Empowering the retail back-office with automation

As organisations navigate the aftermath of the pandemic, the retail sector is still struggling to secure future profitability and is facing a range of new challenges

While the so-called ‘pingdemic’ may be over, continued staff shortages due to Covid and high turnover as employees seek new careers have exacerbated post-Brexit recruitment problems. At the same time, back-office complications have multiplied in relation to finance, accounting, invoices, suppliers and payroll, creating backlogs, high workloads and inefficiencies within retailers’ existing admin-heavy processes.

With efficient back-office functions having always been crucial to minimising retail store disruption, now is the time for retailers to rethink their current processes and look at how they can achieve greater efficiencies in the back-office. A fundamental part of this will be shifting from traditional manual operations to an automated, outsourced back-office approach, with benefits likely to be felt across the entire organisation.

Automating for accuracy

Faced with a depleted workforce and ongoing uncertainty, back-office retail workers are being placed under significant pressure to juggle a variety of essential administrative tasks. Not only is this detrimental to their wellbeing, but strained teams that are short on time and resources can also be prone to mistakes, such as duplicate payments. With research from the Accounts Payable Association finding that 63% of finance professionals had received duplicated invoices, of which 33% had actually paid them, it is clear that mistakes in this area can be costly.

The use of innovative, digitised solutions to automate and digitise processes will allow retailers to streamline many of these back-office administrative tasks, helping to take the pressure off employees and avoid expensive errors. In this scenario, technology can be used to identify duplicate payments and previously unidentified credits, to ensure that retailers don’t miss out on recoverable funds.

Automating the bulk of this process will help to drastically reduce the burden in-house and enable employees to focus on validating and recovering funds. By reducing the time taken up by these tasks, employees will also have more time to concentrate on the bigger picture initiatives that often fall by the wayside during busy periods. 

Supplementing in-house teams

Similarly, staff shortages are also causing a backlog of tasks, particularly in the accounts payable and accounts receivable functions. Again, this is where technology can help to automate and digitise tasks to allow retailers to catch up. In addition to deploying technology, retailers may want to consider outsourcing to finance and accounting staff who can work as an extension of their in-house back-office function. This approach would allow retailers to outsource everything from invoicing to managing payroll, freeing managers from the administrative complexities these tasks often entail.

External teams can also complete supplier statement reconciliations on behalf of the retailer to improve cashflow and productivity. Adopting this method provides a more cost-effective option than employing temporary staff to fill the gaps. As well as assisting in clearing the backlog, it can also be an opportunity to get external insight into the current processes and solutions in use within the organisation. This will help retail management to identify the root cause of any issues they are experiencing and find practical ways to improve in order to prevent future issues and future-proof processes.

Supporting back-office employees

While the discussion around the retail sector tends to focus on the shop floor and those working within that environment, it is evident that those in the back office are also coming under immense pressure. With the effects of the pandemic and Brexit still being felt hard by retailers and their employees across the country, retailers must begin to address the issue of easing the burden being placed on back-office employees.

Vital to this will be working with partners and deploying solutions that help to automate and digitise everyday back-office and administration tasks to gain access to tech-driven efficiency they would otherwise find unattainable. In taking this approach, retailers will be able to better navigate administrative complexities, overcome issues arising around staff shortages and increase accuracy, while employees will be able to focus on more value-adding and bigger picture tasks. Ultimately, in time, this will help to improve the wellbeing and satisfaction of those working in the back-office, equate to significant cost-savings and set retailers up to increase sales.

About the Author

Mark Turner is Managing Director of Business Processes at Liberata. Liberata is a supplier of services and software to public and private sector organisations across the UK – delivering cost savings and efficiency improvements across Revenues & Benefits; Finance & Accounting; HR & Payroll and Customer Services. As a trusted, reliable, operating partner, Liberata helps organisations deliver, run and automate complex services for individuals, businesses and other organisations.

Featured image: ©Eisenhans