Obviously, the best time to establish policies and procedures for your retail business is before you open your store. But sometimes work and life gets in the way and you end up running your business by the seat of your pants.
Whether you need to set up initial policies or update old ones, taking the time to do so will help your business stay on track and avoid making mistakes when dealing with customers.
“What goes on behind the scenes of your retail business is vitally important because the support systems you put in place are what keep your business alive and well.”
The following policies and procedures should be established to ensure the success of your retail business:
1. Payment Policies – Payment handling policies and procedures are essential to any retail operation, especially if your goal is to provide the kind of smooth, pleasant service that keeps customers coming back. The Balance suggests asking yourself the following questions when determining what your policies will be:
- Do you accept all forms of currency? If not, which forms of currency will be accepted by your store?
- What information is required from a customer paying by check?
- How do you handle returned checks?
- Which credit cards do you accept?
- Do you extend credit or offer terms to customers?
- How much money will you keep in the till?
As you can see, there are a lot of situations—many of which may not be on this list—that require a good amount of thought, along with a set of straightforward guidelines. Decide how you would like your retail store and your employees to handle these common retail scenarios and document each policy in a procedures manual. Be sure to keep a copy near the cash register for easy reference.
2. Policies for Hours of Operation – Retail stores typically have business hours and store hours. Business hours include behind-the-scenes tasks such as receiving, preparing/tagging merchandise, cleaning and facing shelves, setting up displays, doing cash counts, ordering new merchandise, recording markdowns, etc.
If your business is in a shopping center, you may be required to remain open during particular hours as part of your lease agreement, especially if your store is located in an indoor mall. Use the questions below as a guideline to creating policies for your hours of operation:
- What are your normal hours of operation?
- What hours will you be open during the holiday shopping season?
- What holidays will the store close?
- Will you be available for calls or emergency concerns after hours?
Setting up these expectations and sticking with them will help you avoid disappointment on behalf of yourself, your employees and your customers.
3. Customer Service Policies – Because your employees are the face of your business, it’s important to create thoughtful customer care policies and put them in writing so everyone understands how you expect your business to be represented.
Questions to consider when writing your customer service policies include:
- What is your customer care vision (i.e. “We make it right every call, every time.”)
- How do you want returns and exchanges handled?
- What special services will you offer your customers? (i.e. gift wrapping? alterations? classes? Deliveries? Special Orders?)
- Will you offer a customer loyalty program? What are the criteria?
- How will you respond to customer complaints and other interactions?
4. Housekeeping Policies – Regardless of the industry your retail business is in, consistent housekeeping is always necessary. Maintaining a high standard of cleanliness and order gives you an edge over stores that haven’t established similar standards.
Depending on the conditions of your lease, exterior landscaping and building maintenance may be handled by your landlord. When you own your own building, however, you’re responsible for all technical maintenance, along with housekeeping tasks such as cleaning floors, restrooms, and workrooms.
Neglecting maintenance and repairs such as repainting, cleaning windows, replacing worn fixtures, and other janitorial services can lead to reduced customer traffic. On the other hand, when your retail space is orderly and clean, customers feel safer, have more confidence in you, and are more likely to return in the future.
Below are some questions to ask when determining what your housekeeping policies will be:
- Who will be responsible for the general housekeeping of the store?
- Will you use one individual or hire an outside cleaning service?
- How often will you require cleaning?
- If you own the retail space, who will maintain the parking area?
5. Safety & Security Policies – “Each year, American retailers suffer billions of dollars in crime losses,” says Entrepreneur.
One way to reduce the chance of robbery is to reduce the amount of cash you have on hand. Another smart move is to stagger bank deposits at different times throughout the day so potential robbers are unable to keep track of when you’re leaving your business. Keep a safe located on your premises, but don’t keep large amounts of money in it for any length of time or for predictable periods of time.
Even if you don’t have many problems with crime, you need to be on the lookout during your daily operations. Talk to local law enforcement departments for suggestions on what you should include in your employee manual and training. Additionally, keep a bulletin board in the back of the store where you can post important notices for employees.
Here are some things to consider when drafting your security policies:
- How will you handle product loss due to damage or theft?
- What is your shoplifting policy and procedures?
- What will you do in the event of a power failure?
- How do you plan to reduce external network threats?
- What security monitoring tools do you plan to use?
- What contingency plans do you have in place in case of emergencies?
It’s important to assess your current policies and procedures and identify areas of need so you can improve internal controls and eliminate risks in the operation of your retail store.
Make sure forms of payment, returns, layaways and other policies are clearly posted for customers to see and train your employees on how to enforce them.
As your business grows, it’s a good idea to periodically review and revise policies, as necessary, to keep employees and customers safe and happy.