04 April 2021

Is Retail Audit the Pathway to the Next Retail Era?

2020 is finally behind us . . . or is it? Instead of planning for the biggest events in the retail calendar and creating brands’ next festive shopping wonderland, luxury retailers continue to deal with the shut-in economy and social distancing. Luxury brands are still finding the best ways to optimize their in-store customer experiences.

After all, it’s no secret that the only way for any retailer in the luxury sector to survive and win this battle is to make the luxury customer’s shopping journey worthwhile. Many of these retailers are turning to customer experience evaluation and retail-store audits, and there’s no doubt that both of these assessments can be important sources of valuable insights to a luxury brand.

But they actually address different needs and ultimately serve different purposes.

How customer experience evaluation works

Customer experience evaluation—also known as secret shoppers—is well-known to luxury retailers. You pay a typical consumer to visit your store as an undercover customer, and they make a few purchases, return items, or ask for information. Then, they tell you all about their experience.

It’s an amazing tool that yields valuable data to identify a luxury brand’s areas of improvement from a client perspective. The results could be influenced by the circumstances of the day or the season and with the focus on the outcomes.

That’s all well and good, except many would assert that it’s a mistake to only measure compliance and address problems after they happen.

This is where the audit comes in.

Why retail audit might be the better tool

The luxury retail-store audit is what we call the “backstage” audit—a declared visit where the auditor assesses the general subjects of a retail channel (online, store, outlets, airports) to evaluate its operations, covering display presentations and clientele interactions, among others.

When necessary, the auditor could assess the operational details that are vital to the luxury brand as well. They will also interview and assess the competence of the team based on real situations.

Unlike the mystery shopper, the auditor is less interested in the outcome. They’re not there to draw any conclusions.

Instead, they are professionals with years of luxury retail experience who focus on the auditing process. They are there to start an exploration, find out how to actively improve brands’ customer experience and generate deep insights to inspire the brands, and help identify the best practices to engage with its consumers in the most meaningful and transformative ways.

The next era of retail

The retail audit allows luxury brands to think ahead, to plan for the business growth and operation remodeling, and overall, to rethink 2021. Some brands choose to actively create a sustainable competitive advantage. Those hopefully will come out of the crisis even stronger. The others who fail to do so are surely going to struggle through the trying economy, soon to be forgotten.

It’s time to take this opportunity to look inside, inspect all parts of the operations within your brand, and make sure they are functioning well. Now is the time to individually measure the effectiveness of your operations, your store compliance with standards, and your in-store merchandising initiatives. And most of all, engage with your boutique managers and store associates and let them know they’re not alone.

The year 2020 may have left all of us still reeling, but we continue to recover, and we continue to push forward. Keep your eyes and ears open and keep exploring the possibilities to improve. This is how your brand will succeed. This is how you’ll thrive while your competitors struggle to survive.

Welcome to the new era of retail.