Activity time studies: Paying attention to detail

Guesswork. It’s never ideal, and when you’re planning wage budgets, it can be downright costly. Our activity time studies eliminate ambiguity by putting clients’ processes against a stopwatch, so they know exactly how many seconds it takes to run every aspect of their business. From Specsavers to Screwfix, it’s helping companies make sure they have the right number of people serving the right number of customers, shape strategies and keep performance on track.

Without knowing precisely how long every step in your customer journey takes – each behind-the-scenes task, till interaction, restock, refund, mark-down and clear-up – you can’t accurately judge how many colleagues you need on a shift; not just to get the job done, but to meet your sales targets. You’d be relying on an estimate, a ballpark figure that’s not as accurate as it could be.

So why does accuracy matter? Say you’re a retailer employing five colleagues to cover an eight-hour shift, providing 40 hours of working time between them. But, in reality, it only takes 33 hours to serve your target number of customers and carry out every task that needs to be completed. Seven extra hours a day adds up to more than 2,500 hours per year. If each hour costs you £10 in staff wages, that’s a whopping £25,000 you might not need to be spending, just in one shop.

And, if it turns out you aren't employing enough colleagues per shift, that can be just as damaging. Customer service can suffer – and so can sales.

How our studies work

First, we send in a specialist team of workstudy analysts to a selection of your stores or sites, ranging in size and setting. They’ll spend between five and ten days in each, meticulously timing every task carried out by your people, many times over. We use that data to produce averages across your sites and compare variance between them.

The next step is to build a budget model using average activity times, so you can accurately calculate how much to spend per site, per week – based on the minimum number of staff hours needed – to meet forecasted sales.

We go beyond the data, too. Our analysts use knowledge and experience gained across different industries to spot tasks that are taking longer than they should, and suggest practical steps to shave off valuable seconds. That might be something as simple as moving a counter card reader so it’s on a customer’s righthand side – where they expect to find it – or upgrading equipment. For Costa Coffee, it was investing in a new, faster panini press in their drive-through stores, cutting down waiting times on food and preventing a bottleneck.

Answering challenges

Whether they’re in retail, logistics or hospitality, many of the businesses we work with call us in because they’ve never looked at their task times before, and they want to plan their budgets more effectively. But activity time studies can help tackle other issues, too.

Understanding how your business measures up

Are any of your processes slower than industry benchmarks? It can have a big impact on your performance, especially if you’re growing rapidly and opening new sites.

For example, Screwfix were surprised by how long it took to serve their Click & Collect customers. We identified that layout was a big factor – parcels were stored a long way from the till. As Click & Collect becomes increasingly popular, the problem is likely to grow, and could be costly in terms of colleagues’ time and quality of service. It prompted strategic conversations around the layout of new stores and steps to manage it in existing stores, from the addition of digital collection kiosks to small storage changes.

Activity times can also give you the solid evidence you need to tackle a long-suspected issue, often helping to kickstart innovations. Clothing retailer M&Co knew their delivery sorting and unpacking process was labour intensive, but it was only when our figures allowed them to do the maths – adding up the actual number of minutes spent on each item – that they realised just how much time it was costing them. They’re using that data and other activity times to help shape their three-to-five-year strategic plan, looking at how they can digitise processes and use technology to speed things up.

Pinpointing and ironing out inconsistencies

If you franchise your brand like Pandora, it can be tricky to set store standards. Our activity time study helped them spot inconsistencies and learn from high-achieving sites, for example those that had managed to cut down on minutes spent handling stock. Using average activity times to populate their budget model has helped them set a benchmark for investment in resources across franchised as well as owned-and-operated stores.

It was a similar story for Specsavers, who used their activity times and updated workload model to create a guide for their store directors.

Keeping things on track and testing innovations

Activity times aren’t static. Even the subtlest changes in your workplace can have a big effect, and from contactless payments to 5p bag charges, new technology and regulations are constantly influencing processes and consumer behaviour. When you’re investing in measuring activity times, regularly refreshing your data helps your budget models stay accurate.

Wickes called us in after they brought in new concepts, such as a Pay & Collect counter. While Vodafone ask us to carry out activity time studies on a yearly basis, helping them build a robust bank of data and a detailed picture of performance.

By regularly checking in, we can also inform clients’ decision-making about innovation roll-out. We showed Wickes that it was taking much longer to serve customers at the Pay & Collect counter than at traditional tills. And we played a supporting role road-testing Vodafone’s new virtual queuing system. We measured average waiting times during the trial stages, giving HQ a chance to fine-tune the system before introducing it in other stores.

Backing up performance conversations with concrete figures

Our activity time study unearthed a gold mine of information for Schuh, helping spark a long-term shift towards increased productivity. And it provided a very practical, immediate benefit: for the first time, they were able to use tangible facts and figures to reinforce performance discussions with their teams. It can make a real difference on the shop floor; if employees understand how long they’re supposed to spend on a task, then it’s easier for them to feel motivated and work more efficiently.

Making a difference

The upshot is that sometimes it pays to be a stickler for detail.

Building an accurate picture of your business can help you plan more effectively – and save you time and money. Our clients often tell us their new, precise budget models are a game changer, and the benefits of having workload data insights at their fingertips are wide-reaching.

What Our Clients Say

“We really valued ReThink’s willingness to share their experience and guide us through a process that was completely new to us. They quickly developed a good understanding of our needs, and suggested positive solutions. We’re looking forward to working together in the future.”

Phil Whittle, Head of Store Operations at Schuh