If you run a successful retail business, you have a good reason to feel proud. Retail is a notoriously challenging industry to work in, and only the most capable business people have succeeded.
However, when they reach a certain size, all retail businesses need a good retail management system so the business stays under control and its potential can be maximised. Consider these challenges that you’ve perhaps already faced or are anticipating as your business grows:
Implementing a comprehensive system to manage a retail enterprise does take time and effort. Still, once you’ve gotten over that hurdle, you won’t look back, as your retail business will not only run more smoothly but also be more capable of expansion than before. It will become scalable.
While selecting a good retail system vendor and putting in place a strong team will win half the battle, there are still several things you should do in order to ensure the highest chances of success. Because enterprise-wide system implementation requires cooperation at every rung of your organisation, it is crucial that you start on the right foot by driving your team members to make the necessary preparations, to enable your system vendor to work without obstructions.
This guide was written with the aim of demystifying the retail system implementation process and making businesses aware of what they should expect and do to prepare for an imminent enterprise-wide system implementation.
We hope you will find this guide useful and wish your retail business the greatest success possible!
The very first step, and arguably the most important, is to choose a reliable system vendor who not only provides you with a product that suits your business but who is also able to provide implementation services, to make the introduction of the new system to your business as seamless as possible.
There are many retail system vendors in the market these days, so trying to determine which one is best for you can seem like a monumental task. To make things a bit easier for you, here’s a checklist you should run through when evaluating a potential system vendor:
No one can predict exactly how much a full implementation of a new retail system will cost you. Many variables come into play at each stage of the process. Solid upfront analysis must be done to narrow down the expected costs, but you still need to bear in mind the possibility that your cost may end up deviating quite a bit from your initial estimates.
So it is prudent to plan to spend only 80% of your budget to allow for unforeseen implementation costs. Spending must be reviewed on a regular basis, and if you find that you are spending considerably more or less than expected, you need to reassess the state of the project.
Once implementation of the new system is under way, here are some money management pointers you might find useful.
Implementing a new retail system is a massive undertaking, so you will want to adapt some of your business processes to suit the new system to make the IT part of the project simpler. Don’t be intimidated — adapting your business processes to make them compatible with the new system is a lot less scary than it sounds.
While most retail packages can be tweaked to suit your existing business, and indeed a good system vendor will aim to configure the system to match your processes, problems arise when your existing processes have been put in place by tradition or personal preferences rather than by structured review and process design. In many cases, it is advisable to correct lacking business processes rather than to have a system designed around practices that are flawed and liable to cause problems somewhere down the road.
For instance, if stock arrives in the stores without purchase orders, this is considered a poor practice irrespective of reasons. The introduction of the new system could be the catalyst to change this practice.
As your team members may initially be resistant to change, it is important to communicate closely with them to ensure they appreciate why any changes need to be made. While the teething stages may be challenging, it is crucial that your teammates understand that amending your current practices can pay great dividends in future.
Of course, not all business processes should be changed. This is particularly true when your business processes constitute a strategic advantage over your competitors.
As we have mentioned in the previous section, it is important to communicate effectively at every rung of your organisation in order to help the transition along. While the technical aspects of the new system will be handled by competent vendors, the onus of facilitating a smooth internal change falls on you.
Evaluating readiness for change within a team can be notoriously difficult, but once you have made the commitment to push through with the necessary changes, don’t be afraid to engage the team with a clear end goal in mind.
Waiting until you receive unanimous support from your team or hesitantly feeling out their sentiments are not the right steps to take. Instead, aim to introduce the new system to the team and implement changes smartly. Here are some ways to do so:
Cleansing of the existing data is one of the first challenges you’ll encounter on the road to successful implementation. As a functioning business, you are likely to have an extensive collection of records which constitute an asset and need to be retained within the new system. But, not all of the old data is valuable. Data cleansing covers the process of identifying obsolete records and correcting discrepancies, inaccuracies or corrupt information in your existing records.
The importance of conducting a thorough data cleansing exercise prior to, or as part of migration to a new system cannot be overstressed. Usually it is very difficult to estimate the amount of time and resources needed for data cleansing, as unexpected issues have a habit of cropping up during the process of progressive discovery.
A shoddily-completed data cleansing exercise can hamper the effectiveness of the implementation and staff training. It can also negatively impact system operations after it goes live. As such, it is crucial that data cleansing be taken seriously and solid plans put in place before it begins.
Here are the data cleansing activities you’ll typically be required to engage in:
Note that you should expect the new system to be equipped with a range of tools to allow for easy import, validation and upload of the data from your legacy systems.
In particular, you’ll need to take note of the following points:
When your new system provider has given the green light that the system has been implemented, there are still a few things that must be done to ensure that the system runs as smoothly as possible.
A good system should have come complete with built-in tools for auditing and consistency proofing, meaning you should not have to conduct your own general system tests after implementation. You should be able to just conduct User Acceptance Tests to satisfy yourself that the parts of the system you will use behave the way you expected.
User Acceptance Testing (UAT) process requires your super users to verify their parts of the new system. Following the UAT, volume testing needs to take place as well.
Once all the necessary verification has been carried out, it is time for your system to go live. While you may be tempted to immediately deploy the system in its entirety, it is worth noting that gradual deployment is preferable to making the entire system go live at once, even after multiple rehearsals, as problems invariably emerge during the cut-over. It is wise to keep the number of the emergent issues at a minimum, by deploying the system in stages.
Remembering that a successful retail system relies on four pillars, make sure that once it runs live, all of them are managed. Whilst your software vendor needs to look after the software part, you must make sure that your organisation handles the other three on an on-going basis. Processes must be followed, people must be competent (trained or re-trained if required) and data needs to be meticulously maintained. The latter covers both: all your reference data and transactional information.
Successfully implementing a modern and proven retail system can revolutionise the way your business is operated and unleash the full potential of your retail business model and strategy.
As you can see, all this doesn’t come without extensive preparation and diligent planning. If you’re up for the challenge, however, facilitating a successful implementation can be a huge achievement and a career highlight.
We hope that this guide has been useful in making you aware of the challenges you and your team are likely to face prior to, during and after the implementation of a new system.
We would like to emphasise that all the activities you will engage in, while demanding, are by no means impossible, and a lot of the difficulty of successfully pushing through a new system can be alleviated by proper planning and attention to detail.
Any retail business, no matter how brilliant, can benefit from a sound, efficient management system. It takes courage to dive in and reap the benefits, but it needs to be done. If you are a great merchant, you still need good tools. Like with a great musician—if you have to play on a bad instrument, your performance will be ruined. Get yourself a good one!
Finally, we need to state the obvious: while all the advice in this article is likely to work well for you, we don’t know your particular situation or challenges. So, before you act based on our suggestions undertake your own research and enquiries. It never hurts to seek a broad range of insights. Also, at any time, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are very experienced in retail system implementation and may be able to help you.