Research shows that over 60% of employees could save six or more hours each week if they used automation to perform repetitive administrative tasks. That amounts to a 15% in employee productivity and a sharp decrease in employee workload.
But the advantages don’t end there.
If given the opportunity to use automation, 43% of employees believe it would lead to significant innovation for their teams and themselves.
Looking at these statistics, it’s evident that automation is essential – especially for a retail business. Today, 76% of retail businesses use customer and sales data to drive their organizational performance.
This can be pretty time-consuming: unless you outsource human management of this data with automated reporting. This article will cover what automated reporting is, its advantages, and how to integrate it into your retail business smoothly.
What is automated reporting?
Automated reporting is the process of gathering data, analyzing it, and generating reports using automation. Like manual reporting, automated reporting allows businesses to process customer, sales, and management data continuously.
But unlike manual reporting, automated reporting is entirely performed by a program with no human interference.
For example, the owner of a multi-store retail business could use reporting tools to monitor the performance of ten stores simultaneously. Once the owner has set reporting tools up with each store’s Point of Sale (POS) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, the system would generate daily sales, inventory, and revenue reports. Using this information, the owner could compare the performance of each store and adjust their business strategy to maximize the profitability of each store in a matter of minutes.
While there are nuances between reporting options, most options allow you to customize:
- What data is analyzed.
- How the data is analyzed and presented.
- How frequently the system generates reports (i.e., daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly).
- What triggered events prompt the system to generate and deliver an automatic report (i.e., hitting a sales milestone).
- How automated reports are delivered.
As you can imagine, how businesses choose to customize their automated reporting system influences how systems deliver reports. However, these deviations are usually only minor, as most automated systems generally follow a standard four step-process.
Generally, this process includes:
- Extracting data from POS and CRM systems.
- Generating reports using that data.
- Delivering the report according to a pre-defined schedule.
- Filing the report for future reference.
When a retail business customizes this process effectively, there are many advantages to using automated reports.
Let’s discuss those now.
The advantages of automated reporting tools for the retail sector
Businesses in the retail sector face unique challenges that more centralized enterprises do not.
If your business has multiple locations, you’re likely working with plenty of moving parts – including different equipment, different customers, different social media, and numerous teams with different interpersonal dynamics. If you only have a single location, you’re still working in a busy, fast-paced environment with a large quantity of data that needs processing.
While automated reporting can handle that data for you, that’s not its only advantage. Here are four ways retail businesses benefit from automated reports.
It addresses distributor data disparity
Problem: If you’ve watched our webinar on Leveraging business intelligence in retail, you’ll likely remember that Shree Neve mentioned compiling data is a huge problem for retail businesses. As each retail store processes its sales information differently, it can be challenging to compare data in different formats.
As Shree points out in the image below, how can you compare sales of chocolate bars when Distributor 1 and Distributor 2 classify their chocolate bars using data formats for their SKU (product) codes?
Solution: Automated reporting addresses this problem by introducing a standard format for all data. This includes standardizing the format of data (i.e., date/time, currency, text, number, etc.) and how data is cleaned, stored, and presented in reports.
It integrates LoT information
Problem: Later in the same webinar, Shree also discussed another retail-specific issue: retail businesses usually store data on local services and devices.
As Shree points out in the image below, retail stores generate marketing data from in-store traffic, then that data is sent to a local server of USB. This technique presents two problems: the data isn’t accessible to managers outside each store, and the data is not cyber security.
Solution: Automated reporting solves both problems with cloud-based storage. During the reporting process, data is filed and stored in a secure location. This makes the data accessible to managers outside each store and keeps the data safe long term.
Considering that 80% of companies experienced at least one cloud data breach between January 2019 and June 2020 alone, secure data storage is essential for any cyber-aware business.
It saves time
Problem: Data can drive your business’s direction to new heights but collecting, sorting, and analyzing data is repetitive work that requires a large time investment. When you invest your time into data analysis, you lose out on time for innovation, marketing, expansion, strategic planning, or even just working one-on-one with customers. As many businesses can’t spare this time, they miss out on the benefits of analyzing their data.
Solution: According to the 2019/20 PwC Finance Benchmarking Report, businesses can reduce the time they spend on accounting and finance by 30% – 40% if they embrace automation. Using this figure as a guide, time-poor businesses could use automated reporting to invest 30 minutes into data analysis a week – helping them make strategic decisions without sacrificing too much time.
It drives data-based decisions with business intelligence
Problem: Customers know what experience they want to have in your store, but collecting this information is tricky as a business.
To optimize your customer experience, you need data on customer analytics. However, collecting this data manually is time-consuming and virtually impossible for decentralized retail businesses.
