This is a guest post by Emily Lane
Store Communication — sometimes referred to as Retail Communication or Field Communication — is the internal communication that happens between a retailer’s headquarters and store teams. In the broadest sense, it’s “how HQ tells stores what they need to do.”
Every day, there are dozens (or even hundreds, depending on the organization’s size) of decisions being made at a retailer’s corporate headquarters: Which product to buy, and how much. Which promotion to run, how to advertise it, how to measure its effectiveness. There are teams deciding whether or not it makes financial sense to switch to a different receipt paper vendor. There may even be teams working around the clock to figure out if pricing a pair of socks at $4.99 instead of $4.95 is actually worth the hassle.
Every single one of these decisions has a real-life, tangible impact in that retailer’s stores. It may impact how they merchandise products, how they schedule their employee shifts, how they set up their window displays, and what they say to customers when they’re greeted at the door. So when one of these decisions is made, stores need to know about it. The link between HQ’s ideas and in-store execution is Store Communication.
Store communications should be simple, but competing agendas, message overload, and too much background noise often muddy the waters. Fortunately, we’ve pulled together five key tips that will prevent your store comms strategies from falling behind, and ensure your field teams hear the right message, at the right time.
1. Create a one-stop-shop for all communication.
Everybody has their favorite way of receiving and sending messages. Some like email, some like texting… and some like a good old fashioned chat over the phone. But the more communications channels you have, the more time your field teams will spend checking a bunch of different places for information and updates. This not only eats up valuable payroll (that should be spent out on the salesfloor), but leads to frustrated employees who often don’t find the information they need in the first place they look.
This is why centralizing messages in one place is one of the most basic, foundational things you can do to improve store communications.
When you commit to one platform or channel — be it email, an intranet, or a task management solution — it mitigates confusion and saves valuable time in the field. Ideally, your one-stop-shop would be a platform built specifically for retail, that can bring different types of communication channels (messaging, real-time chat, and document storage) into one central place.
A one-stop-shop is also important because conflicting messaging is also a big problem in retail communication.
Let’s say a post goes up on SharePoint with one set of directions for a promotion, but a little while later that direction is updated — so an email comes out from HQ with new direction that supersedes the original post. Of course, by that time, several stores have already downloaded the direction from the original post, and maybe even forwarded it to other team members… Now there are two sets of direction out there—one wrong, one right. Are people looking at the right one?
By centralizing store communication, all functional leaders can see which messages their colleagues are sending, hopefully giving them time to reconcile their differences before they cause confusion in the stores.
2. Cut the clutter by segmenting your audience.
Stores can be overwhelmed with messages to read and tasks to complete. In fact, 64% of respondents to one survey identified their biggest challenge as the sheer number of messages flowing from headquarters to stores. Smart retailers can cut the clutter by sending messages only to the people who need to see them (much like how you segment marketing messages.)
Not only will this keep employees from wasting time reading messages that don’t apply to them, it can also help you avoid legal problems. If there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that new COVID-19 precautions require a lot of new store signage. But getting those signs and direction to stores isn’t as simple as designing a one-size-fits-all template and calling it a day.
Due to shifting state, county, and city-wide regulations (not to mention different store set-ups and footprints), every location will undoubtedly need something slightly different. How can you ensure your teams understand direction, especially if that direction differs from store to store?
If a store’s signs communicate important health-related rules and regulations, it’s imperative that teams post the right thing in the right place. Failure to comply with local guidelines could result in fines, or worse – it could endanger employees and customers alike.
That’s why it’s important to be able to segment materials and information so that only specific locations see it? (If not, how likely is it that a store in Minneapolis accidentally posts signs intended for a store in San Francisco? And what are the implications of that type of mistake?)
With so much at stake, it may be time to step up to a communications platform that can target information by location or role automatically, saving publishers valuable time.
3. Show, don’t tell.
What’s more engaging, a wall of text, or an Instagram post? A printed pamphlet, or a flashy video? It’s no secret that visual communications — pictures, videos, even gifs and emojis — are far more effective than written communications. This is especially true when it comes to training, and explains why so many retailers are turning to multimedia platforms to deliver critical information fleet-wide.
