Brick-and-Mortar: Five Areas to Rethink

We are all learning from the rapid and dynamic changes that grocers have made in order to improve efficiency and provide safer environments for their customers as we navigate the unknown. This is a time for retailers and brands to think “outside of the four-walled box”. Some solutions might be temporary, but many will make long-lasting changes in store layouts.

It is clear that consumer behavior and shopping habits are changing. We will continue to discover how this unprecedented period has affected our shopping experience as we move into the summer, fall, and holiday seasons. As a result, there will be positive changes. As we’ve seen over the past five years, retailers/brick-and-mortar stores have been evolving to be more efficient, more experiential, and more innovative at highlighting brands within their space. It will be necessary to re-strategize “luxury” cosmetic items as well as clothes, shoes, and other accessories. Here are five areas retailers should consider when attempting to reengage customers.

Signage and Flow

The layout of stores will have to be fluid and flexible to allow flow to flow more efficiently. This may be short-term, as one-way corridors are common in supermarkets. But longer-term, creating wider aisles to allow for safer two-way traffic will be more feasible. Customers will feel more comfortable and confident knowing that they are in a safe environment with clear instructions on how to navigate it.

Merchandising Strategies

Floor maximation is a new concept. It involves reducing the store density and maintaining a minimum distance of six feet between customers. It will be necessary to prioritize items that are most needed, top-sellers and/or that require an offline environment using data. Also, sampling will need to be reevaluated and replaced with single-use disposable options. It may be necessary to re-evaluate the practice of trying on clothes, shoes and accessories. You may need to put up signs about proper hygiene and how to disinfect items after “try-ons.” This could help your store stand out in a crowd of socially conscious stars. This month has seen the rise of conscious and compassionate brands.

Get Up

When considering how to create experiences per square foot, we need to think about how walls, ceilings, and lighting can be used to create immersive experiences that don’t rely on touch. In order to create adaptive space, long-term investment in modular walls systems that allow brands and retailers flexibility will be essential.

Use of Storefront Windows

Forced adoption of curbside pickup and order-ahead is reconditioning customers to accept the “drive-up window” experience. This new method of transacting business will not work if you rely on the sidewalk. Flexible windows with dual purposes as pick-up points and customer-staff interactions will increase in value.

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Splitting the Front of House and Back of House

Order ahead, seamless delivery and pick-up in-store will increase the need to shift space from front to back. While temporary makeshift walls and curtains may be helpful in dividing and testing space, the ultimate goal is to ensure customer satisfaction by focusing on the back-of-house needs and efficiency.

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For brick-and-mortar to be successful, adaptability is key. We will need to create stores that are safer and more experiential than traditional brick-and-mortar locations. To add both efficiency and experience, stores will need to be more creative and purposefully integrated with online-offline capabilities.


Are you thinking about implementing a Compliance Checklist. This is the First Step.

Perhaps you are a retailer that isn’t essential, opening up small stores in different parts of the country. Perhaps you are an essential retailer trying to adapt to the “new normal” while protecting customers and employees. It doesn’t matter where you are on the spectrum, you probably think about checklists.

Retailers love checklists. Store audits, visual merchandising inspections, opening checklists, closing checklists, safety checklists, etc. You can see at least one checklist in the daily tasks of any store leader.

It is not surprising. It’s not surprising that large retailers often have trouble delivering consistent customer service across multiple locations. Checklists can be a quick, simple and inexpensive way to ensure that all teams adhere to the same standards.

Checklists are more important than ever after the COVID-19 store closures and new regulations that emerge daily. Failure to adhere to operating standards can have serious safety and health consequences. Retailers need to be able to record and track compliance. There is a big difference between a store manager actually executing every item on a checklist and just checking them off. The first will have a positive effect on your business. The latter is known as “pencil whipping”.

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What is Pencil Whipping?

Pencil whipping refers to workers, supervisors and safety managers who fill out observation cards but not actually conduct the observation or provide critical feedback. Dr. is a behavioral safety expert. Timothy Ludwig. It’s like saying that you did the thing when in fact you didn’t.

Pencil whipping doesn’t seem to be a new phenomenon. Companies that manage distributed workforces, in particular the construction, mining, and maintenance industries, have been plagued by pencil whipping for decades. These industries are safety-focused and take every precaution to prevent injury and protect their businesses from liability. Now that brick-and-mortar shopping is much more risky than ever, retailers need to reevaluate how they use their checklists to prevent pencil whipping.

