By Jennie Gilbert, COO Retailer Web Services (RWS)
Let’s face it, technology can be distracting. An hour disappears when we intended to check Facebook for just five minutes. The afternoon you set aside to solve a business problem, like writing a thoughtful job description for your indispensable new hire, is instead spent reading and replying to emails. Then, there’s that slew of text messages staring at you from your smart phone, awaiting your response.
All this distraction—24/7, I might add—can leave us with a bad taste in our mouth about technology in general, feeling like these devices and platforms meant to help us get more done are actually overwhelming us and ultimately, causing us to accomplish a lot less.
But, before you write off the promise of technology, realize while some newfangled software only adds to our To-Dos, other exciting technological developments hold the exact opposite promise and help us to take things off our To-Do list and as a result, increase our productivity. They can help us to get more done in less time; they are multipliers of our time and effort. And whether they are implemented or how consistently we use them, often makes the difference between businesses that thrive and those that fall behind.
So for 2017, put technology to work for you, not against you. When implemented correctly, the following technology tips should be considered if you’re looking to minimize your To-Do list and focus on running your business:
Automate product data updates: We’ve heard from many an independent retailer the lure of choosing a simpler or less expensive website that requires you to update product when it’s discontinued or new ones are added. Make sure the solution you choose has options for automatically and consistently updating product data to save you time in the long run. Not to mention, it will increase the effectiveness of the original time you spent to set it all up. But don’t take my word on it. One RWS retailer customer shares his experience:
Bernie Devine of Devine’s Furniture, Appliances and Mattresses in N.J., understands the beauty of automating product data updates first hand. Before I met Bernie, he had invested substantially in a new website for his store—one that required him and his staff to update inventory. Bernie describes his experience: “First, you go from one manufacturer to the next for all their product data and attributes. The human capital on that process alone—while you’re trying to manage your business—isn’t worth the new website investment. Then, when the data starts getting stale and you have to go back and get a fresh feed of data—in our case, 12 different ways—it’s such a daunting, time-intensive exercise. For any small business retailer trying to update product data themselves, it’s not even worth it. You end up spending all of your time. Unless you’re north of $20 million with a staff dedicated to controlling your database, it doesn’t economically make sense."
Implement review monitoring software: While this was a hot topic for RWS and our retailer customers in 2016 (with the rollout of monitoring software), our guidance to clients on managing their online reputations will only continue to grow in importance in 2017. Typically, many retailers go through cycles where they pay attention to online reviews about their business (usually after discovering a particularly nasty or hurtful one). Eventually, you or the employee responsible for regularly checking it, get busy with the day-to-day of running your store. Or, that employee is no longer with the company. Months can easily go by without any oversight of your digital reputation. Take the time now to investigate your options. Choose and implement a software system that will monitor all of the review sites for you, automatically. You’ll not only save yourself the time and angst of renewing the cycle in the future, consistent monitoring of your online reputation will result in a more sustained and effective campaign to improve it.
Increase good reviews about your store: Dozens of retailers have expressed frustration to me about how unfair online reviews are. It's true! Consumers are four times more likely to leave a negative review after a bad experience than vice versa. And to make it worse, Yelp in particular tends to be suspicious of many "rare" glowing reviews and sometimes suppresses legitimate good reviews. The true path to increasing your average star rating and getting more good reviews about your business: consistency. Relying on you and your staff to remember to ask customers to post a review only works for a short time. A change to your store's process to, for example, enter the email address of each customer into software that automatically solicits new reviews after every purchase—although an extra step to implement at first—ensures a more consistent outcome: a steady stream of good reviews. An RWS retailer customer who recently implemented WebFronts Review, shared with me his "simple process" for soliciting customer feedback—and his "awesome" results:
“We solicit feedback on Mondays for the prior week’s closed sales by extracting email from my POS, popping it into the (WebFronts Review) user interface and bingo—emails go out," said Jeff Allaire of Bellingham Electric in Bellingham, Mass. “After just three weeks, we received two negative direct emails from customers that had poor experiences. We were unaware of their plight, but through the emails, we were able to take action and flip the customers back into the ‘raving fans' column. Also, in just three weeks, we received two 5 Star reviews on Yelp and Google and are up to 11 total reviews—a 20 percent increase in total reviews since inception several years ago. At this rate, we’ll have 10 times the number of online reviews in a year. Awesome!"
Be more promotional: When Black Friday and all related shopping holidays are finally over, most retailers are left exhausted. But before you know it, President's Day will be here, and a full and demanding New Year of promotions will begin in earnest. If you're trying to plan your own promotional calendar, gather all the creative elements, post them in a timely manner, remember to take them down, etc., you run the risk of burn out. And worse, you may eventually stop doing it. This only leaves you at a competitive disadvantage. Take the time up front to review and select a digital marketing package that can deploy professionally designed and branded turnkey promotions on a timely basis. Though it might seem daunting to understand and set your marketing automation settings the first time around, this is another time saver in the long run—that will also increase your returns. A no brainer.
I hope these tips encourage further thought and discussion around ways to increase your output and improve productivity for your business. After all, beyond staying fit and healthy, some variation on "time" typically rounds out our top five New Year’s resolutions. Here’s to multiplying your time in 2017!
For more information, please visit retailerwebservices.com.
About Jennie Gilbert: Jennie Gilbert is the Chief Operating Officer of Retailer Web Services, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company whose mission is to help independent retailers realize their dreams through the promise of technology. Jennie is a frequent speaker at durable goods retail conferences and the co-author of RE:THiNK: 11 surprising things you should do now to win retail customers in the digital age (Retailer Web Services, 2015).
You can read this article on Sleep Retailer by clicking here.