The devolved store: why you need to put the power in the hands of your employees

Frequently, decision-making in retail is centralised. This means decisions are made at a regional HQ and the products distributed to regional stores could be decided hundreds of miles away from where the action is really at: the shop floor.

The problem with this model is that it does not take into account the wants and needs of local populations. As a result, shops are losing out to online markets, as online retailers are able to offer a customer the exact product they are looking for.

To tackle this problem, retailers need to create a ‘devolved store’. This means that the decision-making process should be de-centralised by allowing store managers and workers on the shop floor to decide which stock should be sold, as they are the people who see what their customers are purchasing on a day-to-day basis.

This process will allow shops to become closer to their customers and the stores to be more representative of the local populations that visit their stores. In this piece, I lay out how this would work, and why it could be a resolution for retailers who are struggling to draw in customers.

They’ve got the power

It seems like an obvious change, yet many high street stores don’t identify trends when deciding how to lay out their stores. For example, in fashion, only Zara and Primark give this sort of power to their store employees. In these shops, they allow their employees to order stock based on what they believe will sell well by keeping up-to-date with ongoing trends in the local population.

The idea of giving customers what they want is critical to the success of high-street stores; indeed, this is one of the main reasons why shoppers turn to the internet due to the flexibility it offers. By empowering their employees to make decisions on what the shop sells, based on what they see their customers purchasing, shops have the potential to offer a similar sort of convenience.

Upside down, inside out

I’ve named this type of retailing ‘upside down’ and ‘inside out’. This is because this way of management essentially flips the traditional way of decision-making on its head.

The results could be staggering. Not only does it help stores to sell stock that is relevant to its customer base, but it also helps to engage employees, involving them more in the running of the business. Workers on the shop floor know the day-to-day trends of the store better than anyone and by interacting with customers regularly, can get insight into real-time trends.

Retailers can use technology to help free up time for employees, making a devolved store possible. Technology such as self-service checkouts, RPA, and AI free up the more mundane tasks, which could include anything from the checkout process to restocking the shelves and checking inventory. This will allow employees to take on extra responsibilities. Ultimately, this will help bring the devolved store concept to life.

The case for a ‘devolved’ store

The ‘devolved store’ idea is not supposed to be a definitive fix for the high street’s qualms – rather it’s supposed to be a way for retailers to regain the trust of consumers who, over the years, have begun to lose confidence in their favourite brands.

Even though consumers are engaging less with brands, they will always be willing to engage with other people. Retailers need to adopt a more human-centric approach with customers; rather than grouping together entire regions, they need to understand the complexities and differences in local populations.

By adopting a customer-first approach, retailers will be able to create an experience that serves customers better, by being able to know exactly what they want from their in-store experience.

Final thoughts

In this piece, I have laid out an alternative approach to retail, one that flips conventional decision-making on its head. Through technology, employees have more potential to make important business decisions and ensure that high street stores are selling products that their target markets want to purchase.

In order to re-engage customers with the brand, retailers must make an active effort to gain insights into the purchasing trends amongst their shoppers. This is not possible unless employees have the time to really get to know their shoppers.