To wear out an already worn-out cliche, time is money. Nowhere is this more critical than in the retail world where a multitude of factors is in play constantly. On the journey from production or acquisition to a sale, shortening timelines are the norm today.
A shortened timeline could mean the difference between making a sale or losing out to the competition in six critical areas like:
- Operations and logistics
- Manufacturing and procurement
- Customer relations
- Order fulfillment for online orders
- Managing inventory
- Maintaining working capital
Here, we share some of our tried-and-tested strategies for making the most of your time and boosting productivity in retail.
1. Invest in automation
In retail, automation can take several forms. And in all of them, it saves valuable time that you can invest elsewhere.
For one, using a good inventory management software is a must for any successful retail venture. Gone are the days of spending hours poring over Excel sheets to identify sales in a given time period.
An inventory management system can track sales and adjust inventory levels across channels. This makes it easier for you to understand inventory patterns. Some of the good ones can even raise automated purchase orders, track orders up until fulfillment, and so much more. Talk about saving time!
Sales and CRM is another area where automation can help. Chatbots can save both time and resources that would otherwise be spent handling customer service complaints and queries. A good CRM system can help you segment your customers and send them targeted promotions for better conversion. And it doesn’t require daily involvement on your part.
2. Outsource some operations to the experts
It’s easy for a new retail business to fall into the trap of trying to do too much. Though it may seem like a stretch initially, you recruit expert help in segments where you have limited skills.
A financial officer or accounts manager is a great example. You will save time and frustration, coming up to speed. Instead, you get to focus your own talents and where they are best utilized. Commonly outsourced workstreams include digital marketing, accounts, and bookkeeping.
However, bear the cost-to-benefit ratio in mind when you outsource. First, look in-house for any employees with hidden talents that you can leverage for a fee or salary hike. This may be more economical than hiring another person or agency.
Also, request quotes from several expert vendors to get an idea of what you may have to spend and what services will be included.
To do the cost-benefit analysis, compute costs over time in hiring versus outsourcing. Then compare the costs to how soon you can expect to see the results of an outsourced service.
3. Save time at the warehouse
Well-planned shelving, segmentation in warehouses, and thoughtful SKU placement can all make it easier for staff to locate inventory.
Never put off stock audits until they consume more time than you’d like. Plan your audit days in advance, and count small sections of the warehouse on those days. This ensures you don’t impact operations or delay order fulfillment. You can also consider using the ABC counting method to determine which products to count more often. As a result, you’ll spend less time on the slow-moving items.
4. Save time at the retail store
Retail store employees are often swamped by long workdays, seasonal rushes, managing checkout, and tracking stock. As mentioned earlier, an inventory management system can help immensely with stock-keeping. For the other issues, highly standardized processes are the way to go.
For one, why not do away with the checkout lines entirely? Armed with mobile POS systems, employees can help customers check out from wherever they are in the store. This reduces the time spent in long lines for customers. And it reduces time lost due to restricting employees to one section of the store.
Finally, standard counting processes and well-marked storage areas can help employees save on the time they would otherwise spend looking for missing stock.
5. Use task-management apps
Today, there’s no lack of apps to help you plan, collaborate, and work on tasks on the most granular level. It helps immensely to bring all of your employees into the task-management network well before you feel the need.
After all, adaptability is highest when there isn’t looming pressure. So the holiday season may not the right time to experiment. Assigning tasks to people and setting completion dates well in advance allows them to plan their time and deliver the best outcomes possible.
It can also help you save time on repetitive tasks by assigning specific days to them. They can even help you plan for training days, so everyone gets on track and stays there.
6. Never plan for the entire day
Always leave at least a couple of hours each day for emergency tasks. Some retailers even choose to leave an entire day each week just to put out fires.
If you plan for an eight-hour workday, both for yourself and your employees, you will most likely need more time. Instead, plan for six-hour days and stretch a bit more. On days when everything is calm, the extra time can be used for employee bonding, training, or mundane tasks that were put off.
7. Plan for annual events well in advance
Often, one of the biggest time sinks is being grossly underprepared for predictable events. For example, every December, the holiday season will come, whether you prepare for it or not.
Instead of scrambling at the last minute, start planning as early as June. How should the stores be done up? What logistics will need to be looked into? What do past holiday sales trends tell you about the coming season?
Closer to the date, you can also consider how much stock you need, how many more employees you may need to hire temporarily, what changes to make on your web store, etc. Planning allows you to spend small chunks of time doing multiple useful things, as opposed to focusing on one sale, with no time to look beyond it.
At the end of the day, take a hard look at your day-to-day ops to identify the time traps specific to your business. Then apply these strategies to make the most of this invaluable resource!
Mohammed Ali is the founder and CEO of Primaseller, a multichannel inventory management software that helps sellers manage inventory better and fulfill orders on time, with nifty integrations that make business better. When not running a startup, Ali is often caught lapping up the latest book in fantasy fiction.