What to Look for in Retail Audit Companies

You need to connect with shoppers inside brick-and-mortar retail stores, whether you’re a brand manufacturer or a retailer, whether your reach is national, regional, at the biggest big-box stores, or the smallest mom-and-pop shops.

The good news is that there is a way to get visibility into any physical store locations: retail audits. What are retail store audits? At Wiser, we define this important process as “the act of data collection from brick-and-mortar store locations to gather information on merchandising compliance, adjacencies, inventory levels, store associate knowledge, and many more shelf-level metrics.”

Of course, not all retail audits are created equal, and not all retail audit companies offer the same level of services. Are you in need of visibility into store conditions or your brand on the shelf? Here is what to look for in retail audit companies, so you can find the best partner for your business.

Available Where You Need It

What good is an audit program if it’s not available in your area? Naturally, this is the first—and perhaps most important—consideration when choosing a retail audit partner. Their solutions must overlap with your service area. Are you looking for data in a specific state? Make sure they can get into stores there. Trying to get visibility into a different country to support a product launch? The same idea applies. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to confirm whether or not the company can get you visibility where you need it before you move on to more complicated features.

There’s a balance between speed and quality that can be achieved by retail audit companies so you can get responses within your timeline, but also at a high-enough quality that you trust the data.

Provides the Right Sample Size

The next feature of your desired retail audit company is whether or not they can provide the right sample size. There is no one true sample size—how many results you need depends on many factors, and is often unique to each brand or retailer. On that note, small sample sizes aren’t inherently bad, just risky. Overall, your chosen partner must be able to get you the number of in-store results you want, whether that’s a few hundred or several thousand responses.

Balances Speed vs. Quality

The age-old dilemma—do you want it fast or do you want it done well? Again, there’s a balance here that can be achieved by retail audit companies so you can get responses within your timeline, but also at a high-enough quality that you trust the data.

There are a few broad ways this can be done. For example, you can opt for a crowdsourced retail audit program that is usually on the faster end of the spectrum. Crowdsourcing uses public shoppers at a large scale to get a lot of survey responses in a short amount of time. The trade-off is that they might not have the subject-matter expertise of your employees. On the other side, you can send in your own field teams, but that means fewer responses and more time. Another option is panel data, which tends to be broader, syndicated data from households or demographics that might be available on-demand.

Woman using her phone in public.

Makes It Easy to Visualize Audits

When vetting your potential audit partners, one thing you should look for is how they package up the data for presentation. You want a vendor that can create easy, effective business intelligence so you’re not wasting time trying to figure out the data or sorting it into actionable buckets. You definitely want location data, so you know which store the information was captured in. You also want different chart formats, like bar, line, or graph, plus more advanced tools like heat maps, scorecards, photo carousels, custom reports, and exporting capabilities for sharing with management. What you don’t want is to have to spend more time parsing the data to understand it than it took to capture it in the first place.

Targets Your Desired Audience(s)

In addition to location and sample size, you want to craft audits that are completed by the right customer. Perhaps you need shopper insights from a specific demographic, whether age, gender, or lifestyle (like moms, gamers, tech-averse or tech-savvy, etc.). There are many scenarios where you need responses that are divided up into customer types, especially when responses from a certain group carry more weight. The right retail audit company for you can segment by your desired audiences.

Visibility is great, but it’s not as effective without that actionability piece alongside it.

Creates Actionable Insights

Lastly, you have to be able to do something with all this data. Visibility is great, but it’s not as effective without that actionability piece alongside it. In reality, this means an output that makes it very easy for you to prioritize your efforts at the right store at the right time.

Say you launched a product in hundreds of big-box stores in one region. You want to know which displays were executed properly. You get the data from the retail audit, and you can quickly see that these 20 stores have the worst compliance rates but the biggest sales potential. So, you send your field teams to those stores first. That’s a much better scenario than having a gut feeling that something is off, but not knowing which of those hundred-plus locations are the real culprits. On a smaller scale, actionable insights can also take the form of custom reports, raw data exports, user access, and integrations.

Retail execution can take many forms, but it’s always supported by high-quality, timely data. Audits can be a great tool to achieve those insights, and the number of potential partners on the market makes it exciting—if not a bit overwhelming—that the right solution is nearby. As you shop around, keep these considerations in mind so you can choose the right retail audit company for your business.

Matt Ellsworth

Matt is the Sr. Manager, Marketing & Demand at Wiser, the leading provider of actionable data for better decisions.

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