Taking stock of stocktaking and making safety count
Stock file accuracy is the starting point from which all retailers measure their profit and losses, but how do they manage the mechanics of this delicate audit process safely in the depths of a global pandemic?
On one hand essential supply chains have been working at full capacity to keep the nation fed while the vast majority of non-essential retail is sitting on top of engorged warehouses, filled with unsold seasonal product and stock moved from mothballed stores.
In the last few months retailers have struggled with measuring accuracy in the teeth of the pandemic that has seen nomadic stock as a result of growing online demand requiring product transfers, all availability issues that will come home to roost as retailers re-open their doors after lockdown.
But how do businesses make safety count when they carry out the essential counts or audit stores? Some retailers have asked in-store colleagues to video stock counts on their smartphones but accept that the result is not going to be accurate enough to make meaningful decisions and the fact that they also take colleagues away from the crucial tasks of customer service and ensuring social distancing as their businesses claw themselves back into profitability.
But that profitability is meaningless if they are counting on a stock file that is inaccurate or provides customers with false hope of being able to purchase goods that are not available because of an over-inflated count – it’s a lost sale and potentially a lost customer.
That is why outsourced stocktaking companies are putting together business resumption plans that must address the safety issues for their counting teams and the businesses they are auditing.
Retail & Asset Solutions (RAS), one of the UK’s leading stocktaking and supply chain solution businesses which works across multiple sectors has put together confidence-building business resumption plans that maintain safety through clear guidelines from travel to hygiene and social distancing.
The new normal includes social distancing rules for building access and egress of the customer premises, what PPE to wear, security and sign-in protocols, guidance on required occupancy levels per count area, how to take safe breaks and personal and equipment cleaning regimes, including that of auditing scanners between each count.
The business, which has worked throughout the pandemic in its grocery supply chain management business to daily validate Good Faith Receiving (GFR) deliveries through its legion of counters located at logistics depots, has developed the sector-by-sector business resumption plans in order to deliver confidence to its customers and show that it is possible to manage business as usual even when there is nothing usual about the prevailing economic reality.
RAS, which brings its international expertise to bear in stocktaking and auditing, merchandising, supply chain management and RFID technology, has created detailed guidance for its own staff and customers across grocery, retail, pharmacy, DCs and even car showrooms through its sister business VAS where it validates stock levels of vehicles on behalf of automotive finance companies to provide the reassurance collateral that it can be counted on for safe counting.
Sales and Accounts Director Graham Parker said: “Everyone knows that stocktaking is essential at this time because many businesses have not carried out a count since March, but it is how you do it that is so important.
“It’s not just when stores open up again. We’ve heard of situations in lockdown when store staff were unsure of how low stock levels were so when online orders were coming in for click and collect they were putting them as not available, rather than disappoint the customer at the point of collection – either way it was a lost sale.”
The Orpington-based business has therefore offered not only safety in numbers where multiple counters need to be deployed, but also in the use of self-inventory solutions, scanners that can be used by customers with guidance from RAS personnel.
“Here one account manager goes into a business with a number of scanners to train staff on how to do an accurate inventory count. When the count is carried out, it is then independently checked and validated for accuracy.
“This is to get around situations where customers are nervous about having extra people in the business.
“We can offer every social distancing requirement for all clients wherever they are on their stocktaking journey – from those with RFID which by its nature does not depend on physical counts, to a mixed store model of starting a count at midnight and finishing at 6 am, a change in the normal hours of operation to minimise disruption to businesses and contact with other people.”