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RETAIL ENVIRONMENT

Warts and all

Stock file accuracy may not present a pretty picture, but taking ownership presents a realistic view of what the business needs to do, according to Zebra Technologies.

Two years after the end of the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, told his portrait painter to capture his image ‘warts and all’, a reference to his desire to give the viewer an unvarnished picture rather than follow the ‘self-indulgent’ fashion of the day to flatter the subject by using an early form of photoshopping.

Like the mid 17th century, Europe is going through another turbulent period thanks to coronavirus which has created an ugly reality for millions of businesses, many of whom had to furlough or make members of staff redundant during the pandemic.

The retail industry, one of the UK’s biggest employers, is at the centre of this turbulence where both stores and staff fell victim to the lockdown with stock from closed shops being removed back to DCs to support the growing demand for online and home delivery.

The casualty of this civil upheaval was stock file accuracy where retailers lost transparency of that inventory, a fact compounded by their inability to engage over-stretched external counters to meet their audit compliance issues, as well as give a clear picture of where items were in the supply chain from both a bricks and mortar and clicks and mortar collection perspective.

“For many retailers, it’s not been a pretty picture,” said Patricia Lacey, New Business Development Manager at Zebra Technologies – SmartCount - one of the world’s leading self-scan stock counting solutions providers who argues that having ‘skin in the game’ through self-scan counts not only gives ownership back to the retailers but also presents a true ‘warts and all’ view of the business.

“If your stock file is inaccurate it can only drive loss because you don’t have a clear picture. This in turn will drive customers away, particularly in the world of omni retail and click and collect.

“A large majority of stock counts are being pushed to the end of the year which is adding challenges for retailers in managing their counts.  Flexibility is key along with being able to take control of the situation and take necessary steps to resolve problems.

“With no skin in the game or investment, it’s difficult to be sure of the context and nuance of the external count and it’s often up to retail head offices to consolidate the counts.”

More businesses have therefore taken their counts in-house and use rented ‘plug and play’ scanners to allow their own staff to conduct their stocktakes, a technology that also allows a dial-in capability to support colleagues.

Patricia, who has been in the stock inventory business for 20 years, said: “It’s so simple to use and gives the business a completely warts and all analysis – nothing can be hidden”.

“The technology is built around the integrity of the stock count and it’s difficult for participants to go wrong because it prompts them throughout to do it right. It puts the power in the hands of the business and the store manager who owns that count.”

With social distancing protocols, counts can be carried out safely and cost-effectively by staff in different parts of the premises during the process.  Real time visibility of the count and how it progresses helps drive integrity and strong compliance. 

The equipment, which is pre-loaded with customer details, is sanitised ahead of issuing the scanners, with the option for the customers to carry out their own cleaning protocols, but it is all ‘ready to go’ with Zebra ready to receive devices back ahead of the next count as part of a perpetual process.

All SmartCount's events are supported with a 24/7 Help Desk. 

“We are really busy, and this is in part due to the rental charging model for both the software and hardware – it’s all about cost-effectiveness, flexibility and efficiency.”

“At a time of pandemic, businesses using their own staff are also able to tick the boxes in terms of counters not having to travel and cutting the costs of accommodation and expenses – it’s also positive in environmental terms,” she said.

“It creates a different attitude and narrative around helping customers decide what their challenges are and closing in on what is driving their loss so that the solution can deliver on that criteria.

 “Stock file accuracy and the CEO’s need for it is the holy grail that is dictating this agenda and we are helping it happen.”

Stocktakes have now moved out of the once or twice a year phenomenon driven by different options including Software as a Service (SaaS) and Cycle Counting, both additional ways to help drive continued accuracy throughout trading.

Zebra can also offer a RFID hybrid model allowing a business to view the entire estate without the cost of a full RFID roll-out.

“COVID has made everybody think differently and these self-directed counts are in some cases putting seven-figure savings back onto the bottom line as well as driving efficiency and compliance in terms of encouraging pre-count protocols through dynamic interventions. Preparing better delivers better outcomes - this also allows for the business to conduct audits at the same time,” she added.

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to disrupt the status quo retailers are having to think more in terms of demanding greater transparency and a more nuanced – ‘warts and all’ - landscape of their inventory management decisions and where best to deploy their staff resources and technology that allows them to sell more and lose less.  

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