The Complete Guide to Retail Store Visits & Audits

An in-depth look at the purpose and goal of a retail store visit, why this overlooked procedure is critical for success in today’s experiential retail climate, and how to start improving yours today.

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Retail is changing every second, but behind-the-scenes store procedures are getting left in the dust. 

Customer-facing areas of retail like virtual mirrors and augmented reality are like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home Assistant.

But the behind-the-scenes procedures like the store visit are a lot like the Yellow Pages.

Remember how fast and easy it was to whip out your 3 lb Yellow Pages directory and look up a number to make that dinner reservation?

Exactly.

The truth is that fast, easy and optimized behind-the-scenes store procedures translate into a fast, easy and optimized shopping experience for your customers.

So when store processes like the humble store visit are slow, difficult and ineffective, it’s not long until the same becomes true of the in-store experience.  

This guide will help you toss your outdated store visit procedures where they belong - in the recycling with the Yellow pages - and make store visits your secret weapon for a flawless in-store experience, increased conversions and ultimately, more revenue.

What's a store visit and what's its goal?

A store visit, also known as a retail audit, site visit or site audit, is when store performance and compliance are reviewed in-person by any of the following:

  • An area or district manager
  • An auditor
  • A merchandising or field marketing agency
  • A 3rd party auditing company
  • That person from head office
  • That guy in the suit and tie lurking in the milk aisle who hasn’t said a word since arriving 

What should it cover?

At bare minimum, a store visit should cover:

  • Store cleanliness and maintenance
  • Compliance with visual merchandising, promotional and operational guidelines
  • Employee product knowledge
  • Inventory management
  • Loss prevention
  • Pricing accuracy
  • Health and safety
  • Employee scheduling and management
  • And so much more

That’s a lot to get through. Area managers have multiple store visits per day and not much time in-store to get them done.

What’s the goal of a store visit?

These 2 things:

Customer Point of view

To see the store from the customer’s point of view

Customer experience

To improve customer experience, and subsequently, store performance

An optimized store visit fulfills these 2 goals while being quick, easy and painless for everyone involved.

Why are store visits critical for brick-and-mortar success?

Retailer's Telescope

Store visits are a retailer’s telescope. They provide a clear picture of what's going on in stores. 

If store visits aren’t monitoring and improving store performance, customer experience suffers.

However, this isn’t to say that the real value of the store visit is policing stores.

The real value lies in helping stores improve their performance and creating better relationships between store, area manager and corporate levels of the organization.

It’s the experience that matters most in retail today, and a retailer without internal cohesion will have a hard time creating a cohesive in-store experience.

Optimized store visits are crucial for success because they help retailers:

  • Increase compliance 
  • Pull data from their store network
  • Understand problems occurring on a wider scale and address them
  • Better support stores and area teams
  • Reduce costs
  • Improve brand image by making the in-store experience consistently flawless
  • Increase conversions and grow revenue

Optimized store visits help stores: 

  • Improve their product knowledge and customer service skills
  • Become autonomous
  • Understand store KPIs and track their progress long term
  • Stop dreading store visits and see them as a chance to learn from a pro - the area manager who’s seen it all
  • Get more satisfaction, motivation and engagement from their roles as a result

Optimized store visits help consumers:

  • Have a more enjoyable in-store experience, since stores look less like this: 
Messy Store-1

           And more like this: 

Nice executed store

Why most store visits don't work

If you remember one thing from this guide, let it be this: area managers and store teams are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

If store visits aren’t fulfilling either of the store visit goals, area managers aren’t to blame. They just haven't been set up for success.

So with that being said, here are the main reasons typical store visits don’t work.

Related: 5 Common Problems with Store Visits and How to Fix Them

The root cause of unhelpful store visits is a traditional top-down management culture.

This hierarchical culture still persists among so many retailers in 2019. Head office decides what happens, and stores get it done, no questions asked.

Sure, this attitude might have worked in the 90s, but today, stores should come first. In many cases they’re the first point of contact with your customers and they’re an incredible goldmine of data. Retailers who don’t put stores first aren’t helping stores survive and thrive in 2019’s cutthroat retail climate.

This leaves retailers incapable of creating procedures that help area managers and stores, because they’re blind to what the rest of the organization goes through every day. For example:

Area-Manager

Imagine you’re an area manager.

You woke up at 5 AM, you’ve eaten both breakfast AND lunch in your car, and you have 3 more stores to visit and 5 more reports to compile before the day is over. You’ve shaken your fist at traffic more times than you’d like to admit. All you want to do is go home and cozy up on the couch with a soft blanket and a pizza box. And tomorrow you get to wake up and do it all over again.
Store-Manager

Imagine you’re a store manager.

