Retail worker holding a cell phone while conducting an audit

How to Safely Conduct Store Visits and Audits During COVID-19

  • By Sarah Murphy

Store audits are a crucial part of maintaining and improving retail store operations and standards set by HQ, but COVID-19 has made the auditing process a bit more complicated. 

Many retailers are limiting the number of customers allowed in-store, shortening store hours, and staggering associates’ shifts to prevent COVID-19 transmission between different groups of people (especially with shopping’s biggest holiday approaching), leaving less time for employees to complete bigger picture tasks and resulting in fewer out-of-town visits from regional managers.

But the massive shifts in consumer behavior since the pandemic began means that store audits are now more important than ever.


What Is a Store Audit

A store audit is a detailed inspection that examines everything from a store’s visual merchandising to sales to inventory levels. The idea is to determine what policies, procedures, and practices are working effectively and where improvements can be made.

Stores audits can seem daunting, so retailers often opt to break them down into multiple audits that focus on specific aspects of the store. Audits can focus on merchandising, marketing, loss prevention, retail operations, customer service, health and safety, or anything else that warrants closer inspection.

Depending on the scope of the audit, they can occur monthly, quarterly, or annually, and they can be conducted by managers, regional supervisors, or an outside third party. It all depends on how your organization is organized.


What Are the Benefits of a Store Audit or Store Visit

So, what can a store audit do for you? In the pre-COVID-19 world, audits were used to track how well a store was operating. And while that remains true, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of monitoring everything from the frequency of sanitization and disinfection to how physical distancing gets enforced.

Additionally, conducting frequent and thorough store audits can help improve customer service, reach visual merchandising and brand compliance, fix maintenance issues, determine where further training is required, and refine retail operations.


How to Conduct a Store Audit

Each store will be different depending on what their audits generally focus on and the specific insights they want to gain, but here are some steps to follow for completing a successful store audit:

Schedule time devoted to the audit without too many distractions. Often, this is during slow periods of the day (think after lunch but before most people get off work) or after the store is closed to the public. Be sure to account for areas you know will present challenges and require extra time.

Create a list of objectives, including areas that need improvements and specific data you want to collect.

Take detailed notes and photos or videos to compare what the store looks like before and what it looks like after improvements get made.

Assign tasks to associates to correct any problems that were found during the audit.

Follow up after a specified amount of time to make sure that the recommendations from the audit have been implemented and are solving the problems that were previously perceived.

Analyze changes to make sure that the solutions implemented are having a positive effect on the store. Compare the before and after notes and photos, week to week, month to month, and year to year, to make sure that the changes continue to be effective.

Alright, now that’s cleared up, without further ado…

3 Tips for Conducting Store Visits and Audits During COVID-19

COVID-19 has presented unique challenges to the auditing process, but we’ve compiled a list of suggestions to help you adjust your usual strategy in a way that makes store visits and audits safer for everyone involved.


 1. Go Virtual

As previously mentioned, many retailers rely on regional managers or third-party companies to come into their stores to conduct audits, but COVID-19 has made everyone aware of the dangers of unnecessary social interactions. 

One way to keep the number of people in-store to a minimum and maintain physical distancing is to conduct store visits and audits virtually.

Whether conducted using existing video surveillance systems or a live video call, virtual store visits can complete many of the checks that usually occur in-person. 

Visual merchandising and brand compliance can be checked with video tours of promotional displays and signage to ensure merchandising directives are being implemented correctly. 

Looking at video footage can also give auditors a good idea of what areas draw customer foot traffic and which spots could be rearranged to be more appealing or accessible to shoppers.


2. Get In-Store Staff to Conduct Audits

Another way to limit interaction between large groups of different people is to have existing staff carry out audits.

Have them start audits prior to the store opening or after it closes to minimize distractions.

Then, instead of having a regional manager or third-party consultant come on to the premises, provide associates with a checklist—either physically or digitally—to complete the audit on their behalf. 

As associates complete the audit, they can send detailed notes and photos up the chain for further analysis. Based on that analysis, employees can be assigned tasks to implement the recommended changes promptly.

A solution like Foko Retail lets retailers directly communicate with staff while assigning and completing store audits and tasks. It allows users to share documents, checklists, photos, and direct messages, keeping everyone in touch during every step of the store audit process.


3. Limit Touching of Merchandise

Finally, curb the spread of COVID-19 by limiting contact with merchandise. During inventory counts, this can be difficult, but a few simple changes can make a huge difference, especially as we move into retail’s busiest season.

Items that are received in large quantities and don’t need to be put out on the sales floor immediately can be counted when they arrive, resealed, and left in their boxes for easier and contactless inventory audits later on. Staff can also keep a running count of items that are located in multiple spots in the store and how many are in each location to speed up store audits in the future.

Adopting inventory technology is another great way to reduce physical contact with products during COVID-19. Machines, like those made by Zebra, can scan, count, and track items without contact if the barcode is visible. Plus, they are compatible with Foko Retail. ?

Of course, depending on the item, some products will require handling to count accurately. In these cases, employees tasked with counting individual products can wear disposable gloves and should be encouraged to use hand sanitizer frequently.


Final Thoughts on Conducting Store Audits During COVID-19

We’ve all had to change the way we operate during COVID-19. But by following these tips and tricks, you can still conduct audits that will provide invaluable insights—and ultimately, improve your store for the future.

Need help safely conducting store visits and audits? Book a demo to find out how Foko Retail can streamline the process.


About the Author

Sarah Murphy is a content marketing specialist with a background in journalism. She lives in Hamilton, ON, where she is mom to a 13-year-old wiener dog named Penny. When not watching bad reality TV, she’s probably chasing squirrels out of her garden or baking cookies.