The Way You Collect Feedback Matters

Why Purpose-Based Feedback Loops are the Key to Better Retail Execution

Retail Execution
May 25, 2020
Emily Lane

Say you’re a CMO and you want to launch a new marketing campaign in your stores. You pull together direction, ship out new window posters, send down guidelines for the visual set-up and… then what? Hope for the best? 

When all is said and done, maybe your comp sales increase, or maybe they sink. But you won’t know with certainty if it was due to those window posters since you don’t even know how many stores put them up.

This is why every retailer needs a feedback loop.

In an aligned retail organization, the executive team doesn’t just make decisions and delegate responsibilities. They keep track of how their instructions are being carried out according to the overall brand vision, observe customer reaction on the frontlines, and use those findings to tweak their strategy for the next go-around. 

There are various ways for a retailer to collect feedback. Conducting surveys is one of the most popular. Keeping an open channel for communication is another (usually via an app like Slack or GroupMe). Some companies use more traditional methods, like actually calling store teams to ask for feedback about a new product, for example. Some delegate this responsibility through the ranks, requiring District Managers to collect information about their individual stores and send it up the chain.

All feedback - even the most anecdotal - is useful. Consumer trends are changing faster than ever, and executive teams need to flex and respond accordingly. Feedback can tell them if their marketing campaigns are working. It can inform the next season’s ad buys or inventory investments. It can pinpoint where training is needed, and where teams are struggling. 

But all feedback loops are not created equal. 

Take, for instance, the idea of task tracking in stores. It’s important that executives have a modicum of visibility into their stores’ day-to-day task execution. If instructions aren’t carried out, it has serious implications for business drivers like marketing campaigns and product launches. But requiring a store - or an individual store leader - to complete a survey for every daily task is onerous and time-consuming. 

When the collection method is more cumbersome than the request, employees are more likely to shortcut in order to clear their list of to-dos. This is sometimes called “pencil-whipping” (or “mouse whipping”): Team members check boxes or note that direction was completed when it actually wasn’t. It’s a common issue in the world of enterprise software, and particularly when it comes to tracking daily operational routines. 

Then there’s the opposite - a task that merits a much more robust feedback loop. For example: maybe you need exact data into the number of units pulled from the sales floor for legal reasons. When the collection method isn’t sophisticated enough to capture the information you need, employees won’t have the ability to report important details. If there’s no structured way of collecting your data, it’s more likely to fall through the cracks.

It’s not enough to settle on one feedback method and call it a day. This is why having multiple, purpose-based feedback loops is important. 

At Zipline, we like to think of feedback loops as conversations. The feedback loop methodology you choose depends on what the outcome or purpose of the conversation is:

  • Sometimes you just want to know if stuff is getting done overall. We call this directional feedback.
  • Sometimes you want to tap into individuals’ experiences in the field to dig a little deeper. We call this organic feedback.
  • When you need to collect the same information from a large group of stores, and you want to ensure that information is tracked down to the individual, we call that informational feedback. 
  • And finally, retailers who want to use a feedback loop to drive specific behaviors and/or tap into specific stores’ or employees’ areas of opportunity are looking for actionable feedback.

Our product, Zipline, is built to facilitate all four different types of feedback loops that are important to retailers. But there are plenty of tools out there - some of them free, even - that are built solely to satisfy the requirements of one of these types of feedback loops. Using a suite of tools isnt’ a bad thing. The key is: you have to use the right tool for the job. 

So let’s break it down. Here are the four main types of feedback retailers need, along with the right (and wrong) ways to collect that feedback:

Type 1: Directional Feedback

“Did you receive and put up the window posters?”

When you simply want to understand if tasks are being completed accurately and on time, you’re looking for directional feedback. In this case, you don’t necessarily need visibility into how a task was completed - you just want your field to acknowledge that it was received and done. 

