Employee arranging window display

The Complete Guide to Retail Task Management

29 April 2021

Retail | Operations

Retail runs on tasks, and task management is how retail teams manage the tasks that contribute to the upkeep of a successful store. This post will explain where stores are getting it wrong, the impact of this, and what retailers can do to fix it.

What is retail task management? 


Task management is the strategy that retail teams use to streamline their approach to all the tasks and processes, which involves delivering instructions, allocating time for each task, assigning tasks to employees, and prioritizing which tasks are the most important.

Tasks include: 

  • Daily tasks, like completing opening checklists, stock audits and creating sales reports.
  • Weekly tasks, like ordering stock and reviewing reports and feedback.
  • Monthly tasks, this could be things like cleaning the stock room or creating the employee shift rota.
  • One-off tasks, these can include setting up themed displays for holidays, re-calling stock from the shelves or on-boarding new employees.

Efficient retail task management creates the right conditions for frictionless store operations. When tasks are managed effectively, the time and effort retail teams have to spend on admin tasks is minimized, so they have more time to spend creating a fantastic experience for customers.


Why is effective task management critical for success in retail?


A successful store is compliant, cost-effective, has fulfilled employees and a great customer experience that’s consistent with every other store. Effective management of retail tasks achieves all of the above and benefits:


Efficient task management frees up store teams to spend their time improving the in-store experience. This matters more than ever now that online shopping is the norm and people need a significant reason to make the commitment to go into a store rather than opting for a delivery service or click and collect. When employees can give customers their full attention, they are in a better position to uphold social distancing precautions and understand customer needs. 


Time is money, and when task management is efficient it keeps costs down. Efficient task management also gives real time visibility into store compliance and operations, so retailers can be confident that all stores have carried out tasks to the expected standard. Plus, managing tasks efficiently gives employees more time to interact with customers, which translates to more sales and makes retailers more profitable.

Store employees 

Store employees want to spend more time with customers - it’s the part of their job they find most rewarding. But they’re working at a time of increased stress as they carry out measures to make shopping safe in addition to their usual tasks. When admin work is efficient instead of manual and monotonous, it makes their workloads more manageable and reduces overwhelm, When retailers turn their attention to making workers’ lives easier, it shows employees that their contributions are recognized and valued.


Where are retailers getting it wrong? 

Outdated processes

44% of UK retail employees reported that their biggest workplace frustration is using outdated tech to complete tasks. In-person audits, emails and paper forms are error-prone and limit how quickly tasks can be completed and feedback can be implemented.

Unclear instructions

There’s only so much you can say using paper and email. A picture speaks a thousand words, a video even more. How confident can employees really be that they’ve arranged a seasonal display correctly when the instructions are only delivered in writing?

In addition to this, priorities are bound to be unclear when tasks are fired at employees in a steady stream throughout the day. It’s no wonder employees are left feeling unsure where to start.

Inconsistent feedback

If HQ doesn’t explain the value of a task and check whether it has been completed correctly, why would employees be motivated to do it properly? Providing regular feedback to store teams and explaining the impact of a task is critical for motivating employees to do it perfectly every time.

But feedback is slow and employees can feel like they’re sending emails into the void when they ask for help. Only 41% of workers over 54 and 28% of millennials find it easy to understand whether their work meets company expectations. 


The impact of inefficient retail task management 


Lack of visibility

Company HQs need to have a clear line of sight into what has been completed at all times. Managing tasks using paper or using computer files like excel documents means that information about what has been done is not automatically available to HQ, and there’s no way to know if stores are falling behind.


69% of retail employees are still using paper forms, which are more likely to be damaged, thrown away, or lost in the murky depths of the stockroom or in a mountain of documents in a folder. This can have very serious consequences for a store, as instructions for important processes like enforcing health and safety precautions, completing refunds or applying discounts can be lost. 


A study of Task Completion Bias found that when individuals are given a long list of tasks, they are likely to manage their workload by completing the easiest task first, even if it’s not the most urgent. This can have serious consequences as one-off tasks which suddenly arise may be neglected, even when they are critical for health and safety, such as clearing up a spillage, smashed glass or replacing fire alarms. Non compliances like these can lead to costly fines for retailers.

Worse customer experience

Store teams aren’t available to help customers when they’re stuck redoing admin tasks when mistakes are made due to unclear directions. As social distancing measures mean that less people can visit stores at one time, stores have fewer opportunities to provide a great in-store experience. Errors or poor service are therefore even more impactful and can discourage customers from visiting again.

Stressful employee experience 

Unclear instructions lead to mistakes which employees have to correct, which is frustrating and sucks any personal fulfillment employees might gain from getting these tasks done. 

It takes employees an average of 23 minutes to refocus on a task after being distracted so jumping between tasks as different situations arise on the shop floor is stressful for employees who don't have a clear list of priorities.

Think of it like spinning plates, except some plates are worth $1000 and others are worth $1, but they all look the same. When you’re simply told you have to keep them all spinning you might be so preoccupied with a $1 plate that you allow a more valuable plate to smash. 

When employees are able to confidently prioritize, they can concentrate on the most valuable tasks. Employees who have positive experiences at work choose to put double the amount of effort into their jobs, so making prioritizing easy is crucial to keeping employees motivated.

Operational inefficiency

When tasks take longer to complete perfectly, brands can’t be as agile in their response to issues or changes. For example, if a company is deploying a new concept like clothing repair, in-store treatments or grocery refill stations, a company with a weak task management strategy will take longer to mobilize employees to get it set up perfectly. Stores need to be in a constant state of operational excellence in 2021, as situations can change at light-speed and being agile is the only way to keep up.

