Natalie Monko Lead Project Manager

    An Ultimate Guide to Retail Automation: Top Ideas for Your Retail Mobile App

    Retail automation can be a growth lever for a business of any size: from a small shop to a large corporation. In this article, you’ll learn about the three steps that could help successfully automate your business.

    Surf has a long and rich history of partnering with retailers, and ecommerce is one of the segments that we have paid the most attention to. We’ve been helping digitize processes for both users (creating client mobile apps for large-scale brands) and the retail teams. We’ve had the pleasure of working with KFC, Mars, and SAP, to name a few.

    In this article, you’ll learn about our experience automating internal processes in large retail companies.

    Business automation is commonly divided into three levels, as follows: 

    • front-office—involves installing payment processing equipment,
    • back-office—covers store management,
    • head-office—covers process automation in an office. 

    The segment that is associated with the most systems is the front-office, because it requires integrating a great deal of various equipment. Internal process automation is something that often gets less attention. Meanwhile, it may become a significant growth lever, as demonstrated by our clients. 

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    Step 1. Retail automation for efficient workflow

    The operating personnel need to be able to keep track of the goods in stock and get through price revisions and inventory checks without any extra hassle. All of it can and should be automated. For example, for one of our clients, we’re developing a retail mobile app that will completely automate many of the processes in the chain of stores. 

    Here’s how a mobile app can help shop assistants:

    Show valid data on items in stock—the senior shop assistant can check the number of items sold and in stock in the app and adjust the range of items available in a specific store.

    Assist price revisions—with currency rates fluctuating so much, the price of goods changes almost every day. Your retail mobile app can be integrated with a tool that enables online price revisions. 

    Get quick info about an item. By scanning a barcode of an item in the app, shop assistants can receive info about the item’s materials, manufacturer, and importer. This may come in handy to address questions from customers or get new employees familiar with the stocks.

    Label your goods quicker. The app can be integrated with a portable scanner and printer to print barcodes faster. Sidenote: you need to decide exactly what thermal printer is going to be used with the app since the data can be transferred in different formats. It’s an extremely useful feature if the store ships goods to marketplaces. 


    Monitor circulation of goods. In this case, you’ll also have to integrate the app with a barcode scanner. This tool will be useful in the following cases:

    • Delivery—a large number of boxed goods are delivered to a store. Each box has to be unpacked and all the goods scanned.
    • Large and small-scale inventory checks are high-cost, labor-consuming procedures. To count all the goods in stock or in the main shop, you have to first divide the space into isolated areas. An area can be anything from a warehouse section to a counter to a rail or any other type of retail equipment. Shop assistants have to scan all the goods within a specific area so that they are all accounted for in the software. 
    • Sales analysis—shop assistants scan a group of items, then upload the data into the software and check how well the item has been selling over the reporting period.

    Use automated time clock system. Any business with a large number of employees working shifts finds time-keeping a pressing matter. This procedure can also be automated. For example, we’ve created a face ID system for KFC and integrated it with a time clock system. There’s no fooling the system since it reads biometric data.

    face recognition app

    Process automation for couriers and drivers

    Businesses with elaborate courier services and delivery systems need ways to automate workflows for couriers and drivers. An automated system will help address a number of issues in your business:

    Optimize routes and speed up delivery. Couriers can plot their own routes with respect to the current traffic, the distance between destinations and, as a result, do more deliveries in one shift. When we built a retail mobile app for couriers of a large bookstore, this tool helped them increase the number of deliveries by over 20%.

    Cut down on hard-copy paperwork. Once the business process is automated, there’s no need to print out route sheets. That way, you save the budget, especially now when copy paper is so expensive, and make your business more eco-friendly.

    Optimize the entire logistics chain. We’ve developed two retail mobile apps for a bookstore to organize the workflow of couriers and drivers. Lists of orders are generated automatically, couriers or drivers plot their routes by themselves, managers have tools to control their work and to view the number of orders delivered or pending delivery.

    courier app
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    Step 2. Retail automation for easy reporting and swift staff monitoring

    Intense competition and sales dips call for quick decision making and multitasking on the managers’ side, i.e.: 

    • monitoring for compliance with operation targets,
    • always keeping in mind the current plan and limitations, especially when scheduling for a store unit,
    • setting tasks for personnel and following up on their progress, using a retail mobile app or any system,
    • being able to quickly react to changes in business statistics and adjust the workflow.

