At the onset of the pandemic, stores marked by one-way arrows, masked shoppers, and empty shelves were often pointed to as signposts signaling consumer shopping as we knew it was over, that the existing shift to digital commerce would simply accelerate. But recent survey data indicate a large portion of buyers will continue to make in-person purchases, and in fact, remain highly committed to them. Deloitte’s State of the Consumer Tracker follows consumer trends each month and gives insight into buying patterns. Consider that when buyers were asked about their intention to shop in-store in October 2020, then asked again in August 2021, they reported their in-store shopping would continue at the same level, or actually increase:

Changes in intention to shop in-store for the following goods from October 2020 to August 2021:

Clothing/footwear: 54% => 62%

Electronics: 51% => 59%

Furnishings: 65% => 65%

Groceries: 82% => 81%

Household: 79% = 79%

Restaurants: 63% => 70%

Retail execution remains the critical differentiator for companies. And with changes in customer preferences due to the pandemic or digital familiarity, smart retailers are adjusting to meet their demands. Some retailers are making changes with shifts in staffing to optimize fulfillment or store layouts toward more interactivity. But just as there’s no doubt that retailers’ investment in better execution is paramount, only 29% of consumer goods companies report their organization is good at it. Below are three tips to help sales teams reach retail execution success.

Capture, and use, data

An integrated data strategy should be part of any retail strategy, given SalesForce found high-performing sales teams are 1.5 times more likely to forecast on data-driven insights. Data – if successfully analyzed, shared, and integrated – can be a key differentiator for consumer and packaged goods (CPG) brands. Sales teams acknowledge both the opportunity and the challenge; the Promotion Optimization Institute’s 2021 State of the Industry found 47% of organizations report that limited data and insights was the top issue in limited exceptional retail execution. Foundationally, there should be a clear process for capturing data before, during, and after store audits. But beyond basic collection of inventory activity, merchandising, planogram, promotion data, etc., consider how to partner with retailers and their data streams to get deeper insights and sales intelligence. Also a consolidated stack for sales reps allows for more observability into every step of the sales cycle, from promotion compliance issues, predictive inventory, store checks and scoring, and access to customized and interactive content at every rep visit.

Regularly look for ways to innovate and simplify

Released after nearly a year since the advent of the pandemic, Gartner’s Top Trends in Retail Digital Transformation and Innovation for 2021 highlighted the opportunities in digital initiatives and the many unique ways vendors can leverage them. Sensor-based shelving and logistics can improve supply chain visibility and offer real-time inventory management and analytics. Omnichannel implementation of “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) drove an explosion in revenue. Innovations in gamification, virtual and augmented reality, and guided selling teams can be woven into the sales process to boost both the quality of the customer experience and the effectiveness for the field force. Innovation can drive better retail execution and customer engagement, leading to better forecast guidance, schedules, communication, and overall, increased sales.

Streamline sales rep experience with technology

While digitalization is revolutionizing sales, it’s not a panacea, as studies show 62 percent of a sales rep’s time is spent using sales technology, and not actively selling. Field forces should not have to be digital natives to do their job, and organizations must be careful not to add to their burden by simply adding friction without value. Despite the proliferation of sales enabling technology, many reps report not having the tools to make decisions at the outlet level. In part that’s due to the broad spectrum of applications in retail sales – CRM, sales and market intelligence, lead handling and prospecting, analytics and reporting, order management, retail activity optimization, automation and integrations – but it’s also due to the fact that teams don’t invest in proper training. Too many tools are complicated and add friction, which leads reps to abandon new solutions and pursue personal workarounds. So consider centralizing the rep experience, allowing them to have a single portal through which they can manage everything.

Though the contours of the post-pandemic consumer buying experience have yet to take shape, savvy businesses are adjusting to the new normal through digital initiatives. The goal of in-store optimization remains the same, but teams can now equip themselves with digital tools to ensure success.