Brands spend a significant amount of time, effort and money drawing up the perfect customer experience for their customers. The retail environment gives them the canvas to showcase their brand and products and at the same time paint the picture they want on what the brand stands for; the value of their products/ service; how they feel about their customers and what it would mean to own a product of their brand.
While this works great till the design stage, the challenge is posed when it needs to be operationalized at the point of retail. This is particularly challenging in a Retail environment like India where:
- Majority of the sector is unorganized;
- There is limited control that brands have in both modern and especially in general format of trade; and
- Reach and penetration is deep making it difficult for brands to ensure monitoring and upkeep.
Keeping this in perspective, one of the most effective tools that brands use to better manage their points of retail is Operational Audits.
Operational Audits are an independent check of key aspects at a retail outlet. These aspects which are evaluated have a strong and positive impact on customer experience and consequently also involve significant amount of investment from the Brand’s side.
Some of the key aspects at Retail that you can manage better through Operational Audits are:
Brand Visibility – Both external and internal
Brands spend a lot of money at Retail on signages to ensure high visibility. These could be outside the store in the form of Glow Sign Boards, One Way Vision etc. or inside the store in terms of Posters, Danglers etc. A well maintained signage enhances the brand’s image while a poorly maintained one is more damaging than having no signage.
Everyone is aware of the impact that a store environment has on the buying psyche. A clean store with a fresh inviting ambience positively influences a customer. This becomes specially important in case of Exclusive Outlets/ Franchise stores and it reflects the brand’s seriousness on customer wellness.
Product Fixtures are the stage on which the products are showcased. Brands spend a lot of money on innovation and quality of the fixtures on which their products are displayed. A poorly maintained fixture can distract attention of a customer from the product and at the same time negatively impact the brand image.
Product Display & Demo Devices
There is a lot of science that is put on how products are to be displayed and a lot of investment made on Demo Devices. For e.g. In the apparel industry there are strict guidelines on colour blocking, size mapping etc. In electronics industry actual products worth Lakhs of Rupees are put on display with specially made Demo Content to give a customer the look and feel of the product. Brands need to ensure that the guidelines and detailing are adhered to ensure maximum return on investment.
Promoter grooming and hygiene
A key representative of the brands present at the store is the Brand Promoter. At the retail outlet – he/ she is the face of the brand. While his primary role is to understand customer needs, explain product features and assist in sales closure; the image of the promoter is considered an extension on brand’s image. This is why Brands spend a lot of money on uniform and grooming allowance to ensure their representative looks the smartest. On the contrary, an un-groomed brand promoter with poor hygiene standards repels customers regardless of his product knowledge and selling skills.
The proper management of the above key elements at Retail enhances the overall customer experience. Through periodic Operational Audits, the brands can better monitor and manage the upkeep of these key elements. In a Operational Audit, an independent representative visits stores and makes his observations on the important touch points at retail. The captures the relevant proofs in terms of photographs and documents which give Brands credibility in their future actions.
Operational Audits help a brand in the following manner:
- The observations made in Operational Audits are translated into store level actionables which can then be acted to ensure maintenance.
- Typically brands have specified persons who are accountable the maintenance of these key touch points at retail. This could be the Sales Team, Marketing Team or a dedicated Maintenance Team. Audits reflect their performance and can be used to objectively drive behavior towards KPIs.
- Many times these elements are controlled and managed by the Retailers or Franchisees. Brands payout the Retailers/ Franchisee for the same. Operational Audits can be linked to these payouts to ensure that the Retailers/ Franchisees maintain these elements as per agreed standards.