Directional feedback is helpful when you want to ensure your stores are:

  • Executing marketing campaigns on time
  • Successfully driving IT/tech roll outs
  • Reading new/updated policies or operating procedures
  • Receiving supply shipments
  • Deploying training and engagement tactics
  • Understanding new sales guidelines

Task management systems are best for collecting this type of feedback. Try using a chat-based app, and you’ll end up with too much noise and too many notifications. More often than not, your initial task will get lost. On the other side of the spectrum, survey-based tools are too heavy-hitting. Asking teams to complete a survey every time they complete a task is too time-consuming - you’ll risk that dreaded “pencil-whipping” behavior and your task data will be skewed.

Type 2: Organic Feedback

“What are customers saying about the new window posters?”

When you want to tap into individuals’ experiences in the field to dig a little deeper into task execution or employee sentiment, or when you want to capture unfiltered in-the-moment thoughts, you’re looking for organic feedback. 

Chat-based apps are ideal for gathering this type of feedback. Because teams can easily access them right from a mobile device, they don’t need to leave the sales floor to provide input. HQ can get a clear picture of what’s happening in stores without having to wait for emails and insights to work their way up the chain. Some retailers do try survey tools, and while they will give you a pulse on sentiment, a survey feedback loop can sometimes feel too formal (and somewhat intimidating). You’ll also sacrifice time - responses won’t be as “fresh.”

You might be looking for organic feedback if you want to:

  • Quickly understand how customers are reacting to new products, promos, and marketing
  • Capture insights on best practices (including photos) for visual merchandising
  • Track and share successful behaviors that drive a better customer experience
  • Get a pulse on employee sentiment related to a particular roll-out or initiative
  • Connect certain departments in HQ (like Merchandising or IT) with specific stores to see how product or tech pilots are working in real-time

Type #3: Informational Feedback

“What size window posters did you receive?”

When you need to collect the same information from a large group of stores, or you want to ensure that information is tracked down to the individual, you’re looking for informational feedback. Common use cases include capturing insight on:

  • Product Feedback
  • Fixture Counts
  • Inventory count
  • Specific Visual Merchandising set-ups
  • Event planning
  • Employee Engagement
  • Technology/Hardware
  • Product Knowledge
  • Quizzes and Learning Confirmation

Traditional task management systems aren’t always the best for gathering this type of feedback: You’ll understand if something was done, but not necessarily how (or to what extent). And these systems can make it difficult to require all employees to submit precise feedback by a predetermined date.

Chat-based apps are also sometimes used for gathering this information at scale (it’s easy to snap a photo in GroupMe, after all.) But these apps are too noisy and make it nearly impossible to analyze data at scale, putting the burden on your Upper Field or HQ teams to compile and parse out individuals’ responses. The best course of action is to use a survey tool, of course. 

Type #4: Actionable Feedback

“To what extent did you set the window posters correctly?”

When you want to tap into specific stores’ or employees’ areas of opportunity, and then take swift action, you want actionable feedback. Typically this is when HQ needs to validate that instructions are being executed to plan. 

Many retailers still rely on survey tools to capture this type of information. And while you’ll be able to easily compile data at scale and see trends, a survey alone isn’t built to drive behavior change. Using an audit or store walk solution - especially one built specifically for retailers - is the only way you’ll be able to understand if the subsequent actions you’re taking to improve compliance are working over time. These tools are optimal for Store Operational Audits and Performance Evaluations because they allow you to drive an actionable feedback loop while still providing the visibility for HQ and Upper Field teams into what’s happening in stores.

Use an auditing tool to capture insight on things like:

  • Opening and Closing Checklists
  • Store Walks
  • Loss Prevention
  • Visual Merchandising opportunities
  • Compliance and Safety Audits
  • Individual Performance Assessments
  • Quality Checks
  • Slip, Trip & Fall Compliance

Ultimately, the way you collect feedback matters. Store teams will naturally deviate towards systems and tools that make their jobs easier - so go with it! Take a look at your current suite of applications and measure them against the feedback you’re trying to gather. It may be time to introduce some new ways of working.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Zipline can solve for all these feedback loops (and more!) please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.