Let’s be clear, your employees are good people. Retailers don’t want to do a poor job. We know this because we have worked in retail! Hence, why is this still happening? Why do front-line retail workers check boxes even though they aren’t technically checked in real life? This human-driven data is often manipulated by well-meaning employees. We looked at the main reasons compliance checklists may not always be accurate and how you can avoid these issues right from the beginning.

Reason No. Reason No.

A store leader can’t do everything in one shift. Store teams have to be more efficient as the demands and payroll shrink. This means that some tasks might need to be put off the agenda. What’s the first thing that could get lost? It’s the stuff that your boss doesn’t care about.

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Many retailers, even though they are well-intentioned, push checklists and tasks down from headquarters to individual stores or store associates in the hope that they will complete them on time and correctly. These retailers overlook a crucial piece of the puzzle, however: the top field. Multiunit leaders, including district managers (DM), regional directors and other multiunit executives, are often left behind by traditional HQ-to-store communication methods (including intranets) and are not informed about what is expected of them.

If your DM does not know that there is a checklist, it’s likely you won’t bother doing what the checklist tells you to do.

It’s important to engage the upper field when implementing a new compliance plan. Consider how they will be held accountable for their team’s performance. Is it part of a regular store visit routine to follow up on items from the checklist? Perhaps DMs should complete the checklist for their stores like an audit. How will they keep up to date with updates from headquarters? How will DMs be held responsible for the performance of their stores? This middle tier of the field organization will be at the forefront of any discussion and you’ll see greater compliance from the beginning.

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Reason No. Reason No.

Let’s face facts: Every corporate employee needs to have a store. There are many things going on in any given day, including urgent pullbacks and vendor visits. It’s not surprising that field teams might feel overwhelmed and resort to pencil whipping to get the job done.

Most departments within your company have checklists for stores in some form. Who decides which one should be prioritized? Store teams might see your new checklist as another piece of paper if there is no clear way to prioritise. If they are used to ticking boxes with no real consequences, it’s unlikely that they will feel any different when adding another task to their corporate task list.

How can you fix this problem? Perform a checklist audit before you deploy anything new. What other departments ask their teams to use checklists on an everyday, weekly, and monthly basis? How are those checklists audited and accounted for? To reduce the noise, determine if there is overlap or an opportunity to consolidate. When it’s time to create your compliance checklist, make sure you shout loud that this is the priority! This brings us to…

Reason No. Reason No.

Teams that don’t understand or can’t comprehend why they are being asked to do a task or complete a checklist are less likely to accomplish it. It doesn’t suffice to instruct stores to do the task. You must also explain why they should do it so that they can properly allocate resources and follow your instructions.

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Let’s take an example. Let’s say that your compliance checklist requires that a store leader confirm that signage is displayed in front windows every morning. Your leader might decide to abandon the inspection after checking “yes” twelve times. This could mean that they no longer need to inspect your store and your checklist is just a reminder.

If you provide your team with more context, they may reconsider pencil whipping. Perhaps the signage will be changed on a regular basis. They could face a heavy fine if the sign isn’t in the right place. Perhaps there is a worldwide problem with signs getting damaged or faded. Corporate might simply need to sign off on certain liabilities. No matter the reason, telling your fleet the “why”, helps them understand how the work ladders up to a larger brand goal. Explain that the checklist is not just a reminder, but actual data. To make better business decisions, your company must collect that data.






Reason # Reason No.

Retail is awash with incentives, and it’s not without reason. At HQ, store manager compensation and bonus structure are always in the forefront of our minds. If you want your tasks to be completed on time and correctly, there is no better way than to add an incentive. (SPIFFS, anyone?) However, incentive plans must be relevant. They must be designed to encourage desired behavior and discourage undesirable behavior. This is a difficult task.

While bonuses and other incentives are powerful, they will only work if your company’s strategic goals are supported. Consider this: Employees who are given incentives for perfect attendance will come to work with the flu rather than staying home and spreading it. You get what you pay for.

Incentives around compliance checklists often focus on quality and not quantity. You’re not rewarding your teams for meeting their compliance checklists every day. Instead, you are rewarding them for ticking boxes and encouraging them to use the pencil whip. Instead, reward the desired outcomes of your compliance checklist. Random audits can be conducted and teams should be rewarded for adhering to your standards. You can also identify stores that have taken swift action to correct non-compliance and reward them. You’ll be more likely to get the results that you want if you reward behaviors, not just checked boxes.

Communication is everything.

It’s not as easy as simply distributing a checklist and walking off. To create a culture of accountability in your store and drive compliance, it takes more than just a checklist. The way you communicate that question to your team, the level of context you give, and how you motivate your employees all have an impact on the fight against pencil whipping.

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