larger trend affecting retail businesses globally—and if retailers do not change their business approach proactively, then the market forces will eventually force them to make the change. By then, it’s too late for them to recover and meet the competition.

The pandemic has taught us that businesses cannot afford to show inertia toward change. They need to innovate and adapt. Being fearful of the change and uncertainty will only cause them to risk losing customers and decreasing business traffic.

Innovative retail technology solutions are the answer. Businesses need to test, explore, and learn what technologies work for them and begin implementing those that are most effective—before the problem becomes urgent. This will ensure that while businesses continue to operate as usual in the present, they are ready for any future advancements and surprises.

QD: Why do you think the retail industry lags behind in tech solutions?

AP: There are some obvious factors to why the retail industry lags behind others.

First, most decision makers in retail businesses are baby boomers. They believe in how business was done back in their day and have kept more or less the same approach toward running operations until now, with some minor tweaks.

Another factor is that a major portion of the retail industry is still controlled by small and medium-scale businesses that have less financial motivation to implement tech solutions. They favor short-term benefits over long-term goals.

And don’t forget that the retail industry employs a significant volume of the total workforce. Most of its operations are dependent on the employee’s skill. Like most people, this workforce is uncomfortable with any change. They mistake technology as a threat to their jobs and show reluctance in getting familiar with any tech solution. Naturally, businesses do not want to upset their human resource and risk reduced motivation, which will ultimately affect business efficiency.

QD: What are some benefits companies are seeing from implementing retail operations technology?

AP: The exact benefits and scope vary from retailer to retailer, as well as their business size, products, location(s), and nuances. Nevertheless, there are some common benefits of which any retailer can take advantage. But some of the benefits include the following.

• Reduced dependence on physical visits to different stores with more visibility via digital tools—particularly critical today.
• Convenient collaboration among team members without much reliance on their individual scenarios. Team members can be in quarantine or at the retail store or working remotely on a permanent basis, and still they can mutually coordinate to fulfill their work responsibilities.
• In response to revised regulations and protocols, it is quick and easy to educate the entire workforce on updated processes and standards. Likewise, it is also easy to review their understanding of the changes so as to provide added assistance if needed.
• Automate tasks that are repetitive and crucial, such as internal audits. Audit results help find process gaps and insights on where to correct and improve. Automating this creates even more efficiency.
• Data analysis helps draw insights that are always overlooked in nontechnological, traditional retail businesses.
• Features such as electronic checklists, geolocation tracking, photo reports, and data security help achieve higher compliance to standards.
• Everything is quantified by numbers. There is no room for ambiguity, and that assists in making decisions free from human influence.
• Create new tasks and assign responsibility based on results of other tasks. This ensures there are no loose ends in a process loop.

QD: What does technology allow you to do in relation to the problems retailers are facing? Communicate policy changes? Implement and track training?

AP: The pandemic has reshaped the entire retail industry, and new trends are emerging for businesses, especially when it comes to long-term goals, employee concerns, and customer priorities. In turn, retail companies are looking for solutions that can make their organizations responsive to these trends. There is also a serious need for retailers to adapt quickly to sudden changes, whether external for things like amendments, local laws or rules, or internal factors such as being updated or aware of infection at a local store.

Technology is the obvious answer to such predicaments. With QVALON, businesses can quickly update their work procedures, operational activities, and standards to reflect any changes in laws, protocols, or policies. Employees are then able to see these changes reflected throughout their individual job responsibilities and duties when they access QVALON.

In addition, employers are able to conduct surveys to review the workforce’s feedback and concerns. Through analysis of these surveys, potential gaps can be identified, important changes can be made in the existing structure, and training programs can be organized, if necessary. Businesses are even able to conduct training specific to an individual’s needs. This way, part of the workforce that performed well in survey results can remain involved with their regular tasks and time, while effort and money spent on inefficient activities is reduced.

Concrete responsibilities can be assigned to any process violations or high performances through insights drawn from audit results and filled checklist data. The speed and convenience of information sharing allows for timely actions that empower retailers to remain one step ahead of upcoming challenges.

QD: What do you see for the future of retail and multistore businesses?

AP: The retail industry will need to incorporate more technological innovations in order to better prepare for future challenges. Retailers and businesses that continue to leverage technology to rise above current and coming dynamics will thrive, but those that don’t will continue to show a delayed response and will struggle to sustain a successful business. There are also key points retailers should focus on in their existing business models, such as shorter delivery times, higher customizations, hygiene and safety measures, antibacterial and antiviral product ranges, and instant support. Customers will also continue to expect more assistance and personalization, so retailers will need the tools to tailor experiences to each individual customer.

Discuss

About The Author

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s editor in chief.