The 12 Invisible Barriers to Retail Execution

March 6, 2023

It is common knowledge that research by McKinsey & Company shows that about 70% of companies fail with their strategies. It’s less common knowledge that new research reveals that the primary root cause is that companies separate Strategy and Execution. Separation in discipline and process, in mindset and action. The culprit of failure is thinking about Strategy and Execution as separate.

Execution of a retail concept is especially inseparable from the retailer’s strategy. And with ever-increasing pressure from e-commerce and increasing expectations from Omni consumers, strong Execution is more important to retailers than ever.

Execution is a Hydra

Execution in retail sounds simple – get the right people, to do the right things, in the right way, at the right time…

But in reality, it is a true hydra – a many-headed monster. It covers many ‘hard’ disciplines such as store opening, assortment optimisation, performance analysis, sales & service, marketing, and many more, all essential to flawless execution.

Look for the unseen, listen for the unsaid

But more importantly, we have found that a range of ‘soft’ and ‘invisible’ factors work as both drivers and barriers to retailers’ execution capability. Communication, competencies, leadership, mobilisation, motivation, habits, etc., impact all organisational layers and can put a spoke in the wheel or work as a true lever of force for execution.

These factors are like cylinders of an engine…When your organisation executes well – it fires simultaneously on all cylinders. Tangible and invisible!

The impact of the “invisible” factors is especially big for retailers with a store network. They can no longer compete on product range or price, BUT… if they manage to give exceptional in-store service to consumers, they can leverage their store network and web rooming to great advantage.

Make front-line execution easy

To make that happen, retailers need an integrated approach to managing the in-store consumer experience. Store managers struggle to execute because of uncoordinated systems and priorities. They struggle to juggle several communication channels, visual merchandising guides, KPI’s, campaigns, competitions, and training initiatives. This reduces their retail execution power. To improve execution, we have to make their job easier, so they can focus on driving the sales team and getting the right things done.

10 points for better execution

A sample checklist for making their job easier could look like this:

  1. Ensure ONE communication channel to and from stores. This way, staff don’t have to open e-mails, access intranets, use Facebook, etc.
  2. Shift from Pull to Push. Store managers are expected to keep updated on a vast amount of information themselves. On busy days (they are all busy), they don’t get this done. We need to prioritise information for them and Push the MOST important information to them exactly when they need it.
  3. Make information action-oriented. VM guides on 96 pages seldom get read. Chunk it into smaller bites that are easy to digest. The same with Sales & service concepts. Break it up and turn them into small daily sales actions.
  4. Use Field/district managers to prioritise information to stores – and give them a tool to direct store focus and monitor progress.
  5. Pre-produce specific action plans for how to improve KPI’s. That way, store managers will know what to do to improve results.
  6. Monitor store manager’s progress on critical tasks and action plans – and give them feedback. The optimum performance feedback ratio is 4:1—four times as positive as corrective feedback.
  7. Integrate sales training and product training with campaigns, competitions, and KPI improvement. Training should be on the floor and aimed at implementing a campaign, sales processes, or improve specific KPIs.
  8. Focus on changing the habits of stores’ staff. Habits drive 50-80% of behaviour in the stores. (Hint: Information or normal training does not lead to habit change).
  9. Put engagement and motivation in the front seat. Make all the above easy and fun. Enable store managers to communicate easily with each other and show them how they improve as leaders and how their team develops.
  10. And lastly, a DO NOT. Do not send out information and expect stores to act on it. “If only they know it and want to do it, they will do it”. Unfortunately, it does not work that way.


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