Mastering Efficiency: Achieving More with Less in Retail

Growth used to be easy, it's now more difficult to deliver, so efficiency needs to be in the mix. Doing more with less and adapting to many smaller gains is the new frontier


David Worby

3/26/20243 min read


In the 90’s it was all about growth – and for many this wasn’t a tough ask. My good friend David Kohn talks about delivering 20% revenue growth without getting out of bed; for me it was a little harder, but not much.

However, the world of growth for retailers and brands has become much more problematic in recent times. The landscape has become more dynamic and as a result the pursuit of efficiency has become paramount.

I was inspired by Satya Nadella who in 2022 took up the challenge with a short talk win this very subject

As Satya said with evolving consumer preferences, market trends, and economic fluctuations, businesses are having to constantly do more with less. This challenge extends beyond mere cost-cutting; it encompasses optimizing resources, streamlining processes, and maximizing output while maintaining quality and customer satisfaction. Through adept strategies and innovative approaches, retailers and brands worldwide are tackling this challenge head-on, setting new standards for efficiency in the industry.

Inventory Management and Supply Chain Optimization:

We now see the adoption of more advanced technologies like data analytics and even AI to optimize inventory management and streamline supply chains. By leveraging predictive analytics, they can anticipate demand fluctuations, minimize overstocking and stockouts, and ultimately reduce inventory holding costs. For instance, companies like Walmart and Amazon have pioneered the use of AI algorithms to forecast demand accurately, leading to significant cost savings and improved operational efficiency.

Leaner Retail Operations:

The world of manufacturing brought us lean principles, retailers are now adopting these and reimagining their operations to eliminate waste and enhance productivity. This involves scrutinizing every aspect of the retail process, from procurement to shelf placement. Companies like Zara (vertical in nature) have mastered the art of lean retailing by implementing just-in-time manufacturing and distribution, enabling them to swiftly respond to market demands while minimizing excess inventory and reducing lead times.

Digital Transformation and Omnichannel Integration:

By integrating online and offline channels seamlessly, businesses can offer customers a unified shopping experience while optimizing resources. For instance, Nike's direct-to-consumer strategy emphasizes digital channels, allowing the brand to engage directly with its consumers, gather valuable insights, and tailor offerings to individual preferences, thus achieving more with less in terms of marketing spend and operational overhead. The big challenge here for retailers specifically is the initial capital costs can deter all but the determined.

Sustainable Practices and Environmental Responsibility:

Often seen in recent times as a ‘cost-we-cant-afford-to-carry’ sustainability has emerged as a core principle guiding the operations of many retailers and brands. By adopting sustainable practices throughout their supply chains, businesses can not only reduce costs but also enhance brand reputation and appeal to eco-conscious consumers. Companies like Patagonia and Nudie Jeans have demonstrated how prioritizing sustainability can lead to greater efficiency and patronage, with initiatives such as the Worn Wear program, which promotes garment repair and reuse, reducing waste and minimizing the environmental footprint of the fashion industry.

Customer-Centric Innovation:

Fostering a culture of innovation centred around customer needs is essential for retailers and brands seeking to achieve more with less. By soliciting feedback, analysing consumer behaviour, and iterating on products and services, businesses can deliver greater value while optimizing resource allocation. Companies like Sephora have embraced innovation through initiatives like the Beauty Insider loyalty program and virtual try-on tools, enhancing the customer experience and driving sales without significant additional costs.

In summary:

The challenge of achieving more with less is omnipresent, the pursuit of marginal gains is upon us. By embracing technological advancements, rethinking traditional practices, and prioritising both their customers & sustainability and innovation, retailers and brands can overcome this challenge and thrive in an increasingly dynamic market. Through strategic optimization of resources and processes, businesses can not only enhance efficiency and profitability but also deliver greater value to customers, fostering long-term success and resilience in the face of evolving challenges.

The costs to achieve this can still look to some as prohibitive, however the technology world is highly competitive - maybe more now than ever before - so don’t hesitate, start planning for a better future now.

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Growth used to be easy - its not now, so you need to think smarter

do more with less
do more with less