You’ve known about the store visit that’s planned for today for the last week, but of course 2 of your sales associates chose today to call in sick. You’re scrambling to get someone else to cover while the only remaining sales associate is scrambling to sweep the fitting rooms, clean the front windows and make sure the Summer Sale posters are up before the area manager’s arrival. You’re dreading this store visit - especially since the area manager has been on your case about a decline in sales lately. 

Store-Manager

Imagine you’re the only sales associate working that day.

You’re going to have to forego your lunch break and you can’t wait for the store visit to be over so you can head home and finish off that huge paper for college that's due tomorrow (sigh). You can understand why your store manager is stressed out, but why does he have to be so snappy? What’s the point of this store visit anyways? All the area manager does is lurk in the back with a clipboard making notes, spend an hour in the back office, and then leave a few negative comments behind.

But everyone knows it’s stressful to work in retail. Store visit procedures have worked for years, haven’t they? Why change what’s working, right?

Wrong.

If we all kept that mindset, we’d still be whipping out the Yellow Pages and Google Maps wouldn’t exist.

A lack of support for stores prevents impactful store visits, and manifests itself in these symptoms:

  • No uniform visit procedure across the store network
  • Paper or spreadsheet-based procedures, or some combination of both
  • Visit procedures that don't mimic the customer journey
  • Little to no time spent coaching the store team
  • Limited ways to verify improvements and track store progress post-visit

Store visits like this are a missed opportunity for improvement.

How to improve your store visits

Download: The Ultimate Guide to Improving Retail Store Visits, plus an interview with Halfords

The truth is, you already have all the information you need to improve your store visits.

The reason why store visit procedures fail retailers isn’t because they’re not detailed enough, or don’t have the right questions.

Confused customer

Store visits fail because they’re not user-friendly for area managers, store teams or anyone else in head office.

The perfect store visit procedure is one that prioritizes the most important things, while giving the area manager flexibility to focus on areas that need more attention, according to their judgment.

So improving your store visit procedures is about taking what you already have and working as a team to format store visit checklists, tools and reports in a way that works for area managers, not against them.

Here are a few steps you can take to get started on this journey.

6 Steps to redesigning store visit procedures

Change your mindset

Store visits should help, not hinder. They shouldn’t be something store teams and area managers dread, and they should be inspiring and motivating. What’s preventing your store visits from being positive experiences right now? If you’re not sure, ask your area managers and store teams - they’ll know! 

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Get feedback

Remember how we just said you have all the information you need to improve your store visits? Area managers are sitting on top of all that information - they just need to be encouraged to share it. Invite them into the conversation and ask them what they need from every store visit. You’ll be surprised with the amount of suggestions they come back with! 

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Consolidate

This is the most difficult part. Why? Because the perfect store visit doesn’t have all 500 possible questions the area manager needs to answer.  The perfect store visit checklist has the most important ones and gives the area manager the flexibility and autonomy to use their expert judgment.

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Give area managers the right tool for store visits

Area managers need a digital tool they can access on their phone or tablet that will guide them through the store visit.

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Create a store scoring system

Make sure scoring is transparent, so stores can understand why they scored what they did, what to do to score differently, and track their progress over time. 

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Rinse and repeat

Improving store visits is a continuous process. 

The 6 steps of an optimized store visit

optimized store visit procedure

 

1. Preparation

Area managers review previous visit reports and store KPIs and decide in advance which areas to focus on (e.g. employee product knowledge) to make optimal use of their limited time.

2. Completion

The goal here should be observing the store from the customer’s perspective using the store visit checklist as a guide. 

3. Training, coaching and motivating the store team

This is where the visit really helps stores to shine. The area manager should share best practices from other stores and tips they’ve picked up over the years. This part makes the store visit less dread-inducing for store teams since the area manager is helping, not policing. 

4. Fixing issues

Issues identified during the store visit should be formatted in a way that tells the store manager what needs to be fixed, how to fix it, and when it should be fixed by. 

5. Follow up/review 

Instead of the area manager hunting down each store by phone or email trying to understand what’s been done and what hasn’t, stores should report on their own progress. The area manager should be able to compare store visit findings with their peers and managers. 

6. Reporting & Analysis

Store visit reports can suck up a huge amount of an area manager’s time, since they usually have to take their notes and manually collate them into a report. But reports are necessary - for the area manger to prepare for the next visit, for the retailer to understand how the store is performing, and for the store to track its own progress over time. There’s an easier way of doing a store visit report, and that’s making it digital and automatically generated. 

