When complexity is the norm, simplicity wins.
Retail operations is a very broad term. It can signify almost anything, from warehouse management to inventory tracking to order processing. Or, even lease administration if you have a physical footprint (production, warehouses, distribution, retail, or leased transportation).
Because of the breadth of activity that is needed to run successful retail operations, internal processes are often overlooked for IT investment. It is not difficult to find retail businesses boasting exceptional user experiences (in-store or online), but with a substantial number of manual processes behind the scenes.
In our work with retail clients, we have seen this more often that we care to remember.
Operations is the art of effectively managing inevitable chaos. Retail operations is ground zero for chaos.
The chaos arises partly from the diversity of things retail operations handles and partly human nature, compounded by the difficulty of finding ready technological solutions to sticky problems. But, to be clear, there are three ways retail operations lag other technologically mature industries in transformation and automation.
Over the years, Hubler has worked with retail businesses of different sizes. Based on our experiences and conversations with founders and Operations leaders, we have compiled a list of 6 retail operations processes most companies can automate today.
You may be wondering how it's possible to automate these fairly intricate processes without massive IT budgets or in-house development support. I promise to answer that after discussing the 6 operations processes that can, in fact, be automated without either.
David Rubie-Todd, Co-Founder, Sticker it offers a hint when he says "We embraced a no-code platform for our automation, which allowed us to streamline critical processes without getting entangled in complex coding or expensive IT infrastructure."
If your retail business works with external or third parties - from gig workers to delivery personnel to suppliers and partners - operations does the heavy lifting. Traditional onboarding methods are often manual and disjointed, leading to inconsistencies and delays.
If your onboarding process involves more than one application and if you are juggling between sheets, documents, manual paperwork, and document repositories, you may have a quick win on your hands.
Business relationships necessitate contracts, which involve cumbersome paperwork and manual coordination and approvals. When approvals occur on different tools and communication channels, there is a high potential for errors and delays.
But, contracting processes are unique to companies and teams. Thankfully, it is possible to quickly build applications that automate your unique processes. Add the ability to abstract valuable data from the contracts, it becomes possible to automate many other processes that depend on contract verifications (such as renewals and payments).
Just like onboarding, offboarding or exiting entities can be a tedious process. For example, consider the ramifications of shutting one retail store (whether company owned or franchise owned).
How do you terminate the lease? Which operations leader signs off on the exit? What is the approval workflow? Who is responsible for handing over the store to the owner? What happens to the inventory?
It is precisely because of the complexity of this process that off-the-shelf software does not exist to solve this. However, this is where companies that invest in internal IT improvement can gain massive improvements in efficiency (not to mention that existing employees will love spending fewer hours on manual chores).
Deciding on the appropriate packaging and shipping options for various products is difficult to automate. Companies even leave parts of it to manual decision-making. This can lead to suboptimal choices and inefficiencies.
While off-the-shelf software does not exist for your unique needs, it is possible to simplify this process by automating decision-making based on multiple parameters (from different systems) like product characteristics, source, destination, quantity, etc., ensuring optimal packaging and shipping methods are chosen.
Elliott Davidson from ParcelMaster points out that they "...have an automation rule that looks at the product's size to assign it a shipping option. Finally, we check the channel source. For example, if it came from Amazon Prime, we ship it out using their courier network. These simple automations save us hours of work each day let alone, weekly or yearly."
Lease administration is a fairly complex process for retail operations when they lease more than a handful of properties or assets. For example, if your retail business leases multiple assets for production, warehouses, distribution, stores, field offices, etc., you probably have a lot of manual work involved in managing these leases.
Typically, managing these leases and paying out against invoices will involve multiple internal teams (facilities, operations, finance, accounting), manual verifications, and data entry. Lease accounting adds another layer of difficulty in generating journal entries for IFRS 16 and/or ASC 842. It is very difficult to find off-the-shelf SaaS software that addresses your unique lease administration and accounting needs.
Any automation in your lease administration processes will save you from penalties, accounting oversights, leakages, and substantially lower people dependencies.
Even with solutions like IoT, retail operations frequently struggle to get real-time visibility into inventory levels. The lack of visibility arises from disjointed systems for barcode generation, point of sale, and ERP. This leads to inaccuracies in demand forecasting and delays in stock replenishment. Retail businesses often rely on store managers to manually verify and send inventory levels periodically.
Retail operations can quickly automate processes like barcode scanning and inventory mapping, while integrating your inventory data with point-of-sale data to give you a more reliable and streamlined inventory management system.
I understand the previous section on processes that are ripe for automation may seem a tad glib. "Yes, we know we can automate all these. But tell me how?" you ask.
Traditionally, companies will either look for off-the-shelf software or rely on outsourcing to a development agency to solve some of these issues. Off-the-shelf software likely does not solve for your needs or includes a lot of bloat you'll pay for but rarely use. Hiring an agency does not magically give you the software you need. There are many pitfalls, ranging from identifying agencies with the right expertise to finalizing the specs to following through. What happens when your process changes a bit? How long before the software follows suit?
Thankfully, there is a much better approach available for retail operations today.
Unlike traditional methods, no-code platforms like Hubler empower businesses to build custom solutions rapidly without the need to know or write code. No-code contrasts sharply with traditional software development, which requires a deep understanding of programming languages and complex coding and deployment.
Building a solution using a no-code platform means that you get software working for you in one week, instead of the next quarter. And, it is dramatically simpler and faster to configure it to suit your processes as they evolve.
As Jen Seran, Director Of Operations, Stallion Express, confirms, "Regarding automation, there's a common misconception that it's a massive IT transformation and a huge development budget. We've seen this first-hand. At Stallion Express, we've streamlined many manual processes without spending a fortune, thanks to our cutting-edge no-code tools and platforms."
In fact, a lot of retail businesses use different versions of Hubler's lease administration software to manage their leases effectively. In addition, Hubler has ready-to-use software built on our no-code platform for all 6 retail operations processes listed in this article.
And, if you are not sure how to start your automation journey, Priyanka Swamy, CEO, Perfect Locks has some advice, "Begin by understanding your existing processes, pain points, and vision. Work with an experienced team of experts to deliver custom solutions aligned with your business objectives."
Reach out to us and we'll be delighted to show you any of these retail operations solutions and how they can be quickly configured for your business needs.