Related: Operational Excellence: The Complete Guide to Success

Damage to brand image

A few retail giants were subject to public criticism recently when images of messy stores went viral on social media. Employees had been bombarded with the tasks that came with re-opening after lockdown and a lack of clear priorities meant that the store appearance was neglected. The disorganization that customers experienced as a result was shared widely online which damaged the reputation of the stores involved.


How to improve retail task management 


Digitize where you can

A survey of 1000 frontline employees found that 71% know they’d be more productive if their processes were digital. Most tasks store teams do by hand could be automated. Digitizing processes cuts down admin work while improving accuracy.

RELATED: 5 Reasons Your Frontline Employees Need Digital Processes 

Go mobile-first

78% of Millennials say that having access to technology such as smartphones makes them more productive at work. Delivering all task instructions in a format that works on mobile devices means that employees don’t need to waste time looking for information as everything can be accessed via their mobile phones. 

Deliver tasks in an engaging format

Present instructions and expectations in a specific and engaging way so employees know exactly what to do. Show, don’t tell - use video, pictures or diagrams to demonstrate how to carry out tasks like setting up displays or re-calling stock. This makes the margin for error much smaller as it is clear what is expected. Use tools like checklists which deliver instructions in a step by step order and make it easy to tick off each step as it’s completed.

RELATED: It's Time to Go Paperless: 5 Reasons to Switch to Digital Checklists

Make priorities clear

Research suggests that people have the most willpower early in the day, so if top priorities are highlighted for employees at the beginning of their shift they are more likely to be motivated to get them done straight away. Make it easy to communicate when something is unclear or changes occur, communication needs to be easy so that everyone is aware if priorities change. 

Get feedback regularly

Ask for feedback from store teams about how clear they think instructions are to make sure you’re communicating effectively. You should also ask store teams where the most errors occur and which tasks take up the most time so that you are aware where more support may be needed and how to assign priorities most effectively..


Where do I start? 


There are four stages to improving task management:

Assess existing processes

Speak to employees - what tasks do they think could be done better and how? Find employee ambassadors who can explain what works and what doesn’t with existing processes, where instructions could be clearer and where the most mistakes are made. This will show you the key areas for improvement to focus on.

Choose one mobile platform to manage all tasks

Invest in a task management solution which can deliver all task instructions, indicate which tasks are the most important and track what has been completed. Make sure it’s user-focused and supports video, animations and checklists to track tasks, easily assign and deliver task instructions in an engaging way. It’s crucial that the platform is mobile friendly so that employees can easily access it on the job.

RELATED: The Complete Guide to Choosing Retail Task Management Software

Involve employees in planning

Get frontline employees on board with the design, testing and deployment of the new platform to ensure that it’s centred around their needs. You can use surveys, focus groups or employee ambassadors to create a platform that best serves the employees who will be using it.

Review, review, review

Improving task management isn’t a one-time fix. Regularly gather feedback from store teams to find out what’s working well and what needs to be improved.

What format do employees prefer instructions to be delivered in? Are they allocated enough time to complete each task? At what times is the store busiest and how can tasks be scheduled so that they don’t eat into this time? A constant flow of feedback and evaluation is needed to keep stores operating at peak performance.


How other retailers did it


HubSpot Video


Brand image and consistency is everything for an iconic retailer like Lacoste, but they had limited visibility into compliance and execution across their 1200 stores. Area teams and district managers used WhatsApp and email to send task instructions to stores and get feedback.

But since there’s only so much detail you can send via text, instructions were confusing for store teams, and area teams had little insight into the quality of in-store execution. With a mobile task management app, store teams get clear step-by-step instructions and confirm task completion by taking photos.

Area teams now have full visibility into the quality of in-store execution, and since they can give store teams instant feedback, consistency across stores has improved. 

The Kooples:

HubSpot Video

For French fashion retailer The Kooples, using email for task management was keeping store teams and store managers away from the shop floor, which meant that customer experience - and ultimately revenue - were slipping. Some defected products were slipping under the radar as it was difficult to maintain adherence to processes and guidelines across all branches.

By consolidating all tasks on a mobile app, store teams can now find everything they need for perfect execution in the palms of their hands. Area teams and HQ have far greater visibility into store operations, since employees confirm task completion by submitting photos.

As a result, store compliance has increased by 33%. Another consequence of going mobile with task management is faster processing of store maintenance reports and flagging of defective products, helping store teams deliver a better and far more consistent experience across every location. 

Adore Me:

HubSpot Video

Previously online-only intimates brand Adore Me knew they’d need a tool to maintain consistency in visual merchandising as they opened more brick and mortar stores. Using tools such as emails, spreadsheets and Google docs was limiting how reactive store teams were able to be, as finding the right information wasn’t easy.

But after switching to one mobile platform for task management, every store is agile and uses interactive checklists, weekly to-do lists and ad-hoc ‘Missions’ to streamline store operations. What’s more, by combining  task management, communications and training in one platform, Adore Me allows teams to operate at maximum efficiency and continually progress.


Key takeaways 

  • Effective task management makes perfect execution easy for store teams, gives them more time to spend with customers but also gives area and HQ teams feedback into store execution. 
  • The best way to make task management effective is to digitize tasks and processes, giving employees more time to spend with customers.
  • Task management needs to be centred around the needs of store
    teams. Using mobile devices makes information immediately accessible and fits in with their flow of work.