What is a retail audit?
When most people think of an audit, they think of a company’s affairs being examined. A common mental image is a bedraggled clerk hunched over a desk, sweat beaded on their forehead, paperwork towering on either side. This is a financial audit – one in which the financial affairs of a company are examined.
But this is not the only variety of audit. Other aspects of a business, too, can benefit from scrutiny. For retail organisations, this scrutiny must be applied to the shop floor – the focal point of a business’s relationship with its customers, on which the success of that relationship hinges.
That an audit should be performed, then, is a matter of vital importance. But that still leaves several questions. Exactly how should it be conducted and how often and by whom? In this article, we’ll examine some possible answers to those questions and consider the merits of each.
Who should perform a retail audit?
Broadly speaking, retailers wishing to conduct such an audit have two options open to them. They can either perform it themselves, internally, using their existing staff, or they can hire an outside specialist firm to do it on their behalf – the modern field sales company typically offers it as part of a suite of services.
The up-front cost of the latter is enough to dissuade many business owners, who, like all humans, value the concrete and quantifiable over the abstract. When it comes time for a government to make cuts to state spending, the most popular targets with the public are often those in management positions, whose purpose is not immediately obvious – unlike ‘frontline nurses’ and ‘bobbies on the beat’, whose purpose is self-evident.
What, then, are the benefits of hiring an outside auditor?
A retail audit is a complex undertaking and as such requires a degree of knowledge and experience. A dedicated auditor will possess both – this is, after all, a task they perform regularly and with thorough specialist training.
To be sure, it may be possible to draft in managers to competently perform an audit, ideally, a retail audit should be performed more than competently; it should be performed expertly, with speed, precision and transparency. A good auditor will be able to do all of these things. Mistakes will be rarer and, when they do occur, will be more easily corrected.
Another advantage of specialisation is that afforded by the technology such specialisation allows. The modern world of retail has, in the last decade, been considerably changed by an influx of new technology. Companies whose purpose is to perform audits will have access to hardware and software which their clients could not justify. A professional retail auditor will, for example, carry a tablet, on which they can log the progress of the audit and provide detailed, up-to-the-minute feedback to the organisation.
Bringing in an outside auditor will also greatly simplify matters. Since you are bringing in outside agents, you will not have to drag any of your existing staff away from their current positions. There will therefore be no backlog of unfinished work to return to once the audit is complete. The impact on the workforce will thereby be hugely reduced, both in terms of the labour itself and the stress of having to deal with new and unfamiliar tasks and people.
Retail audits conducted by an outside party hold a major advantage over those conducted internally: they are impartial. Everyone would, after all, like to write their own reviews. If a manager is asked to evaluate her own performance, then she will likely cast it in a more favourable light than she would if asked to evaluate someone else’s.
Even if the person in question is a saint, they may be unaware of their biases and will almost certainly be made to feel uncomfortable at being placed in that position. An outside auditor, by contrast, suffers from no such bias; there is no conflict of interest because the auditor’s sole task is to perform the audit.
When you come to talks with potential new partners, shareholders and clients, it is beneficial to have the results of a full retail audit to hand. Such results will lend the operation credibility – even if they are less than optimal. If, on the other hand, you haven’t performed one in years, the operation will be clouded in suspicion. If you were to visit a new dentist and discover no evidence of dental qualifications adorning the wall, would you accept his word that he is a good and competent dentist? Or would you immediately make an apology and leave?
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