Christian Retailing

Don’t lose the sale with bad data PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Ernstrom   
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 11:35 AM EDT

Accurate information helps your team serve customers well

Erik-ErnstromBad data can mean the loss of sales and customers. That’s the bad news. The good news is you can do something about it.

Last month I wrote about a big box store employee who understood the importance of data and was willing to do whatever it took to ensure her store’s inventory numbers were accurate. Unfortunately there are sales associates on the other end of the spectrum. Let’s look at a prime example of how bad data can impact your store’s staff—and how to prevent it.

One of my pet peeves is to hear a store employee say: “Our system says we have one on the shelf, but the computer is never right. Let’s go see if it’s really there.” I’ve heard this many times, from Christian bookstores to hardware stores, and it’s always disconcerting. You never want these words spoken by your staff.

Think about it from your customer’s perspective. Perhaps without intending to misinform, your sales associate just relayed the information that you don’t do a very good job of keeping precise information in your point-of-sale system—plus they verbalized that your POS is untrustworthy. However, in just a few short minutes, the same employee will be asking the customer to provide their personal information. They’ll be asking for their name, address, email and other information for marketing purposes. If your associates aren’t demonstrating confidence in your store practices regarding inventory, how much trust will your customers have that their personal information will remain accurate and safe?

So as you train—or re-train—your staff, coach them on better ways to talk with your customers. Yes, the system will be inaccurate at times, but that should be the exception, not the norm. And when they encounter those situations, they shouldn’t blame the system, but instead offer to continue looking for the product and to contact the customer as soon as it’s located. It shows their commitment to the customer and doesn’t shed negative light on your inventory practices.

To keep those exceptions to a minimum, hopefully you’re doing regular cycle counts. Check the physical inventory on the shelf, comparing your numbers to what your POS says and then correcting the POS to reflect reality. This can be done by loading your inventory onto a handheld device, scanning each product and then syncing the device with your POS, or you can simply print out the inventory of a single category, handwrite the actual counts next to each title and manually correct them in your POS. The process you use doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it gets done.

Some of the best operators I know cycle-count their entire store four to five times each year. Create a schedule to work through your store one category at a time, and have your staff use the slower times of day to do the counting.

You’re also giving them two important things—ownership of your store’s data and extra hands-on time with each and every product. If your staff is making inventory corrections, they’re less likely to criticize the computer when the numbers are off because it’s very likely they were the ones responsible for the counting. And many of the stores I work with acknowledge that the employee who knows most about the products is the receiver because they touch everything that comes through the back door. Why not put every employee in that position? Doing cycle counts forces them to look at every product in the category while impressing on them the importance of the on-hand numbers in your POS.

And if you have a website that shows your current stocking levels, cycle-counting is even more important because you’re giving your customers 24-hour access to your shelves. If your customer sees that you have a product in stock, loads her kids into the car, fights traffic to come to your store, and it turns out your inventory is incorrect, imagine her frustration! Find time for cycle-counting so this doesn’t happen.
Don’t wait to get started. We’re heading into the most crucial time of year for inventory accuracy. The closer we get to the holidays, the more often your sales opportunities are going to be one-and-done. If you don’t have an item, you’ll lose the sale.

Customers today are so pressed for time that they don’t want to make multiple trips for a single item. Great service will keep customers coming back, but fewer and fewer customers are willing to place an order for an item and then make another trip just to get it. When you’re competing against free and fast shipping, you probably can get the customer in for another visit, but they will have already purchased the item you were out of last time.

Like every other Christian retailer, your goal is to get the right product into your customers’ hands when they ask for it. Make the time investment now so you can serve your customers as well as possible tomorrow.


Erik Ernstrom started as a receiver in the backroom of an independently owned Christian retail store and eventually managed that store. He has also managed a customer service department that served 300 Christian retail stores.  He now works for The Parable Group, managing the business analytics department that yielded nearly 100 million customer contacts last year.

 

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