These days everyone, including me, is talking innovation, service, experience and destination shopping.

Retailers who manage to outlast their competition by providing these additions include established players such as Argos, and newer brands including Lululemon and Bulldog, which are playing up to customers’ growing desire for personalised and sustainable products.

“Retail teams must be set stretching but achievable goals and incentivised to surpass these”

However, with tough financial performance, the idea of creating a high street of multiple Amazon Go stores is not yet feasible. What many retailers still need to do is check their current state of health and address some of the basics, before setting upon a major disruption of the market.

For example, in the challenging short term, driving improvements in basic store processes may outweigh many digital initiatives and are likely to be more attainable by effective optimisation.

Teach and re-teach the right behaviours

Sales management is nothing new and still, many retailers aren’t hitting the mark. It starts with aligning your staff to the bigger picture. Just look at an an Apple store – engaged, informative, motivated employees working as a collaborative unit. Relationships and productivity improve when teams can be focused and responsive.

On the ground, retail teams must be set stretching but achievable goals and incentivised to surpass these, both as individuals and as a team. This is only achieved through active training, feedback and coaching from the top down.

Continuously push yourself to be better

More recently, “innovation hubs” have taken the place of retail optimisation in stores. But it can be dangerous if these are window dressing on the underlying inefficient processes or if they replace the focus on continuous improvement.

Retailers should adopt the ‘challenge everything’ model that start-ups employ and embrace the (often uphill) journey to achieve optimisation. An example of this is in the casual dining market, where the high turnover of staff and customers can give way to lower store standards.

“Even in Pret a Manger’s busiest stores, you will always be served by a smiling barista and will struggle to find a single piece of litter in sight”

But even in Pret a Manger’s busiest stores, you will always be served by a smiling barista and will struggle to find a single piece of litter in sight. Facing into these areas is usually a much cheaper, albeit often more challenging, alternative to paying for the latest tech.

One way Pret ensures the smooth running of its stores is by sending mystery shoppers on weekly visits to grade every outlet – with high scores resulting in bonuses for all of the store’s employees. Giving staff the correct tools, information and working practices will enable them to respond more efficiently and effectively. 

Make work a fun place to be

It goes without saying that in a people business, your staff should want to be there. By using a fun incentivisation model to target them effectively, like gamification, you can tailor mechanics and motivational techniques to add competition to the work environment and foster the behaviour to achieve targets.

Gamification impacts employee behaviour through motivation, giving them a sense of control and cues to complete tasks.

For example, Freshdesk, a helpdesk software programme for customer support centres, transforms customer enquiries into virtual tickets that are randomly assigned to ‘players’ to inspire a real-time competitive environment among employees.

Engage your community during downtime

Every business has quiet periods. During the past few years, we have seen retailers complain of low footfall in their shops. To counter this, why not get your business out on the streets, set up a pop-up stall and give out samples to get your brand out there?

The Economist chose this model and has now popped up in railway stations across the country to sell subscriptions direct to consumers. Graze sends brand ambassadors to the streets at peak commuter times to hand out free samples of their healthy snacks.

“Retail teams need to feel like they have the basics under control in order to make a difference”

If you want customers, go and get them. It sounds obvious but it amazes me how many retailers are not doing this.

Before you purchase the latest customer insights document and ponder the seemingly overwhelming challenge of staying relevant in the world of Amazon, Asos and Ocado, take stock of your business, improve where you can and empower your retail teams to take accountability for driving customers. 

While operational efficiency may not be enough on its own to save the high street, and it sounds less cool than delivery by drone, retail teams need to feel like they have the basics under control in order to make a difference and drive that all important sales growth.