For years, the back room was essentially a storage closet. Sure, you had a desk back there to do paperwork and make phone calls, and a table for employee breaks, but for the most part, retail back rooms are jumbled messes of extra inventory.
As "omni-channel" retailing rises and customers expect that even the smallest store will have an e-commerce operation, it's time to stop thinking of your back room as a closet and start thinking of it as a nerve center. And to do that, you'll need a boost from technology.
The good news is that upgrading your technology doesn't have to be time-consuming or expensive. Here are four ideas that will improve your retail backroom — and suggestions for how to put these strategies to work.
- Use just-in-time delivery — some of the time
In the 1970s, backroom storage accounted for 30 percent of a store's square footage, but that has dwindled to 15 percent or less today, according to Grocery Headquarters magazine. That's largely because retailers are shifting to a just-in-time delivery model, in which stores don't hold on to excess inventory. To stay nimble in the face of rapidly changing customer desires, fashion retailer Zara ships smaller batches more often, minimizing risk when a particular trend doesn’t sell well. For fast-moving merchandise, experts suggest keeping extra on hand. A retail consultant told Grocery Headquarters this strategy can cut truck deliveries by 10 to 20 percent. Having backup for popular items also makes for happier customers.
If you're not sure which of your SKUs are flying off the shelves, mobile can help you keep tabs on your inventory and analyze which items are most important to keep around.
- Embrace the omni-channel
You are likely selling online through multiple channels as well as managing the inventory in your brick-and-mortar store(s).
Beyond that, customers’ needs and wants are changing daily. And the growth of online mega-retailers has led customers to expect flexibility, a wide range of inventory — and that they can have what they want right now.
Use mobile apps to track inventory (and know where it is in your store). Even the most basic of these apps are a huge step up from tracking inventory manually. According to "Retail Backrooms: A Revolution in Roles and Business Value," by consulting firm Tompkins International, the back room has become a "mini distribution center," where orders can be picked, packed, and shipped.
- Keep it organized
Knowing that you have extra inventory won't do you any good if your sales associates can't find it. Unless your back room is very tiny, a map will help your associates find what they need, so that customers aren't kept waiting. Drawing a map on a whiteboard and hanging it near the entrance to the back room is one strategy. Even better: Create a mobile map that your employees can carry in their back pockets and update any time from anywhere.
In addition, have a plan and schedule for stocking merchandise, and make sure all your associates share this job so that everyone's on the same page. You can track cleaning activities in your back room just as you track any other activity — think about using a mobile cleaning checklist to avoid extra paper.
- Keep it moving
In The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management, authors Matthew Waller and Terry Esper explain that managing your for-sale stock and your backroom stock is no simple task. That’s not news to you. In a perfect world, your excess items would wait for just a few days in the backroom and you’d replenish store shelves as soon as inventory dwindles. In reality, "there may not be formal triggers to replenish the shelf when it gets too low," they say.
In other words, if nobody's regularly looking at your store’s shelves to determine which items you're low on — and which you can replenish from the back without placing a new order — your store isn't operating as efficiently as it could. With a mobile inventory app, you can easily keep merchandise cycling and avoid having it languish on backroom shelves.
Whether you’re looking to turn your back room into a distribution center to accommodate online orders, or you just want to keep better tabs on stored inventory so you know which items are selling the fastest (and slowest) and when to re-order, technology can help. It's easy to get started injecting new technology into your retail operation. Give GoCanvas a try, free for 30 days and see how you can change your business by converting your paper checklists and forms to mobile.
If you're looking for inspiration on what kinds of retail forms and processes you can automate with GoCanvas, check out our collection of mobile form templates for retail, sales and wholesale distribution.