Related: How to Create the Perfect Retail Store Visit Template

Why a good store visit is a digitized one

Retail has gone digital. It’s time for store visits to follow suit.

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Digitized store visits save time, automate time-consuming admin tasks, and guide the area manager through the store visit while providing enough flexibility to spend their time where it matters.

Related: Why Retailers Should Digitize Store Visit Procedures

Remember, improving your store visits requires involvement from head office, area managers and stores. If new procedures aren’t made collaboratively, they won’t be adopted.

Where to start

  • Understand how store visits are already being done. Making a process work for everyone is pretty tough if you lack an understanding of what everyone is already doing. 

When it comes to store visits, most retailers fall into one of 2 categories: 

  1. There’s no standardized procedure at all, so area managers are making their own structure, or
  2. There is a procedure, but it's so time-consuming that area managers don't use it
  • Observe the customer journey and design a store visit framework based on that. Where does the journey start and end? It might start on Google Maps when a shopper looks up opening hours, and it might end with a check-up call a week later to make sure the customer is happy with their new car. Unless your store visit framework takes this into account it’s impossible to accurately gauge store performance.

  • Invest in the right store tech. But remember, tech is only as good as the people using it. Mastering the optimized store visit requires an open-minded approach, discarding procedures that don’t serve stores or customers, collaboration and lots of transparency. If a retailer’s culture is none of these things, it’s unlikely tech will solve all the issues.

Related: How to Win at Retail: 3 Inspiring Best Practices

We don’t want to toot our own horn here, but YOOBIC’s conversion optimization platform is a lot like an area manager’s personal store visit assistant.

How other retailers did it:

Halfords

Halfords is a leading UK motoring and cycling retailer. Halfords’ area managers were using emails, spreadsheets and even paper notepads to keep track of hundreds of important details. . The lack of a standardized procedure wasn’t contributing to a consistent customer experience across the store network.

“We needed consistency across the entire organisation and across our 455 shops. Consistency starts at the store level.” says Louise O’Keeffe, Head of Retail Support at Halfords. “For area managers, the desire is there to have more consistency in the way store visits are done.

With their area managers’ collaboration, Halfords streamlined their store visit procedures in an app, empowering area managers to focus their time where it makes the most impact. Engagement and collaboration since then has skyrocketed.

Read more about how Halfords transformed their store visit procedures here.

 

Peugeot

Peugeot had a goal - to be the best high-end generalist car brand. They knew they couldn’t achieve this goal without a flawless customer experience across their dealership network.

However, audits were complicated and time-consuming for Peugeot’s 100 zone managers. “This used to be done manually, and as a result, often was not done properly,” says Benedicte Rebotier, Service Quality Manager. “Before, it would take zone managers an hour and a half to write the report, take pictures and compile it into a PowerPoint presentation that they could send to the different teams.”

By using an app to fully digitize audit procedures, Peugeot’s zone managers slashed the time required to complete an audit to only 20 minutes. The result? Increased compliance with brand and operational standards, and the customer experience they were looking for.

Watch their story here:  

 

King Jouet

Leading French toy retailer King Jouet knew store teams were key to improving their customer experience - and differentiating themselves as a retailer. “But to make a difference with our store teams, we needed to help them save time,” says Bertrand Veillault, Retail Director. “ We were using a lot of different systems, and it was very time-consuming to gather data for both the store and regional managers.”

Head office had no visibility into how well promotions and campaigns were performing in each store - or if they’d ever been implemented at all.

Digitized store visit procedures saved King Jouet’s area managers up to 2 hours per store visit, and gave the entire organization the boost they needed to achieve operational excellence across their 240 stores.

Watch their story here:

Key Takeaways

Store visits shouldn’t be awkward, nerve wracking, or even worse - demotivating.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you improve your store visits:

objectivity

The goal of every store visit is to see the store objectively and improve store performance.

team engagement

The perfect store visit is one that improves store performance through area manager engagement with the store team.

lack of support

Most store visits don’t work because of a lack of support for stores.

priority checklist

Improvement is about condensing and prioritizing what you already have on your store visit checklists, and requires a collaborative approach to be successful.

digital

Digitizing store visit procedures saves time, improves accuracy and gives the area manager the support and flexibility they need.

Experience is everything in retail today. Make store visits a positive experience for everyone involved, and watch your in-store experience improve exponentially.

 

About YOOBIC

YOOBIC’s in-store conversion optimization platform helps area managers plan and prioritize store visits, complete digitized checklists in a flash, instantly assign store action plans to resolve issues and dashboard store performance and compliance.

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