Store visits are the awkward family gatherings of retail.

Store teams dread them because they get pestered with questions and hear about all the things they’re doing wrong.

Area managers dread them because their workload triples and they find out that the stores they thought were doing a great job...actually aren’t.

But they’re necessary for both. For most retailers, visits are the only way to see the gap between what a brand wants and what a brand actually is.

Unfortunately, most store visits are riddled with inefficiencies and missed opportunities. Most store visits aren’t productive because they aren’t focused on empowering store teams to succeed.

This should be the only goal for a store visit.

Here are 5 of the most common productivity blockers we've seen with store visits, and how to fix them.

#1) Regional managers have the same procedure for every visit.

Every store is not the same. Some are busy at all hours of the day. Some are in the middle of nowhere.

Each store has different strengths, weaknesses and vastly different impacts on revenue.

Imagine a low-performing store needs help with product knowledge.

The area manager doesn’t know this and spends hours taking pictures of displays because it’s their regular store visit procedure.

The sales associates miss out. The next customer who comes in leaves frustrated because no one knows the answers to their questions.

Now we have a missed opportunity and a lost sale.

Area managers need to know which areas of store performance need improvement before they arrive on-site. For this, they’ll need easy access to previous visit reports. Now they’re empowered to plan their time effectively.

Otherwise, they’ll just go through their regular store visit procedure, which is problematic because:

#2) The majority of store visit procedures are low-value admin tasks.

If area managers are scurrying around stores with a novel-sized stack of checklists, their time could be better spent.

Sure, it’s crucial that each store’s operational processes and aesthetics are compliant with brand standards.

But time-consuming, paper-based data collection procedures could be automated.

Compiling all the data into a visit report either in the back office or at home is painfully laborious too.

Automating data collection and store visit reports frees up a whole lot of time. Area managers can spend this time on things that will have a much larger impact on store performance.

Which leads us straight into the next 2 common problems.

#3) Not enough time is spent observing the store from the customer perspective.

With so much detail-heavy data collection and report compiling to do, area managers lose sight of the big picture: in-store customer experience.

Customers don’t care about operational checklists unless the result is an enjoyable, consistent shopping experience.

The sales associates are a huge part of this too. How are they greeting shoppers who enter the store? What’s their attitude like? Do they know the answers to all the questions shoppers have, and do they know where to find everything?

By taking a step back for a moment and observing what’s going on in-store, area managers can answer all these questions. They can also give the store team some well-deserved recognition for what they do well and hone in on what needs improvement.

#4) Not enough time is spent coaching and motivating store teams.

Time-consuming admin processes also take time away from one-on-one time with sales associates and store managers.

A productive store visit is an opportunity to help store teams rather than police them. And employees who feel like they’re being helped to perform better will...perform better.

49% of shoppers are more likely to buy something in-store if they’re helped by a knowledgeable sales associate. Sales associate training isn’t just the responsibility of the store manager. It’s the responsibility of the entire brand.

Surprise! Area managers are critical for this.

They can share best practices because they’ve seen what works and what doesn’t in other stores. They can pick up on trends in customer behaviour and report findings back to HQ. They can equip store teams with the resources and knowledge to succeed.

Area managers won’t have time for any of this if they’re buried under an avalanche of spreadsheets.

An area manager should be a knowledge facilitator and motivator first, and a pencil-pusher second.

#5) Complicated follow up procedures after the visit make it tough to track store progress.

What’s the point of a store visit if improvements aren’t made afterward?

After compiling a visit report, an area manager might use email, Whatsapp or phone calls to give stores feedback.

This can get confusing for store teams, and it adds another layer of complexity to their already busy days. If the area manager hasn’t been completely clear, a back-and-forth ensues. All the while the issues in-store remain.

What store teams really need is a concise action plan that makes it simple to correct the issues.

What area managers really need is a quick confirmation that all the issues have been fixed, and an easy way to access past visit reports for future visits (which helps with common problem #1!).

Store visits should be productive and positive experiences for both area managers and store teams. By focusing their time on helping store teams perform better, area managers can stop policing and start helping.

Ready to make your area managers more productive?