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Making the most of 2017

Every business wants to make each year better than the last. FRANCESCA NICASIO presents steps that businesses can implement to help make 2017 the best year yet.

Whether business performance last year could use improvement or whether it went extremely well, retailers always want to go one better. The following pointers will assist in kicking off the year strong.

Upgrade outdated hardware, software and processes

Have a look at the hardware, software and processes used in the business and see if any of them could use an upgrade. If retailers find that tools are outdated, take steps to ensure the latest versions are installed. This could mean downloading the latest software update or purchasing new equipment.

Upgrading programs isn’t about having the coolest and newest tools around; it’s about streamlining operations and improving the customer experience.

For example, if retailers are still using physical loyalty cards, they may want to upgrade to a digital loyalty program so patrons won’t have to carry around cards. Still using spreadsheets or a pen and paper to track finances? Consider upgrading to a modern accounting software.

Also note that upgrading systems is critical to maintaining security. Older programs may be easier to hack so keeping updates in check ensures the latest security measures are in place.

Here’s a quick list of the areas that may need upgrading:

  • Point-of-Sale (POS) – if still using a clunky cash register, consider levelling up to a cloud POS system that’s faster, sleeker and more powerful. Most modern POS systems come with inventory, loyalty and e-commerce features so multiple aspects of a business can be run from one place
  • Loyalty – modern consumers aren’t big fans of loyalty cards that clutter up their wallets. Address this by implementing a loyalty program that’s built into the POS and can run on mobile devices
  • Finances – ditch the pen and paper or spreadsheet. Level up to an accounting system that can automatically sync sales, reconcile accounts and more
  • Website – is the business’ website mobile-friendly? Are the latest data security measures being implemented? Evaluate online selling efforts and see if anything needs to be updated
  • Inventory – still using a pen and paper to track inventory? Upgrade to a modern inventory system that streamlines item counts, ordering and more
  • Payments – see to it that payment-processing equipment is compliant with the latest security standards. If it makes sense for the business, consider upgrading to a system that can accept mobile payments such as Apple Pay.
Be more personal with customers

Expect competition in the marketplace to become even fiercer in 2017 as retailers put more effort into vying for consumers’ attention and dollars. Forward-thinking businesses are upping their game through multi-channel shopping, speedier order fulfilment and competitive pricing.

While readers should certainly consider implementing the same things in-store, don’t forget that connecting with customers in a personal and relevant way continues to be the best strategy for getting them to know, like and trust a business. This year, strive to become more personal with consumers and treat them like the individuals that they are.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Segment email subscribers – ditch the one-size-fits-all messages and segment customers according to their demographics, location and purchase history. This will allow retailers to send more relevant communications, increasing open rates and sales
  • Personalise loyalty efforts – New Zealand-based confectionary retailer United Sweets personalises its content and offers by integrating the business’ POS and customer-management system with its loyalty software. Doing so allows them to gather data about their customers and customise content and offers accordingly. “We know who [our customers] are, we know what they’re buying, and we can reach out to them and market to them in a really relevant way,” United Sweets CEO Finn Puklowski says. He adds that the loyalty system allows the business to recognise its best customers so it can offer perks like better pricing and rewards
  • Send good old-fashioned personalised notes – never underestimate the power of thoughtful gestures like notes – old-fashioned as they may seem. Consumers today find it refreshing to receive handwritten letters instead of emails.

For example, I recently placed an order with San Francisco-based tea retailer T-We Tea through its website and, to my surprise and delight, I received a handwritten note in the package.

Give employees a pep talk

It’ll be challenging to achieve record-breaking success if employees aren’t backing the business up so set aside some time for a motivational speech. Recognise the great things that people achieved in 2016, and encourage or even incentivise employees to do better. Why not offer rewards to whichever staff can bring the most delight to customers?

If owners and managers have any plans on how to increase performance in 2017, such as upgrades and new initiatives, make sure the team is in the loop. Owners and managers may also want to take suggestions and get everyone’s input on how to improve results.

Create a retail promotional calendar

Lack of planning and organisation is one of the top reasons why retail promotions end up failing.

This year, prevent that from happening by using a promotional calendar.

Flip through the 2017 calendar and mark important holidays and events. This will allow for the planning ahead of time and ensuring that promotions run smoothly. Need inspiration? A quick Google search for ‘retail promotional calendar’ should provide ideas.

Introduce additional sales channels

Cover all sales channel bases by ensuring that consumers can purchase regardless of where they are or what device they’re using.

For many retailers, this could mean setting up e-commerce and mobile-friendly websites. It wasn’t long ago when the idea of selling jewellery online was considered dangerous territory but it’s now safe to say that many are finding benefits in offering some form of e-commerce.

If retailers already have bricks-and-mortar, e-commerce and mobile covered, it may interest them to start selling on social media. Many retailers, especially those in the apparel and accessories industry, are turning to sites like Instagram and Facebook to sell product.

Instagram recently announced the introduction of its shopping feature that allows retailers to sell products ‘seamlessly’ on the platform. The news was quite significant given that the app had previously not allowed this, forcing retailers to use third-party apps to sell ‘semi-directly’ via Instagram.

At the time of publication, the feature was being tested in the US with select businesses including MVMT Watches and jewellery retailer BaubleBar.

Do your inventory

For those who haven’t stayed on top of their inventory in 2016, the first few months of the year is the perfect time to do a physical inventory count. Why? The beginning of the year is usually a period when SKUs are at their lowest.

Schedule an inventory count soon and update inventory levels. For best results, get organised by mapping the store and making use of a digital inventory system when counting items.

Retailers may want to implement cycle counting, which is the process of partially counting items on a continuous basis. This helps stay on top of inventory without having to close the store or devote too much time counting the entire inventory.

Update business information

Did the business receive any awards or was it featured in the media in 2016? Perhaps the business introduced something major last year, such as a new store opening or new products. If so, be sure to update the website, social accounts and marketing collateral accordingly. If the business receives a nice write-up in a major publication, display it on the website and in-store.

While not all of these tips will necessarily work for every business, retailers should benefit by considering and implementing at least some of what has been mentioned. Retail in 2017 is going to be tough and those that succeed will be the ones getting on the front foot and taking the initiative.

Francesca Nicasio

Contributor • Vend

Francesca Nicasio is a retail expert from Vend, a POS, inventory and customer loyalty software for merchants. Learn More:

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