Retailers are under increasing pressure from all directions these days. In May, Credit Suisse estimated that a record 8,600 stores will close in 2017 and that 25 percent of U.S. shopping malls will be shuttered by 2020. At the same time, retailers are facing increasingly complex regulations on everything from public health to environmental issues. All of these pressures are creating a need to consistently and continually measure execution at the store level. Timely, accurate and actionable store-level audit data has never been more important.
In our recent report on mobile audits, we explored how internal auditors are applying web-enabled tools to engage stakeholders, automate workflows, improve decision making and drive operational efficiencies. I revisited these change drivers in a recent blog post, advocating for small but meaningful changes in retail digitalization. But with retailers having to make increasingly difficult decisions with less and less lead time in order to stay competitive, I wanted to address two even more important, and often overlooked benefits of digitalization: analytics and reporting.
Traditional paper-based store data collection is time-consuming and has always been fraught with inefficiency and error. Data collected on paper has to be compiled — via fax, scan, or physical transfer — and manually keyed into a computer before it can be analyzed. Digital data, on the other hand, is available in real time, and responses can be standardized for greater consistency to meet both operational and regulatory compliance objectives.
Web-enabled store audit tools provide accurate and actionable data, in real time. Audits performed via mobile app, for example, are updated automatically, eliminating the need to fax, transcribe or email audit results. The reduced cycle time from data entry to reporting eliminates information bottlenecks. Dashboards and other digital reporting tools allow market managers to make informed decisions on the fly, confident that they are working with the latest information, and that all users are looking at the same data — eliminating awkward spreadsheets and version control issues inherent in paper routing.
Application reporting permissions are synched to job titles — an important control given the dynamic organizational hierarchies in retail. At the same time, companies can track a store manager’s performance across multiple locations, or location performance relative to other locations.
Just-in-time feedback encourages user engagement with operational applications, remediation, electronic follow-up and reminders. By accelerating the audit cycle, management can make informed decisions about low-performing stores and implement meaningful change. Trend information can be used by asset protection and store operations to identify negative activity at the stores and potentially across districts and markets.
With this kind of instant reporting gratification, the older, slower, less accurate analog store audits seem well on their way out, and they should be. Digital store audits improve consistency, minimize interpretation, increase the number of locations that can be covered, generate action items immediately and enhance communication to the field.
The graphical interfaces of real-time reporting tools convert mind-numbing columns of numbers into color-coded dashboards for an easily read picture of performance, with drill-down capability to the store and indicator level.
At this point, the question is no longer whether retailers should adopt digital audit technology, but how quickly they can get it done, and what are the risks to their retail organizations if they don’t.