Why retail leaders should plan a store visit before the holiday season

As we near the first festive shopping season in two years that doesn’t have the looming threat of Covid-19 restrictions, customers are looking to enjoy an optimum in-store shopping experience.

This Christmas, retailers must prioritize the customer experience to win footfall over fierce online shopping competition.

A Harvard Business School study found that, on average, retail leaders spend just 3% of their time with customers. This is largely due to the huge scope of responsibilities that come with CEO and chief executive roles, which can lead to a natural decline in customer-facing time.

However, this can be detrimental as a wealth of information can be gained from customers, and visiting stores can also provide a boost to staff morale and uncover what works well on the shop floor. With a large rift between head office and stores, a feeling of disconnect can begin to take hold. After all, retail is very much a people business, and there’s a goldmine of knowledge to be gained on the shop floor, where real business success happens.

What are the benefits of a store visit?

Planning a store visit in the months leading up to Christmas can be incredibly useful. Let’s look at some of the key benefits it can bring to your retail business.

1. Builds strong employee relationships
Taking the time to step away from head office and visit your store employees in person helps in building lasting relationships. Meeting the CEO in person makes employees feel seen, heard and valued. It’s an opportunity to share wins and discuss any potential roadblocks to success. Showing your support for their hard work will only increase employees’ loyalty and motivation, both of which are incredibly important, especially during the busy festive period. Offering a word of encouragement and knowing employees by name goes a very long way.

2. An opportunity to learn from Covid-19
Covid-19 hit the retail space hard, at some points forcing stores to close entirely. Whilst this was a struggle for the industry, it has provided countless opportunities to learn and improve. By visiting the stores in person, CEOs and leadership teams can keep pace with the changes in demand and shopping behaviors. Spending time in store allows us to observe consumer behaviour and ask how Covid-19 positively and negatively impacted their in-store shopping experience. It also boosts employee morale by making them feel truly valued. A recent study found 28% of UK retail employees want to quit their jobs, and this feeling was greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. All the more reason to spend time in store and learn about how Covid-19 affected your employees.

3. Provides insight into competitors
Visiting your key stores gives you insight into what competitors are doing. You can compare your own stores to nearby competitors and see what they are doing differently, and whether it’s successful or not. Speaking with customers and employees about competitors can also provide further valuable information. Why do customers choose to shop with you? Have they ever shopped with a competitor, and if so, why? You can speak to staff about their insights and any improvements they would like to see. Visiting stores is an opportunity to immerse yourself in trends, what customers enjoy and how you can improve on your competitors’ efforts.

4. Witness the customer experience
As a CEO, a beneficial practice is visiting stores through the eyes of a customer. Walking into your store and soaking up the customer experience gives you fresh eyes on your operation. You can determine what works well and what doesn’t. It’s also a great opportunity to ask customers what they want from your store and products. What could you improve in both customer service and product offering? What would increase their loyalty? Customers are rich resources of knowledge and asking the right questions can lead to significant improvements in your stores.

5. Improves both the stores and head office
At head office, the CEO’s job and the rest of the leadership team is often to approve policies and look for ways to run the business more efficiently. However, it can be hard to do so without taking the time to visit the stores, where most of these policies are implemented. Being able to see these policies in practice can not only improve the processes in store, but also at head office. Strategically planning for the year ahead is much easier when a CEO understands how the day-to-day operations work in their stores and what processes can be improved upon.

How can a store visit boost community and the customer experience?

Customers like to visit places where they feel comfortable and welcome. Fostering a strong store community is the key way to do this and it’s only possible when CEOs visit their stores and speak with customers. Cultivating an atmosphere where the CEO of a retailer is friendly, approachable and available will provide a great customer experience and a strong community feel.

Carrying out tasks alongside your retail employees such as packing bags and welcoming customers into the store will ensure that you don’t lose sight of what truly matters to your customers. This is a vital method of cementing customer loyalty, by fostering a personal connection with your most valued customers.

Finding out how you can improve the customer experience is a crucial role of a CEO, chief executive or wider leadership team. What easier way than asking the customers themselves? Visit the store and ask customers the right questions for real, valuable insights into the customer experience.

How does a store visit impact employee morale?

Bridging the gap between the store and head office is key to maintaining strong employee morale. It removes the potential for the us vs them mentality and unites the entire business as one unit, working together toward the same end goal.

Taking the time to speak to employees directly, answer any questions and show your appreciation will increase loyalty and morale.

What should you do to maximize your time in store? When making a store visit as a CEO or leadership team, it can be overwhelming. You want to do many things and speak to many people.

Here is a checklist to help you make the most of your time in store:

  • Serve customers — foster a strong sense of community.
  • Pack bags — working alongside employees will boost morale.
  • Ask questions — ask both customers and employees questions – focus on what they like about the store and what could be improved.
  • Host events — speak at events and open up the floor to questions.
  • Create promotions — work with your employees in-store to create promotions and listen to their ideas.
  • Take stock of what works — when visiting a store, take note of what works and what doesn’t to ensure processes are constantly improving.

Christmas is fast approaching and now is the time to leave head office and visit your stores. Not only will this improve your customer experience before the Covid-free festive season, but it’ll also set your employees up for success too.