Think about how many apps are on your smartphone right now that help you communicate with the people in your life.
There’s the ability to make phone calls, of course, but also services that allow you to send texts. Then there are messaging apps, like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, that help you send retail communications one-on-one with friends or groups, no matter where they are in the world. Social media like Facebook and Instagram lets you post messages, photos, and videos, privately or publicly; and old-fashioned email enables you to send messages (and attachments) between electronic devices.
The list goes on, and on.
But while these forms of communication were designed to help people accomplish everyday tasks (like calling a parent, or making dinner plans with a friend), none of them were created with businesses, let alone the retail industry, in mind. And when retailers are forced to communicate with hundreds of stores and employees every day, having to send and receive messages across multiple platforms can be a real drag on productivity, and add to the confusion of keeping stores up-to-date.
With that in mind, here are a few ways retailers can streamline their communication and see what’s happening in their stores from a single platform, all without ever checking their inbox.
1. Get Rid of Unnecessary Communication Channels
In all areas of the retail industry (be it apparel, grocery, pharmacy, department, electronics, or any other special category), timing is everything. Campaigns need to be implemented and executed efficiently; changeovers have to happen quickly; and product recalls must be dealt with immediately to avoid catastrophe.
But according to several studies, the majority of retailers don’t have a direct channel of communication between HQ and stores and field teams and are forced to use a variety of services and devices to send and receive messages, leading to a lack of transparency into what’s happening in stores.
Retailers have a tough time verifying when tasks (such as seasonal changeovers) get completed, nor which channel they’ll get notified of their completion on. And it’s hard to do anything on time when employees are using a combination of email, telephone and messaging apps to confirm that messages are seen and plans were implemented on time.
One of the first steps a retailer or brand should make to close the communication gap is to reduce the number of communication channels teams use and invest in a tool that allows them to manage their day-to-day communications and assignments flawlessly.
By reducing the number of channels a team member needs to check for messages, and by funneling all of your correspondence through a single channel, retailers not only save time communicating with stores but also guarantee everything gets executed promptly.
2. Focus on Relevant Information
If you work on a visual merchandising team, chances are you don’t need to know about changes to the daily retail store (or, worse, restroom) cleaning checklist or product return procedure. And, similarly, if you work a checkout line, gaining insights into your store’s recent improvements when it comes to unloading goods and stocking inventory probably doesn’t mean much to you, either.
Still, many retailers use a one-size-fits-all communication approach when it comes to sharing information with stores or publishing content that probably isn’t relevant to the average employee.
When streamlining internal retail communications, it pays to be direct. Only send team-wide announcements when everybody needs to know about updates or changes to daily store operations. Speak one-on-one with stores and employees when things need to get done ASAP (or a particular way that only applies to them). That way, retailers can reduce the number of messages each employee receives, and ensure every piece of communication gets the full attention it deserves, and nothing gets missed.
3. Close the Feedback Loop
Too often, retailers and brands use tools like intranets to broadcast announcements and send down tasks to their stores. But with no way of sending messages back up the chain, stores are forced to use other forms of communication technology—such as email, messaging apps, and telephone calls—to clarify directives and ask questions, creating a long feedback loop and unneeded stress.
Retailers need to centralize communication on one platform that offers two-way communication to close the feedback loop and save time communicating with stores. In doing so, retailers can ensure their messages get seen and responded to in real time and limit any uncertainty when it comes to carrying out tasks in stores.
4. Offer Consistent Training with Retail Communication Software
The bigger the retail organization, the harder it is for retailers and brands to ensure store associates and field teams are getting proper, brand consistent training. And without a streamlined internal communications process or the right retail communication systems in place, onboarding and training processes can be different from one location to the next, making things confusing not only for new hires but for current employees, too.
To reduce ambiguity around tasks, procedures and brand standards, retailers should be consistent with their training—not just with the lessons they teach to associates and team members, but how they do so—by centralizing lessons and sharing best practices on the same platform, channel, or device. That way, associates are always able to find up-to-date information and reference previous teachings and instructions, so they don’t waste time sorting through endless threads or folders looking for what they need.
5. Mobilize Your Workforce with Hand-Held Devices
Retailers are slowly realizing the benefits of enabling store-level employees with mobile devices. Not only do smartphones reduce the time it takes to receive and respond to messages, but helps ensure associates and managers are out of the back office and on the sales floor connecting with customers.
Still, despite being a solution that helps retailers streamline internal communications, mobile devices are absent from most stores. (A study we conducted last year with RIS found that a little over half of the store managers surveyed utilized a company-provided mobile device, and only 33% of associates had access to one.)
Brands and retailers are still mostly relying on computers behind closed doors to communicate with headquarters. But with a younger generation entering retail’s workforce (one that relies on real-time communication to send and receive messages), there’s never been a better time to introduce smartphones and retail communication software into stores and transform your communication strategy.
6. Consolidate Internal Documents and Retail Communications at the Same Time
Communicating with stores involves sending more than direct messages and broadcasting announcements, but sharing relevant documentation—like product guides, training documents, store checklists, and procedures, and more—that help store-level employees do their jobs better, and more effectively.
But accessing information is hard to do when stores are forced to sort through email threads, shared drives, and intranets to find what they’re looking for. On top of that, retailers often try to store documents safely and securely by putting up barriers to keep hackers and unwanted eyes out, but end up making information harder to access for store-level employees overall. Making sure corporate information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is important, but when done wrong, it can prevent employees from getting access to the information they need when it matters most.
To make acquiring and viewing documents easier for store associates and managers (even when they’re on the sales floor), retailers need to look for communication apps that don’t just streamline communication but make it easy for their team—whenever and wherever they are—to access information from one place.