Solution: Automated reporting gives businesses everything they need to make data-driven decisions, as it compiles, sorts, and collects data for you. Data-driven decisions benefit both customers and businesses, as customers get the products and experiences they want, and businesses can boost their productivity and output by 6%.
Other Factors to consider
While the advantages to using reporting automation in your businesses are clear, it is essential to plan your automation appropriately for your business. This section will cover four factors you need to consider before setting up reporting automation.
1. The types of KPIs to integrate
Before you set up automated reporting in your business, you’ll need to carefully consider the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) you will select.
The best KPIs to collect are derived metrics, which are metrics combined with real-world context. For example, Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is a derived metric as it gives you an insight into your business’s performance. Here are some other derived metric KPI’s for you to consider:
- Customer conversion rate
- Rate of product return
- Net promoter score
- Inventory turnover rate
- Average cost per order
- Daily sales revenue
- Customer lifetime value
- Net profit margin percentage
- Budget variance
- Upsell & cross-sell rate
2. The frequency of reporting
Next, you’ll need to consider how frequently you want your system to send you reports. The right frequency of reporting for you will depend on your business and management style. Some managers prefer daily reports, while others prefer monthly ones. You may also elect to have certain metrics reported daily (like inventory levels) and others reported weekly (like sales revenue).
Generally, you can choose to have your reports sent:
3. The types of reports
Once you’ve chosen your KPIs and your reporting frequency, it’s time to consider the types of reports you want. There are four types of reports to choose from.
- Standard reports = your report is emailed to you in document format.
- Live dashboard = your KPIs are reported through a dashboard you can access online at any time.
- Printed report = your report is sent to you in PDF, PNG, or JPEG format so you can print it off.
- Embedded dashboard = your KPIs are embedded into the dashboard of your CRM or sales software. You can see an example of an embedded dashboard below.
4. Your goals and objectives
Finally, you’ll need to consider your goals and objectives. The best way to create goals is to use the SMART goal format, as SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reliable, and Timely. For example, you might choose “increase February revenue by 10%” as your goal.
How to use automated reporting tool software
At this point, you’ve chosen your KPIs, planned out your reports, and considered how you will use your data. Now it’s time to set up your automated reporting software.
1. Extract the data
First, you’ll need to connect your reporting system to your database and extract your data. If you are using CRM or POS software, you will need to follow your software provider’s instructions during this step.
Once you have extracted your data, it’s time to upload it into your reporting software. Alternatively, you can use a native connector that lets your reporting software automatically extract data at will.
Then, you will need to follow the CMTS protocol. That means you need to:
- Clean your data
- Merge your data sources
- Transform your sources into a central dataset
- Standardize your datasets (i.e., standardize data type)
Once your data is prepped and ready to go, you’re ready for the next step.
2. Automatically generate the reports
Next, it’s time to set up your reports. In this stage, you are telling your automation system how to create your ideal report.
There are three things to pay attention to during this stage:
- What data visualization tools you will use.
- How you will structure your report.
- What report format you will use.
Once you have set up your reports, always test them several times to ensure the system has configured the reports correctly.
3. Schedule your reports
Next, it’s time to schedule your reports. Your automated reporting software will ask you three key questions during this stage:
- How frequently the system needs to generate reports.
- Whether the system should alert you when it creates the report.
- When the system needs to create the report.
Although every tool is different, you can see an example of a report scheduling tool from ClicData below.
4. Keep refining and measuring
At this point, you have completed the set-up process. But you aren’t done yet. If you want to get the most out of your business reporting, make sure you regularly re-evaluate and adjust your reports.
However, there is a caveat: don’t focus too much on a bad day or week. Many things can temporarily throw off business performance from changes in seasonal demand to the impact of a COVID-hurt economy.
While automatic reporting helps you notice these factors, you don’t want to obsess over them. Always take your short-term data into account, but don’t lose sight of the long-term picture.
How to Get the Most out of Your Automated Reporting System
Retail businesses have a lot to gain from automated reporting tools. Automated tools help businesses integrate data, save time, and make data-driven decisions quickly.
If you run a retail business, you’ll want to try automated reporting with a robust system like ClicData. ClicData is an end-to-end business intelligence (BI) solution that covers the full reporting process: data collection, data cleansing and combining, dashboard and report design, automated report delivery, and data refresh. If improving the tracking of your sales, marketing or inventory management performance is on your to-do list, feel free to schedule a call with our product specialists and see how ClicData can help.
You can try ClicData with a 14-day free trial here.
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About the author
Zoe is a content marketing strategist for SaaS brands like FollowUpBoss, Mention.com, and more. Bylines: Ecwid, ProProfs, Score, etc. On the personal front, Zoe is a pho enthusiast and loves traveling around the world as a digital nomad.