Many retailers struggle to ensure that information moves between their corporate departments and store locations clearly, completely and efficiently. Email is easy, but store employees often find themselves juggling numerous messages from different departments. Some newer systems might work for brief texts and chats but are weaker when it comes to handling longer, more detailed communications.
BevMo!, a specialty beverage retailer with an online presence and locations in California, Arizona and Washington, wanted to improve its ability to communicate new initiatives, promotions and other information among its corporate office and 166 stores, says Julia Miller, a communication specialist with the retailer. It had been using email, but stores were receiving streams of multiple messages; it also used an online drive for larger documents, though employees had to spend time searching the drive to access needed information.
In 2016, BevMo! turned to Zipline’s cloud-based retail communication and task management software system. Now, communications go to stores through Zipline every Monday and Wednesday after Miller and the operations team filter the messages to avoid overloading store employees with irrelevant information. “We’re able to dwindle it down and streamline the process,” she says.
FACILITATING BRAND ENGAGEMENT
Melissa Wong, co-founder and CEO of Zipline, spent 10 years in retail store communications and operations, where she learned how difficult it could be to bring a brand experience to life in the physical stores. She and her colleagues tried emails and weekly PDF bundles, but they often became “chaotic and messy,” she says.
For instance, marketing would work on holiday signage and fixtures, merchandising on product display and pricing and customer service on store operations. Often, each area would send communications to the stores. “There’d be no cohesive place that a store could go to understand, ‘For the holiday, what do I actually need to do to be successful?’” Wong says.
And that could impact the bottom line. Say a retailer is running a one-day Christmas sock promotion. For it to succeed, the stores need to put the socks in the right bin, at the right place, near the marketing materials created for the event. However, because of the fragmented communication and lack of trackability, only a fraction of stores consistently execute corporate’s plans.
“It’s a one-day promotion, so if 70 percent of the stores don’t execute, which is the industry average, that means that they can’t fix it the next day,” says Zipline co-founder Jeremy Baker. “They’ve missed their chance.”
Store and district managers and headquarters employees can receive personalized digests of new information and tasks that are due, as well as calendars, daily checklists and the ability to track store execution.
Moreover, brand engagement within retailers’ physical stores has become even more critical as online shopping has taken off, Wong says. When customers take the time to go to physical stores, they want to touch and feel the products and learn more from knowledgeable salespeople.
To create the brand experience within a store, employees must be informed in a timely manner. Zipline’s communications platform is geared to the typical retail organizational structure. Store and district managers and headquarters employees can receive personalized digests of new information and tasks that are due, as well as calendars, daily checklists and the ability to track store execution, all while on the go.
Zipline is “creating a communications ecosystem and operating system for retail store communications and operations,” Wong says. Under the system, a store manager can open a message about a merchandise display and assign an employee the task of creating it. The manager then can mark off the task once it’s completed, all within Zipline. “We’re really focused on the entire workflow from headquarters to the stores,” she says. Zipline also tracks job execution.
Store employees see messages, tasks and attachments in one place. They can receive a daily digest every morning, as well as messages and updates throughout the day, without repeatedly logging in.
Baker points out another of Zipline’s benefits: the way it cuts publishing time for marketing and other materials from hours down to minutes. For instance, users can upload multiple documents at once, and eliminate duplicate or outdated versions.
The Zipline approach stems from the years of retail experience members of the management team bring to theirs jobs, Wong says. They understand retailing and provide tools that help all employees do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. They also understand the criticality of effective communication. “Communications is like the train that brings everything into stores,” she says. “If that train is broken, nothing gets done.”
Because of Zipline’s intuitive interface, about 90 percent of potential users adopt it within the first week, Wong says: When Zipline launched with a 1,200-store retailer, the store support lines received just two calls in the first two weeks.
“It’s a pretty seamless and easy process to get everyone on board,” Miller says.
Zipline’s customers range from multinational retailers to those with fewer than a dozen stores. Even smaller chains can struggle with clear, efficient communication, Baker says. “This is a problem for anyone once you get five or more stores, especially if they’re in disparate locations,” he says.
Many times, retailers do a great job connecting with customers. “The missing piece is really their own employees,” Wong says. Zipline efficiently and easily equips store employees with information and knowledge so they can be the retailers’ “internal advocates and storytellers.”
Zipline’s system has been available for about four years. It has more than 43,000 users and is used in about 6,000 stores. Implementation times typically are measured in weeks, even for international retailers; Baker says one international retailer launched in less than four weeks, with less than 100 hours of the company’s engineering time required.
One Zipline feature that’s been of value to BevMo! is its survey capability. Miller and her colleagues use that to determine, for instance, the number of refrigerated units that contain high-end sparkling beverages at each store — vital information for merchandising and marketing teams. A previous survey tool required store employees to work with multiple websites, creating headaches and wasting time. The Zipline solution “streamlined the process of gathering information,” she says.
In addition, when BevMo!’s field leaders visit different stores to check that employees are following policies and marketing directions sent from headquarters, they’ve “seen a lot of improvement,” Miller says. “When the field leaders go in to the stores, they see that things are the way they’re supposed to be.”
Karen Kroll is a business writer based in Minnetonka, Minn.