We are often asked what should go on a retail checklist. Sometimes this question comes from a retailer starting their retail audit initiative from scratch. Other times, it comes from an established retailer looking to curate or improve their existing checklist. Regardless of the circumstances, we have prepared a list of best-practices, intentionally high-level, to help retailers with this task.

1. Think about metadata. Metadata is data about data, that is to say, information about the store visit. Customers who use Excel or Word-based forms typically expect used-entered fields such as store number, completed by, date, etc… Metadata is largely automated with best-of-breed retail audit software. The store pick-list is built specifically for each user, the date is selected using a calendar widget and the district manager is derived from the login.

2. Group items into sections. Whenever possible, sections should be laid out to match the natural flow of a visit (a district manager physically walking the store). Start with the exterior (the parking lot if applicable, the window in a mall location) and work your way in, around the store and into the back of the store.

3. Think about “non applicable”. Certain sections or items are not applicable to all locations. For example “Washrooms” is generally not applicable to mall locations and not all locations have drive-thrus. Best-of-breed retail audit software allows you to disable entire sections and items at certain stores according to the store type.

4. Make sure your form has adequate coverage. While individual situations vary, you should address some or all of the following areas, each represented as a section:

Store exterior

Presentation and Merchandising

Products and Preparation

Service and Speed of Service

Personnel and Training


Security, Cash Handling and Loss Prevention

Drive-thru (if applicable)


Back of the Store and Inventory


5. Avoid large sections. Instead of creating a small number of large sections, consider creating a larger number of small sections. This helps with data-entry on smart phones and also renders the reporting more granular and meaningful.

6. Set the score carefully. Assign points according to the relative importance of each criterion. While it is easy to think of everything as important (and if a criterion is not important, it should not go on the form), some items are often more important than others, even critical to the continued success of the business. Health and safety issues come to mind. Assign points and make use of the “Critical” flag accordingly. A critical item sets the value of the entire section to zero, regardless of other items, if found non-compliant during the visit. Don’t worry about keeping track of the total score. Best-of-breed retail audit software automatically calculates the visit score and a score by section for you as the visit takes place.

7. Be specific, descriptive and visual. Standards should be clear and unequivocal. Don’t use vague words like “recent” or “good”. For example instead of saying, “Recent staff meeting held”, consider using, “Staff meeting held less than 5 calendar days ago”. If referring to temperatures or lapsed times, give actual numbers. Clearly spell out what the standard is. If it takes one paragraph to define the standard, use one paragraph. If you have one, attach a best practice photo to an item to illustrate the standard; a picture is often worth 1,000 words and more likely to make an impression than words alone. Best-of-breed retail audit software allows you to attach “best practice” pictures and supporting documents to any form item and section.

8. Think about visit frequency. The frequency of district manager visits (at least visits involving the retail audit checklist) seems to vary greatly from one organization to the next. On one end of the spectrum, some organizations (including some big names in the food service business) tend to conduct as many as one visit every other week. Other organizations may only conduct one visit per quarter. Some organizations use a hybrid model. They use a standard form to capture their core standards (say twice a year) and create a number of smaller forms for visits throughout the year, sometime tying these visits to seasonal programs.

9. Discuss it with your Operations team. Discuss the form with your district managers, owners and managers. Solicit their input and feedback. A retail checklist is as much an audit tool, as it is a training vehicle. Define the standard, communicate and measure it. You will meet the standard and achieve your goals.

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