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How to increase productivity post lockdown

30th July 2020

A quote from a leadership course I attended has stuck with me, “Leaders manage the context”. The tutor wanted us to appreciate the difference between management and leadership and highlighted the need to look up and consider the changing environment. COVID-19 creates significant context changes and retailers need to flex their operation in response.

The biggest context change is how customer attitudes and behaviours alter. This will vary depending on what products you sell, geographies you operate in, by customer age and by the customers individual experience. While expectations of younger age groups are that their habits may not change significantly, and that there may even be a burst of pent up retail spending, most other age groups will retain a degree of ongoing concern about safety. Either because of the customer’s own health concerns or to protect a family member.

For retailers, this increased desire for safety will increase costs.

  • Cleaning will be more extensive and making your enhanced regimes obvious to customers will provide important reassurance
  • You may deploy colleagues to limit customer numbers in store or encourage social distancing compliance
  • Time for check out will increase where customers are 6 feet apart in lines as the walk up time between customers will be longer

This extra workload cannot be avoided and will encourage customers to see you as a safe place for them to shop.

Given there will be extra workload and costs, what can be done to offset them and improve productivity?

  1. Maximise sales, including multi-channel – Experts agree that COVID-19 will accelerate the shift to online, including click and collect. Our top tips for an efficient click and collect operation are
    1. Where is your customer pick up point? Make it easy for customers
    2. Store parcels as close as you can to the pickup point
    3. Organise your store so parcels can be retrieved quickly
    4. Avoid paper check lists

These will sound obvious, yet we’ve seen operations where they take more than 10 minutes to retrieve a single parcel, or where paper trackers create delays and lots of admin.

  1. Review your crisis operation – most retailers that traded through lockdown periods adopted changes that they may not have considered in more normal times. If you slimmed down your operation and it worked, make the change permanent.
  2. Streamline counts – evidence is that the more counts are done, the less accurate the stock file figures become. Can you stop all routine inventory counts? When lines go negative on the stock file, auto zero them overnight. Reserve your count efforts for gaps to ensure availability for customers.
  3. Stock levels – excess stock creates work. It needs moving around, counting, date checking and taking to the shelf. Most of your sales will come from a small percentage of your range so minimise holding of less frequently sold lines.
  4. Match team resources to changed demand – the trading pattern and workload in your stores will change. Too many colleagues on duty reduces productivity and too few risks a suboptimal operation and longer lines for customers.
  5. Eliminate all non-essential tasks – Do you need to balance every till each day? Just do it weekly if the store is within error parameters. Can price changes be given to stores as batches rather than every day to make it more efficient? Do area managers create extra trackers and reports? Remove as many tasks as you can that take time and don’t directly drive sales.

Retailers have always responded to change, and we’ll carry on doing that over the coming months as the new normal evolves.