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How to Conduct a Digital Retail Branding Compliance Audit

May 5, 2022

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In retail, corporate leaders have an ideal vision for how stores should operate, what things get sold, and how they are positioned. They pass that vision down to frontline teams who do the groundwork to bring it to life, and then field teams follow up to ensure HQ directives get followed correctly. Each phase is important in the ultimate execution, and without teamwork and cooperation, it can’t be done properly.

Keeping everyone on the same page can be tricky, however—especially across dozens or even hundreds of stores. That’s why retail branding compliance audits are necessary to keep everyone accountable and working toward the same goals.

Conducting proper audits can lead to smoother store operations, improved employee relations, better customer experiences, and increased sales.

But before we get into how to conduct a retail compliance audit, let’s do a quick refresh of the basics and why different types of retail audits are essential to reaching compliance in-store.

What Is Retail Compliance? (aka Branding Compliance, aka Merchandising Compliance)

Retail compliance refers to individual stores following HQ guidelines for processes and presentation so that all branches maintain a uniform corporate standard.

For example, store compliance would capture meeting corporate standards for displays, promotional signage, store layout, cleanliness, and safety procedures. Brand compliance, meanwhile, would include directives from a specific partner brand, such as display instructions from a particular designer in an apparel store.

In both cases, compliance is reached when stores have implemented the guidelines to HQ’s or the brand’s satisfaction.

What Is a Store Audit?

A store audit is a detailed inspection designed to determine what policies, procedures, and practices are working effectively and where employees might make improvements at the store level.

Because of the scope of retail operations (i.e., everything from building maintenance to cash-handling procedures to inventory organization), it’s best to select specific targets for each audit.

Common retail audits include market audits, merchandising audits, loss-prevention audits, health and safety audits, and retail-operations audits.

But for our purposes, when it comes to retail compliance, the audits to focus on are merchandising, health and safety, and retail operations.

  • Merchandising Audits mainly consist of visual merchandising checks (ensuring that product placement and displays are in line with corporate and brand standards) and making sure that the store is set up in an appealing way that makes it easy for customers to shop. These audits can uncover what products sell best, inform restocking patterns, and show which parts of the store get the most traffic. By using this data to adjust in-store setup, promotions, and visual merchandising techniques, retailers can drive further sales.
  • Health and Safety Audits ensure that stores are safe for employees and customers by checking for any hazards and taking proper preventative measures. In addition to keeping all parties physically safe, these audits can highlight things that do or don’t work well, such as the placement of hand sanitizing stations, signage about mask-wearing, and techniques for symptom screening upon entry.
  • Operational Audits can cover a wide range of policies and procedures like cash handling and returns/exchanges, but a good place to start is with daily routine compliance like opening and closing procedures. These audits ensure that the staff is all up to date on training and equipped to do their jobs successfully. With data gathered from these audits, step-by-step routines can be established and updated as needed to ensure that standard operating procedures are thorough, productive, and followed.

Additional benefits from store audits include:

  • Identifying maintenance issues
  • Ensuring previous audit recommendations have been implemented
  • Developing best practices
  • Determining where additional training is needed

Now that you know why retail compliance audits are important, let’s go through the best practices for conducting a retail compliance audit step by step.

Make It Digital

If your company uses a modern workforce management system with integrated employee communications, you’re in a better position to conduct these audits virtually, saving time and money on sending out teams in person.

Solutions like these have several beneficial components that allow for auditing in the moment and certainty that brand compliance is being maintained:

  • Communication – The messaging services in these solutions allow for direct communication between HQ and all team members, not just satellite location managers. Directives can be sent straight from corporate decision-makers to all team members, ensuring that the message has been received and seen.
  • Task Management – A digital to-do list provided to each store helps ensure the work is getting done, and corporate HQ can see that progress is being made as the tasks are checked off by store personnel.
  • Video and Photo Capabilities – Businesses don’t have to just take their teams’ word for it. With easy-to-use video and photo sharing, team members can show their work as they progress. This can be a great tool for sharing ideas and circumnavigating obstacles as they arise.

How to Conduct a Retail Compliance Audit

Schedule a Time for the Audit

Set aside time to conduct the audit, ideally when the store will be quiet (think mid-morning or early afternoon, depending on when your store opens each day). Audits can also be done before or after store hours, but keep in mind that if you schedule staff to help, it may not be as cost effective.

Set Clear and Realistic Goals

Determine what kind of audit you will conduct (e.g., merchandising, health and safety, or general store operations, as mentioned above) and create a list of what you will evaluate and hope to find. This list will guide you through the audit, and you can check items off the list as you inspect the store.

With a health and safety audit, for example, you’ll want to look at any potential structural hazards, test fire alarms, and take note of any potentially dangerous equipment in-store.

In this case, the goal is to eliminate risk and take steps to make the store environment as safe as possible for everyone, but each audit will have different end goals and results.

Take Note of What Needs to Be Changed

As you’re going through each item on your list, be sure to take notes on what needs to be changed or improved. This will provide you with the list of actions and next steps that need to be taken.

For instance: if, during a merchandising audit, you determine that items on a shelf in the back corner of the store are not selling well, make a note to move products closer to the entrance or to enhance the display to make the products stand out more.

Assign Tasks to Store Teams

Once you’ve determined the issues that need to be addressed, it’s time to delegate tasks to managers and associates. How you assign the tasks is up to you. It can be beneficial to use audits as a training opportunity for newer staff, or if you’re in a time crunch, you can have more experienced team members power through the tasks at hand.

Retail task management technology can be particularly helpful, allowing all relevant parties to see what needs to get done, track task progress, complete a task, and receive instant feedback (should any changes need to be made), so stores can reach compliance faster.

Follow Up and Provide Additional Feedback

After a specified amount of time given to complete the tasks, follow up to ensure that all the necessary changes have been implemented and that the intended improvements have been made. If not, store teams may need some extra advice.

The easiest way to conduct a digital compliance audit is with WorkForce Software solutions.

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