    To do that, it’s crucial for managers to have a convenient tool at hand, ideally one allowing them to view statistics online at any time, for example, from their personal smartphone. That’s exactly the tool we’ve implemented for KFC as part of their custom ERP-system. With it, the managers are able to do the following:

    Generate schedules for their personnel. Schedules are created with respect to financial metrics gathered over the previous periods and the current sales plan. The automated system generates an optimal schedule with all constraints considered. Managers can also make manual adjustments to that. 

    scheduling in kfc dsr

    View graphic dashboards with reports. Reports and dashboards help management swiftly analyze the current state of affairs and make quick and effective decisions. The system aggregates all the receipts from the restaurants in real time and creates diagrams and reports for management based on that data. For each parameter, it shows the planned and actual values over a specific period: a quarter, a month, a week, a day, or an hour. The section called Parameters shows a summary dashboard with key data in the “planned/actual” format. From there, users can go to more detailed reports on each parameter.

    Control KPI online. Managers can view KPI statistics for several stores. Notably, operating personnel have no access to the system but they can view statistics and values planned for their store.

    Set tasks for the team and monitor compliance. Detailed standardization of all processes is what sets successful retail projects and chain franchises apart from everything else. In order for standards to be adhered to, you need routine checks on every level. Reports and checklists help keep an eye on the workflow and maintain standards. Short yet informative checklists cover everything, even the smallest subtasks. As a rule of thumb, small daily tasks mean a great deal when it comes to performance rates of an entire company. 

    kfc dsr

    Step 3. Business process automation for HR in retail companies

    All the largest HR-processes — onboarding, quick introduction of new employees to their tasks, certificates and vacations, a handy knowledge base for personnel, and notifications for all employees—all of it can be automated with a retail mobile app as well.

    Showing the ropes and onboarding. You can provide the newcomers with all the information about your company, the key personnel, and procedures with the help of a friendly enterprise app. That way, it saves time that an HR-manager spends on each new employee, makes for high-quality onboarding, and steers you clear of human error. 

    hr app

    Employee growth—training and qualification. In large companies and federal networks, organizing a personnel training program is always a pressing issue. More often than not, employees treat corporate training as a formality and just put in some face-time.

    When we took up the challenge of optimizing personnel training, we based it on game mechanics. Employees scroll through the feed, press “+“ to pick courses, then go to the section called “My education” and study the things they have chosen. The contents are entirely adjustable: employees can delete courses they have passed or lost interest in. A crucial factor here is incentive. It’s important for office training to be associated with benefits rather than pressure. Each course can be given its own value: once it is passed successfully, employees earn bonus points that they can exchange for corporate merchandise.

    enerprise app

    Incentive. Anything can be monetized in an enterprise app. In our project, employees were granted bonus points for suggesting ways to improve the company, sharing news, going through constant training, and gaining a bunch of new skills with a retail mobile app. 

    Having earned bonus points, employees can spend them on something that caught their eye in the corporate store. An administrator moderates the list of available items: enters the names, prices (bonus points), and quantities (the number of items in stock at the warehouse); and uploads the images. After an employee places an order, the administrator hands out the item from the warehouse, and the corresponding number of bonus points is charged off.

    Corporate news. The news feed is a great tool to inform employees of all the key events in the company and to gather feedback too. This block can simulate the familiar newsfeed on social networks.

    hr apps

    Employee ratings. Establishing an in-house rating system is crucial not only for the top and HR managers, but for operating personnel as well. That way, they can actually see their scores, contributions, and achievements along with the “weaknesses” they could work on in the future.

    Corporate management has a way of rating and comparing the employees. For example, based on courier ratings, one of our clients has established a system to motivate them. 

    Business process automation in commerce is an inevitable future rather than the whim of left-wing top managers. Optimizing processes is something that almost every market player will have to do. Some of the initiatives (labeling, certification) are introduced directly by the regulatory authorities, while some of them are strongly motivated by business challenges. The more processes are optimized, the more resources you have left to grow into new dimensions and build roadmaps.

    Process automation is widely believed to be expensive and unnecessary. However, it is something that may become the growth point of a company: operating personnel will do their jobs more effectively and take less time to integrate with their teams. At the same time, managers will promptly monitor business metrics and make swift adjustments, using a retail mobile app. Besides, there are ways to make such solutions cheaper for a company, such as using BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)—the app is installed on the personal smartphones of your employees—and cross-platform development that helps save up to 40% of the budget you could have spent on the app.