collaboration in retailIt’s one of 2020’s buzz words, but collaboration in retail isn’t new. Remember your first roller coaster? (By the way, this analogy works best if you like roller coasters.)  It was scary being pulled to the top of the first hill. There was the rush as you sped down the hill, over another one, around a series of curves and all too soon ended. For most of us, the first thing we said was “Let’s do that again!”

    There’s something scary about collaboration.

     It means letting go of the past hierarchy and trusting people to work in new ways. Inspecting who clocks in and out from 8am – 5pm gives way to holding people accountable for outcomes and deadlines. For some people, that is hard to do.  But do it well and it will bring unanticipated new rewards.

    Retail collaboration from home offices is challenging. The physical need to unload deliveries and wait on customers means most employees will need to be at the store. But even for small operators, working in a collaborative environment enabled by smart phones and instant messages is possible.

    Soon teams will break down from regiments led by a manager into groups that come together to solve a problem. Then they will dissolve to regroup in new ways to work on new problems. Thus, the idea of what it means to be in a work group changes. Meeting the needs of “the boss” becomes more about meeting the needs of the group – or even better – the customer.  

    Collaboration tools break down the barriers of geography. Retailers are seeing the savings from enormous travel budgets moving to online internet meetings. At the same time, customers expect to be able to reach out to you and connect in real time. Is your store as close to its customers as possible? With mobile or online ordering your customers expect delivery wherever and whenever they need it.

    Collaboration is just a new way of saying teamwork.

    Real teamwork. And what you get from real teamwork is:

    • Customer insights Collaboration is a funnel for ideas about new products and services. Collaboration can be as simple as monitoring social media accounts to see what customers say. Then address all issues as soon as possible.
    • Fast conduit to promote improvements. Take credit for the changes and ideas that you implement so customers and employees know they are heard.
    • More accurate forecasts. When a diverse group of people who see the same issue from multiple angles create forecasts, the forecast usually improves.  In a company we know, the betting pool for Christmas sales is always more accurate than the finance team’s forecast. If management were smart, they would underwrite the betting pool to make their forecasts more accurate.
    • Faster problem solving.  Best Buy added a collaboration platform to its car audio installation teams across the country. Previously, errors in audio installations meant refunds for every mistake. Audio techs didn’t get a lot of computer training. But with the right tool, they organically shared tips and tricks to install audio head units and speakers into every make and model. A tech entered “2013 Honda Civic” in New Jersey and found that a peer in Kansas had already documented the exact nut in the dash that had to be removed to protect the data line.
    • Less overhead costs.  When collaboration expands, back office space can shrink. We are living this today. When we return to the “new normal,” workers may hotel at company desks where they check in for the day. With multiple workers sharing the same workspace, less real estate is required. That’s less rent, less energy usage and more flexibility. Before the pandemic, a Fortune 50 company monitored office and cubicle space at various times of the day to see what percent is used at any one time. Most cubicles were empty over 65% of the time. The idea of “1 office worker = 1 workspace” may be a poor use of resources. For retailers looking for money, cutting back office costs through collaboration seems like an easy win.
    • Increased employee satisfaction.  Employees valued for their productivity and not just the hours on the job, are more likely to stay engaged in their jobs. Virtual working accommodations are strong motivations for recruiting and retaining high-value employees.  

    As you use collaboration tools within your company, your customers are also looking for collaboration. Could retailers host a zoom call to conduct product line tests with brand loyalists? Start to advance your thinking from collaborating with co-workers to virtual collaborations with customers. Learn how they use products or how new features might appeal to different markets. Early adopters of collaboration in retail will reap rewards for years to come.