Retail audit services are required to drive higher compliance with brand standards at the store level. OEM brands looking to optimize in-store operations and maximize footfalls in 2022 must follow a robust audit checklist for successful hygiene maintenance
For OEM companies, selling at retail, audits are an important part of maintaining a strong shelf presence. A retail audit is a smart checklist to identify gaps in end-to-end retail operations and devise an action plan to plug the revenue-bleeding holes across all channels. Leading OEM brands that have diversified retail presence must typically conduct loss prevention health & safety audits at regular intervals. Operations, service, and visual merchandising audits must be carried out to prepare for and support store-specific BTL activations or seasonal programs.
Audits are crucial to ensure uniform branding and visual merchandising across brand-exclusive stores. Unfortunately, most brands rely on outdated retail audit companies that don't provide real-time data collection and reporting processes. Because of the manual processes, companies are not able to gather accurate on-ground data. Furthermore, this approach is time-consuming, inefficient, and a massive drain on resources. A retail audit can be announced or unannounced. It can be a self-audit performed by a franchisee/store manager or a mystery shopping program organized by the brand manager. Let's look at some of the best practices to help OEM retailers with this task.
How to build an OEM retail audit checklist?
Building an OEM retail audit checklist depends on multiple factors. Is a brand interested in shelf space, pricing accuracy, or tracking a competition, or are they starting an audit from scratch? Irrespective of the goals, here is a list of best practices that can help OEM brands build their retail audit and visual merchandising checklist:
#1 Consider the metadata
Metadata is information about the store visits. Companies using manual, excel-based audit forms usually have user-entered fields such as store number, audited by, date, etc. However, companies can automate/pre-populate the metadata by using retail audit software. The information on store visits is derived from the auditor's login, location lists, date, and forms available according to the auditor's security settings.
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#2 Segment items into sections sorted by the flow of store visits
Auditors must set up their audit form in consonance with the natural flow of their store walk. This implies moving in from the exterior, working through product aisles, finally into the inventory and backend of the store. This approach not only saves time but is also more intuitive for the auditor.
#3 Consider the a Non-Applicablea items and sections
Certain sections or items on an OEM retail audit checklist may not be applicable to all store locations. For example, the Washroom section might not be applicable to stores located in a mall or a shopping centre. The flexibility to disable entire sections or items based on the store type helps save time for the auditors and facilitates more accurate reporting.
#4 Avoid large sections
One of the tricks to store audits is to segment items into a larger number of small sections. This will help auditors seamlessly capture data on their smartphones/tablets. Furthermore, using smaller, more specific sections will help auditors in granular and meaningful reporting.
#5 Assign points strategically to items based on their relative importance
Auditors should assign points according to the relative importance of each item. While all items may appear important, some are strategically more important than others. Assign points and utilize the critical flags for non-compatible items.
#6 Be specific, descriptive, and visual
Standards should be set straightforward and unequivocal. Auditors must be more specific in their remarks while auditing different items and sections. They should clearly highlight gaps in visual merchandising, planogram management, inventory management, customer operations, and more. Also, auditors should capture images of various items to illustrate their standards. Images are important to capture the standards of on-shelf spaces, SKUs, in-store branding, and more. Robust retail management solutions allow auditors to attach pictures and support documents of different items and sections.
#7 Think about visit frequency
The visit frequency of brand managers and field representatives can vary greatly from one company to another. On the one hand, some brands tend to conduct as many as one visit every alternate week. On the other hand, some OEM brands may conduct only one visit per quarter. Some use a hybrid model using virtual retail audit solutions. They deploy a standard form to capture their core standards and then create multiple smaller forms for visits throughout the year, sometimes combining these visits to seasonal programs and festivals. It is customary to create one form for every key business unit- operations, visual merchandising, health and safety, security, backend operations, and more.
Having an all-inclusive retail audit checklist is the first step to successful retail execution across markets. Brands need to strategize their goals and objectives carefully before conducting a retail audit for their stores. Audits are essential to identify bottlenecks in the operations, gather on-ground data, and develop insights-driven strategies to fix the gaps. It is also important to execute brand standards and unify messaging across stores.
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