Aside from adding pictures and video to individual messages, retailers can also benefit from deploying communications channels (whether they’re intranets, email newsletters, or task management systems) that have visual flair. Specifically, making your communications channels looks and feel like your retail brand can help drive employee engagement.
Think about it: If you ask an associate why they decided to work in your store, what will they say? Will they say it was for the pay, or the proximity to their home? Or will they say it’s because they “love the brand?” Most retailers hope it’s the latter, which is why it’s important to give every employee touchpoint – especially your internal communication – a good dose of your brand identity.
Sometimes this is as simple as making sure your brand’s latest TV commercial is accessible via your communications portal homepage, or giving your internal email newsletter a visual facelift to align with every new event or merchandising re-set.
Or, as in the case of Vend customer Pace Athletic, invest in professional photography resources that showcase your brand’s products in action. Above all, think about the way you speak to your customers, and infuse your store communication with that same feeling and tone. (If your current communication platform is unable to deliver content in a visually engaging way, it’s a good idea to begin looking for an upgrade.)
4. Publish your messages in bundles.
It seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget that stores and HQ teams work on different schedules and in different environments. At HQ, teams typically work 9-5PM and have constant access to a computer/laptop. But in the field, schedules range from early morning to night, computer access might be limited to a select few and you might not see a coworker for days at a time.
Many retailers simply send along new information to their stores as they receive it, but in practice this means store teams are getting peppered with new emails and messages throughout the day, across changing shifts. They’re forced to constantly check their inboxes to make sure nothing new has been send down in the last few minutes — which often pulls them away from other, more critical tasks like servicing customers.
Instead, develop a messaging cadence that shares new information with field teams at a time that supports their daily routines. One way to achieve this is to schedule messages to go out on a particular date, and then send them all out together, in a bundle. Ideally, bundles are sent automatically to stores in the morning before they open, so field teams start the day with the latest information.
5. Make room for creativity.
Now, more than ever, field leaders are now required to flex their creative muscles a bit more. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, stores everywhere are changing their merchandising set-ups to comply with new health and safety guidelines.
(For instance, gone are the grocery store salad bars of yesteryear, and what’s cropped up in their place shows that store teams still have a sense of humor.) But even before the pandemic, retailers have always tried to strike a balance between HQ-mandated consistency and store-level uniqueness.
Vend customer and co-director and designer at WORLD, Benny Castles, sums it up: “One challenge we always take seriously is in making sure each store is a positive reflection of its local community.”
All good store communication leaders don’t just take top-down messaging into consideration; they think about bottoms-up communication, too. Retailers that can capitalize on their teams’ creative approach to common problems may very well come out ahead. That’s why you should also use two-way communication channels to activate your teams’ natural talent and creativity.
It’s no secret that store employees want the ability to chat with their own team or district. This can be a great way to double-check on HQ’s direction, share ideas to solve a problem, or to simply let off steam and celebrate wins. But when HQ doesn’t give store teams that ability, teams will usually find a way – even if it means using non-company sanctioned tools like iMessage, GroupMe, or WhatsApp. Putting company information on public channels can expose your organization to unnecessary risk, so it’s best to create a designated spot for this type of feedback loop in the first place.
We all know that an intranet or email newsletter won’t ever function like those chat-based apps your employees know and love. To capture ideas from the frontline and encourage creative problem-solving among your teams, consider investing in a communications solution that’s focused on employee engagement. Better yet, ensure that employees can easily access it right from a mobile device, they don’t need to leave the sales floor to provide input. HQ can get a clear picture of what’s happening in stores without having to wait for emails and insights to work their way up the chain.
About the author
Emily Lane is a product evangelist at Retail Zipline, working with customers and prospects to drive store execution and engagement through better communication. Prior to Zipline, Emily spent 10 years managing store communication at major retail brands like Gap and Old Navy.