The majority of retail customers never interact with people from corporate offices, and most decisions regarding a brand are made by fewer than 10% of their employees. Who has the best pulse on customer behavior? Most likely your in-store employees. Unfortunately, this means that your most valuable resource for customer insights couldn’t be further from your decision-makers.

A pool of real-time customer insights sounds valuable, right? Then, why don’t we have a better conduit between retail stores and corporate headquarters to tap into it? Chances are, the systems and methods your company has in place at physical stores are outdated, hard to access and not designed for mobile devices. As a result, hundreds to thousands of insights are effectively lost every week.

Let’s take a moment and look at a scenario where a valuable insight goes undocumented in a retail setting.

Customer Insight

Imagine you work for a retail company like Banana Republic. It’s the holiday season, and the company is running a promotion on sweaters, because it expects them to be great gifts.

After the holidays, your team look at sales numbers and sees that a Chicago store didn’t sell the volume of sweaters you had projected. Without context, you start making assumptions, question the store’s performance and think it may have been a staff issue.

Instead of having rich context to improve decisions for next year, the corporate teams back at headquarters are analyzing sales numbers and making guesses based on sales data alone. They might hypothesize that people in Chicago weren’t interested in sweaters, but they would miss out on knowing how much they loved scarves. They could also assume the placement of the sweaters in the store wasn’t prominent enough or close enough to registers for impulse buys, but they would miss the fact that another store was drawing customers before they set foot in Banana Republic.

If you had access to quick store insights from the retail manager and team members at that location, however, you would know that it is located next to a J Crew store that was running a similar promotion during the holidays for its scarves. Your retail team would be able to let you know that from the casual conversations they heard as people made their way from J Crew to Banana Republic, they were buying scarves as gifts instead of sweaters. Moreover, they could tell you that the vibrance and branding of J Crew’s sale signage cast a shadow over the ones Banana Republic was running in the windows next door.

The question is, how do you capture valuable store knowledge like these insights with limited resources and retail employee buy-in, and how do you share it with other stores in the region?

There are several challenges when it comes to current communication tools:

  • Few retail employees have a corporate email address.
  • Computer systems in stores are often outdated.
  • Wi-Fi is not always accessible or available in stores.
  • The only communication lines between stores are often through district managers.
  • Current systems are typically focused on data for operations and sales, not for creativity and multimedia.

An Ideal Insight System

After laying out the pieces of the communication puzzle, it becomes clear that a system that effectively communicates customer insights needs to have a few key characteristics:

  • Leverages the devices employees already have to capture insights.
  • Captures insights in a way that employees already communicate, through text and multimedia (e.g., quick videos and photos).
  • Easy to access and use.
  • Enables information to flow to and from retail employees.

You don’t need designers, IT or engineers to start capturing real-time retail information. Lightweight mobile-friendly cloud platforms offer the flexibility and storage to handle the needs of this type of program. You don’t need the latest smartphone model; you just need one with Wi-Fi, a decent camera, and the ability to support cloud apps like Google Drive or Dropbox.

Using this system, a Banana Republic store manager or employee could easily take a few photos of the J Crew store promotional signs next door and record a quick audio note of their observations. They could also upload a short video explaining that people were entering into the Banana Republic store with J Crew bags, indicating that people were going to J Crew first.

Then, Banana Republic could share these insights with other stores in the region experiencing similar behavior patterns. Corporate teams would be able to analyze data from the store in conjunction with these insights to develop a more complete picture of what was happening.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, but It’s Worth the Effort

While some systems are lightweight enough to deploy without much hassle, you’ll still want to start small and scale up. If you don’t think you can implement a tool on a pilot basis, try to obtain one insight per store manager per month in strategic regions and/or stores. At that rate, you can manage synthesizing a few dozen insights at a time in one document and sharing it with the stores and corporate teams that would benefit the most from them. Gauge the effectiveness of your small program, and determine if it’s worth streamlining the process and spreading it out over more stores.

Starting this type of initiative sounds like a lot of work, but these customer insights are too valuable to ignore. Just one insight from a retail team can affect the entire organization, from marketing and sales teams to operations and strategy departments. If you work in learning and development, this program is an opportunity to make a major impact with minimal effort and a chance to tap into a resource your company has an abundance of.