What Is Retail Audit Calibration?

At the heart of any successful retail audit program lies a well thought-out, field-tested form. A form is a collection of operating standards and best practices. What goes on the form is a reflection of what matters to the brand at a given point in time (strategic initiatives, seasonal programs, etc… ), what it is required to do (laws and regulations, health and safety, etc… ) and what it aspires to be, operationally and in the eyes of its customers. It’s no wonder then that retail organizations are unwilling to take chances on forms. Multi-unit retailers often carefully build, vet and “calibrate” forms with a sample group of users and stores prior to general launch. What are the purpose, benefits and some best practices for calibrating forms for the purpose of retail audits?

What is the purpose of calibration?

There are two facets and purposes for calibration: calibrating the form and calibrating the team.

Calibrating the form entails selecting, grouping and ordering what goes on the form. This is often spearheaded by the operations team with input from other departments (merchandising, marketing, human resources, loss prevention, etc… ). Form items should be sufficiently clear and detailed while avoiding repetition. The form should provide a good coverage of all areas of interest to the business and be laid out in such a manner as to optimize the district manager’s time doing the visit. While a lot of this can be done at head office, there is simply no substitute for “hands-on” time in the field. Giving a select group of district managers access to the form, even if unfinished, allows head office to fine tune and calibrate the form with real-world feedback. It is often at this stage that unclear copy, repetitive standards or inadequate ordering are noted and addressed.

Calibrating the team is a type of audit-related training that ensures all standards are evaluated using a consistent and fair scale. While the judgment of a district manager is tremendously important to the success of the audit program, consistency in the rating and grading are equally important. Calibrating the team entails training operations personnel to have a shared understanding of the operating standards and how to rate and handle deviance. Calibrating the team also means demonstrating where the definition of the standard ends and where the district’s manager’s need to make a judgment call begins. Dealing with people is not always as black and white as checking off a box on an electronic form. The operations team needs to know how to handle sometime sensitive and confidential personnel issues for example.

What are some of the benefits of calibration?

In the old days (before real-time electronic tools like retail audit software existed), finalizing the form often meant printing a large and costly batch. Changing the form would be disruptive and expensive as another batch had to be printed and distributed. While this is no longer true with retail audit software (changes can often be applied in real-time and at no cost), calibration still ensures the form is finalized by the time the program or operating period begins. A calibrated form reduces confusion and facilitates the dissemination of operating standards as well as adoption.

Calibration also ensures standards are rated fairly and consistently. Consistency breeds trust with the overall score and lends itself to aggregate reporting, comparisons across users, regions and time frames.
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What are some best practices for calibration?

1. Start with a small group of users and stores. The idea is to get feedback early and often before you deploy to a larger group.

2. Test-drive the form in the field! A form may look fine at head office but may prove to have some severe shortcomings when you actually conduct a store visit. An inefficient form may cause the district manager to have to step back or repeatedly jump around the store to complete the visit.

3. Narrowcast. An electronic form can sometime be narrowcasted (restricted) to certain stores and/or individuals. Don’t bet the farm on an unproven form, run a small pilot and calibrate it until you are satisfied with the outcome.