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COVID-19: Recommended Short-Term Steps for Retailers

RCP Managing Partners |  March 20, 2020 

Above all, we want to express our hope that you, your family, friends and co-workers are and remain healthy. And for anyone who has been directly impacted by COVID-19, we also hope for a full and swift recovery.

 

At this point in the pandemic, most retailers have enacted the necessary tactical steps to address stores that are still open. Therefore, it hopefully goes without saying there are immediate needs to ensure the health and safety of your store associates and visiting customers, as well as having the right messaging established both within your organization and to your customer base.

 

However, as stores continue to close and corporate office employees shift their efforts towards working from home, what are those next set of items that retailers should begin focusing on during these unprecedented times? 

 

RCP has spent the past week brainstorming with our key retail clients around what can be done to keep associates engaged remotely and how to advance the solutions that IT supports for its business counterparts. We propose that retailers can use this unplanned and unfortunate downtime to focus on several areas related to Store Systems and Store Operations. Normally, because retailers are open and dealing with customers during their business hours, many tasks related to modifying production systems are relegated to off-hours with elaborate rollback plans and tight windows to perform any sort of validation testing prior to next day opening. Given the current environment where stores may be closed or have reduced hours, now may be an effective time to work on the following set of activities:  

 

  1. Outstanding POS Software Updates & Patches

  2. Backlog of Outstanding User Requests

  3. Analysis of Past Help Desk Tickets

  4. Data Cleansing

  5. POS Hardware Upgrades & Fixture Updates

  6. Inventory Resets

Outstanding POS Software Updates / Patches

One of the more challenging activities for retailers to manage is the distribution and validation of major (and minor) software updates and patches for their POS solutions. Not only does the testing of these updates in corporate lab systems take away from production support activities, but applying these updates after store close and ensuring everything is working well prior to store opening requires a well-coordinated set of resources and activities. Having stores closed for an extended period of time presents an ideal time for ensuring lingering updates are deployed, installed and working properly. Additionally, the majority, if not all, of these tasks can be completed remotely utilizing software distribution tools and remote desktop solutions.

Backlog of Outstanding User Requests

With Store Systems staff spending less time addressing Sev 1 and Sev 2 issues coming from production stores, there should be availability to get to those growing lists of outstanding enhancement requests. In today’s retail environment, Store Systems teams and retail IT are running leaner than ever, and new requests from business users tend to generate a healthy backlog which often take a backseat to critical production updates or new implementation projects focused on core functionality. Be sure to also use this time to work with your key internal customers to ensure any backlog items are validated as still required as well as prioritized.

 

Analysis of Past Help Desk Tickets

With key updates deployed and backlogs minimized, now may be a good opportunity to go back and review previous help desk tickets. Not only is this necessary to ensure there are no lingering critical or high severity items on there that remain unresolved, but also to analyze the data itself. Look for trends in certain modules or with certain associated business processes. Are they spiking abnormally high during new POS release updates which may indicate a lack of testing or issues with training documentation? Are there repeated tickets regarding payments which correlate with certain payment terminal models which may be failing or out of date? If you can identify and isolate any key trends, you can then work to implement proactive measures to minimize future tickets when possible.

 

Data Cleansing

Similar to the backlog of enhancement requests, most retail IT organizations suffer from a long list of data-related issues that build up over time that never seem to rise to the top of the priority list. Bringing together IT and business resources from Merchandising, Marketing, Business Intelligence and Finance, now may be an ideal time to analyze, assess, remediate and deploy cleansed data to your key retail systems. You may never have another time when your existing data is as static as now, so take advantage of the reduced influx of new data.

 

POS Hardware Upgrades / Fixture Updates

This topic is a bit more tricky as it requires physical access to the stores as well as staff who can safely perform these tasks. However, assuming these activities would likely be conducted by two or less resources, leveraging store closures presents a tremendous opportunity for replacing or upgrading outdated POS hardware, including registers, peripherals, mobile devices and payment terminals. Not only would install teams be able to perform these tasks during what would normally be store business hours, but it allows for smaller quantity of resources given the lack of need to complete the tasks within a fixed window.  (note: RCP is not endorsing getting large groups of associates together to perform these tasks, or to suggest forcing workers to spend times outside of their homes. Rather, where it’s safe to do so, the majority of these store-related tasks can be performed while adhering to the CDC’s recommendations surrounding social distancing.)

 

Physical Inventory and Inventory Resets

This is another topic which includes resources spend time physically in the store environment, so proceed cautiously heeding the caveat noted above. However, if you do have access to your stores and product, this pause in retail operations would also be a good time to perform full physical inventories of your locations. Also, if stores have been putting off inventory resets or merchandising display resets, now may also be an opportune time to execute without the pressure and time constraints that come with present customers or a tight non-business hour window.

 

There are unfortunately such terrible impacts stemming from the current COVID-19 pandemic facing our society, including a staggering amount of deceased and hospitalized patients. All industries are dealing with these events in their own way, and the vast majority are wondering how we will recover from what will surely be a financially crippling fiscal year. We hope that some of these suggestions will offer a positive set of tasks and activities that will prepare the retail industry for what we all hope is a speedy and resurgent recovery.

 

From all of us at RCP, we hope you stay safe and healthy, and we look forward to sharing more thought leadership with you about the impacts to retail in the coming months. Please reach out with any comments or feedback to info@retailconsultingpartners.com