Today, only 29% of direction sent from HQ to stores is executed correctly. As a result, retailers waste thousands of hours each year in campaign planning and the vast majority of in-store programs aren’t implemented as intended. This isn’t the fault of store managers or communications teams. In this article, we explain the communication challenges that retail stores face and the common traps we see retailers falling into. Finally, we share five easy ways you can streamline your internal communications as a retailer. These tips should help you not only improve store execution, but also engage your associates and makes them feel connected to your brand.
Although most retailers see store communication as vital, they traditionally haven’t put in the time and energy to improve it and streamline communications. Covid-19 certainly helped shine a light on the problem. As local governments issued guidelines around health and safety, many retailers realized how important an effective, streamlined communications program was to their business. Without proper communication channels, it was impossible for store teams to know what was expected of them and ensure the safety of their employees and customers.
Communication is the train that brings initiatives from headquarters into stores where execution happens. If the track is broken, nothing gets to stores. Most of the retailers we meet with are focused on solving their execution problem, but they are merely focusing on the symptom, not the cause, which is communication.
Internal communication is important because it is the conduit for enabling better brand experiences. It’s how brick-and-mortar retailers can set themselves apart from their online counterparts. As shoppers turn to online for convenience, they also turn to stores for the real time experience of shopping. They want to smell, touch, experience and feel the brand in an authentic way. That elevated experience can only happen when store associates are given relevant, correct, and executable direction and information to exceed customer expectations.
But providing the right level of direction and information to the fleet can be challenging. Provide too much and they’re overwhelmed. Provide too little and they’re running blind. Here are five easy ways you can streamline your internal communications.
- Invest in the right tools
To improve your internal retail communication, you need to make sure that information is organized, received and understood in an actionable way. This requires tools. You wouldn’t ask your finance team to create reports without providing them with Excel and you wouldn’t expect your designers to create beautiful artwork without design software. Communication is no different.
Retailers often use a mixed bag of communication tools. If you use Teams for chat, an intranet for document storage and a task management platform for execution, you probably fall into this category. For employees of these retailers, it’s hard to understand what tool to use for what. Store managers (as well as HQ employees!) are often confused about where they need to go to get the information they need to run their business.
Using the right tool for the job is critical for effective execution. That’s why Zipline is the only operations platform, built for retail by retail, that combines store communications and task management to drive flawless store execution.
- Send the right message at the right time
If information is sent too early, it could get lost and forgotten about among other priorities. If the information is sent too late, like the day before, people aren’t given enough time to plan and prepare. Retailers need to find a balance between releasing information when it’s available and communicating that which will be usable to that person at that time. It doesn’t make sense to force all the information into the same batch of communication.
Communication should also be sent in digestible pieces. Snackable content is more digestible and actionable than gorging on a ton of information all at once. When retailers send binders to stores, it’s unlikely that all the included information will be absorbed. But stores will also feel overwhelmed if they receive three paragraphs of details about an event the day prior.
To streamline communication you should aim to break down communication. Give people exactly what they need to know when they need to know it. Focus on communicating the information that will support the work people are doing at that time, not months in advance.
- Empower your workforce
Effective store communication gives meaning to work. Empowering your workforce requires engaging people at all levels. When people know the context of what is being communicated, they are more engaged, inspired, and empowered to execute their work. Staff needs to know why an individual task is important in the larger picture and why their role is critical. They need to see how the actions they’ll be taking for an initiative will impact the result.
Everyone wants to make a difference and have autonomy over their work. If your store teams don’t receive the context of what you’re asking them to do, they won’t know if they will be making a difference.
To streamline communication, retailers should connect the dots between the why and the what of each employee task. If people see the business holistically, they can make better judgement calls on how to advance the overall brand. If they can’t see where they are going, they cannot take the right steps to get there. We tell retailers not to separate the information people need to know from the instructions of what they need to do because the two are intricately linked.
- Listen to the Front Lines
Never underestimate the importance of listening. If the store teams have something to say, it’s crucial you hear it. A big part of making people feel empowered is having them share ideas and feel heard and understood by those above them.
Store employees have valuable opinions because they are on the front lines. They view the competition and engage with customers every day. They see first-hand what works and what doesn’t in regard to both products and customers. Establish working feedback channels so that executives can hear information from those on the front line. Associates should share ideas and provide feedback to their district managers who then relay these to corporate.
Communication doesn’t end when executives hear feedback, however. Once they have heard and considered employee opinions, retailers should circle back to their team about how their insights have changed the course of the company or impacted business decisions. Communicating back to the associates or store managers is important to reassure them that their voice is being heard.
To streamline communications, make sure you have a platform for capturing feedback and communicating, in real-time, with staff. An associate friendly app, for example, allows retail store associates to communicate with each other and with corporate executives as well. An added benefit is that data can be streamlined and synthesized, making it easier to derive insight and act on it.
- Measure the execution
In order to continue to fuel your communications program, you need to be able to measure your success. You need to see how effective your programs have been and whether or not your investments have been worth it. Measuring success drives accountability and provides the measurable data needed to make adjustments as you move forward.
In retail, communication is the conduit for success. The outcomes for which we strive as retailers can be achieved through proper and effective communication. Streamlining communication dramatically improves everyone's lives. The more people understand what their role is, the better they feel. Inspire your employees by giving them clarity. That way, they will feel engaged to provide better retail experiences for your customers.
If you’re ready to invest in your employees and drive store execution at the same time, start with communications. Reach out. We would love to provide a demo of Retail Zipline and share how it has transformed retail businesses, just like yours.