Analyst Corner

Task Management: How a Retailer Can Do What He Knows He Needs To Do

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It seems that every few years a new retail technology arises that offers a step-change in the status quo along with a very rapid ROI. The last such breakthrough (in the author’s opinion) was Price Optimization, which burst onto the scene about six years ago with solutions from pioneers ProfitLogic and Khimetrics. Task Management, like Price Optimization, is another technology with the potential to be both a real game changer across the enterprise and a provider of rapid payback on the investment. For those new to Task Management, it is simply a process of managing a task through its life cycle, including its planning, testing, tracking and reporting. As applied in retail, it sometimes goes by the name of store execution management, and as such it takes the form of an accountability system where tasks at the store level can be assigned and monitored by HQ personnel.

Now, before we declare Task Management to be the solution to every retailer’s problems, let’s take a look at some of the issues commonly seen in retail enterprises that Task Management is designed to address.

Communication and execution between HQ and stores is not perfect. ISR’s recent 2010 State of the Store Manager survey showed the following:

  • More than 40% of managers indicated they receive inadequate customer service and product training
  • Almost 30% of managers cited store  HQ communication issues
  • 2/3’s of managers claim the amount of store work has increased over the past year, while almost 50% indicated a decrease in labor budgets
  • 40% believe HQ gives stores too much work to complete

The enhanced tasking still needs to take into account the stores having sufficient time and labor resources to place product on the shelves. Of course, this is predicated upon HQ actually delivering sufficient product to the stores in order to satisfy consumers. IHL Group’s own research found that the average retailer is losing the equivalent of $3.19 for every customer that walks through the doors due to out-of-stocks. If he were to solve his perceived out-of-stock problem, that retailer could increase same store sales 3.7% (and then he might have sufficient budget to pay associates to do the HQ tasking!).

The rise of mobile commerce is also at play here. With new mobile based consumer applications such as Stickybits, Stripey Lines, MyTown and the ever popular Red Laser, consumers find it simpler than ever to purchase out of stock products elsewhere. As retailers attempt to cater to the consumer’s use of cell phones/smart phones, retailers will be forced into the position of having to train their employees on how to deal with consumers in order to keep them from making their purchase at a competitor’s store. Store associates will need to be trained in this, which will eat into the hours available for other tasking.

The current economic climate still sees many retailers who are simply trying to keep their doors open, let alone implement new technology.

Given these issues, the proper use of a tool such as Task Management will give retailers a fighting chance at turning the situation around to their benefit. Task management should enable retailers to reduce or eliminate the uh-oh’s that happen when HQ-directed tasking doesn’t mesh with store capabilities. Labor scheduling and budgeting will become more transparent, which means both HQ and store managers will have a better view of what can happen and when. This means that when that new promotion is rolled out to the store, the marketing department can understand if the promotion’s effectiveness (or lack thereof) was driven by the campaign or the fact that the store didn’t have the necessary resources to put the campaign in place. Further, retailers indicate that technology projects require ROI within the 6 to 12 month range for board approval. For Task Management, we consistently hear of full implementations being complete within 3-4 months and payback well within 6 months.

Task management has been adopted by a number of retailers, and IHL’s Sophia Retail Technology database reveals implementations within the last two years by the likes of Best Buy, 7-Eleven, Gap, Dollar General, Winn-Dixie, AAFES, The Pantry, Books-A-Million, Chicos FAS and Sheetz, to name a few. For those of you out there without task management on your short term technology road map, we encourage you to take a look. The benefits are great, the returns rapid, and the impact to the organization widespread.