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IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

Mosaic opts for managed polling

Aurora Fashions IT Outsourcing
  • 1 Dec

Mosaic opts for managed polling

Mosaic Fashions, parent company of the seven successful design-led fashion brands Oasis, Principles, Warehouse, Karen Millen, Coast, Whistles and the footwear business, The Shoe Studio, has contracted with IT partner Retail Assist for a managed polling service in some of its brands. For any retailer, the efficient and timely polling of data between own-brand stores is a critical element that affects key functions such as replenishment. However, as Mosaic experienced, multi-channel distribution makes additional demands in this area. As the retailer has expanded its network of concessions to encompass more and more partners, the requirement for data exchange has increased and become more complex. Until now, Mosaic has used standard file transfer protocol (FTP) to send PLU data down to its partners and receive sales data back from them. Whilst aiming for file standardisation from all concessions, Mosaic found itself having to manipulate diverse formats before data could be processed into its Mercatus merchandising system. Now, rather than continue to manage this process on an agreement-by-agreement basis, the retailer has retained Retail Assist to provide a proven, consistent and scaleable solution across the board. Data polling is an area of expertise for Retail Assist and it was able to offer Mosaic a managed service that was both cost-effective and relevant to the retailer’s business model. “To support our ambitions for expansion, it was critical for us to establish a resilient polling model which can be extended to any concession or Mosaic brand store. Retail Assist has a proven track record in managing polling services to support both own-fascia and concession operations, which gives us a real sense of confidence,” says Mike Padfield, I.T. Development Manager at Mosaic Fashions. As a result of the agreement with Retail Assist, Mosaic will enjoy a fully managed service, governed by a service level agreement (SLA) that aims to achieve a consistently high rate of polling success. It will also include the daily collection of consolidated sales data from each of the concessionaires and its transmission to Mosaic together with an analysis of any polling failures or discrepancies. The service rollout is planned in three stages. The first stage is completed, with data now being exchanged with Irish department store chain, Brown Thomas, which is carrying Oasis’ new Odille lingerie range. The next phase was to extend the service to support Mosaic’s recent agreement with Dutch department store chain, Vroom and Dreesmann. Work has now been completed to poll product and sales files for the Oasis range to and from four Vroom and Dreesmann sites. With all of its brands already sold across House of Fraser stores, Mosaic has moved operations onto a true concession footing, with host store tills used to transact business and to provide a daily sales update. Retail Assist has now completed the work to poll files between Mosaic and House of Fraser. “The fact that we already manage a polling service with House of Fraser for another retailer and are familiar with its file formats and processing protocols means we…
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Store Systems
  • 30 Nov

Making easy work of store system selection

The right Store System can positively impact a retailer’s growth, competitiveness and financial health. Whilst operating in the front-office of the shop floor, today’s Store Systems co-exist with, populate and often drive back-office processes. They are a pivotal part of the supply chain and, as the source of sales data, directly affect stock control and replenishment. Whilst retailers are often slow to replace and upgrade Store Systems because they fear the impact of change, they cite them as a key technology purchase. This point is emphasised in the Martec IT in Retail 2006 Survey, which once again identifies Store Systems as the top IT investment priority for a research base of 100 UK retailers. Using both their recent retailer research and in-house experience of selecting and managing Store Systems, retail IT outsourcing specialist Retail Assist has produced an Executive Guide. This details the issues to consider and the approaches which can lead to successful system selection and use.…
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Alan Morris
  • 30 Nov

Centre stage: Retail Service Desk Operations

By Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist In a retail world built on technical environments that are multi-faceted, multi-channel and increasingly complex, retail Service Desk operations can constitute a valuable hub. As such, it should be moved up the company hierarchy to a position that reflects its critical role. Often sitting in the shadows, it’s now time to move the retail Service Desk centre stage. As retail operations expand, executives frequently fail to face up to the scale of what’s needed to support an increasing use of, and dependence on, technology. Poor customer service, complaints, missed service levels and lost revenues all point to the need to review technical support provision. As a rule of thumb, if your Service Desk is doing what it has always done, then it needs looking at. You need to analyse what could make this operation of greater value to the business as a whole and plan to invest accordingly. The very nature of retail and the temperament of those that drive its most successful businesses tend towards dynamic, opportunistic, above the line activity. And that’s how it should be. Less appealing to those businesses and individuals are the below the line planning and investment needed to sustain expansion. It’s wise to review whether infrastructure services are growing at the same pace as the business. If not, they’re unlikely to be stable and robust enough to support that growth. Even if new stores aren’t being opened, new channels to market may well be in development. Heavily dependent upon technology, they will certainly take their toll on Service Desk operations. Merger and takeover activity also make demands on the Service Desk. At these times, what the business needs most is stability and consistency: precisely what a well-resourced Desk can contribute. Time was when it was a matter of pride to have a lean (ie. under-resourced) Service Desk. We all know businesses where this function is manned by a couple of people, clearly overstretched, who spend their weekends with a phone strapped to their waist, and race around the business fire-fighting. Whilst this may seem cost-effective, the downsides are little control, no means of measuring effectiveness and therefore no way of judging that the business is getting value for money from its Service Desk. Regular performance management is critical. That means not solely judging the Desk by its SLA achievements but viewing its impact on the business in the round. User satisfaction, indicated by a level of comfort, reduced call volumes and the elimination of recurring problems, all prove that a Service Desk is contributing towards operational efficiency. A well run Service Desk will make money through greater up-time on tills preventing loss of revenue, and save money through analysis of where costs are being incurred. Not surprisingly, some retailers struggle to balance support staff availability with trading flow and budget constraints. The commercial pressures fuelling the drive towards longer trading hours and the need to be fully-functional at all times create a resource challenge that…
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Retail Assist news
  • 29 Nov

Thresher Group renews contract

The UK’s leading independent specialist drinks retailer, Thresher Group, has renewed its Help Desk contract with Retail Assist for the sixth year in succession. Now employing over 12,000 staff in around 2,000 outlets, the Thresher Group is driven by its local service ethos and believes that more than half the UK’s population live within 10 minutes walk from one of its Threshers, The Local, or Wine Rack shops. To further build on this local presence, a year ago it acquired 200 stores from the Unwins chain. The Group is represented in Scotland by the Haddows brand. With such a diverse brand structure and geographical spread, support can pose something of a challenge. To ensure continuity of technical back-up to staff in its outlets, Thresher Group uses Retail Assist for first-line customer support during what are traditionally the busiest trading hours for drinks stores. The Help Desk acts as a single focal point for all in-store IT issues, whether hardware, software or applications related, from 18.00 to 23.15 on Monday to Friday and at all times at the weekend.…
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Retail Assist news
  • 17 Nov

Charity balloon race

Nottingham Castle was the setting this week for the start of a Charity Balloon Race organised by retail IT outsourcing company, Retail Assist. The company manages computer services for retailers including many high-street fashion brands and department stores. At a recent Awards Ceremony organised by the retail industry publication, Retail Systems, Retail Assist decided to take an inventive approach to sponsorship of the balloons that traditionally decorate the event. Guests at the Awards Ceremony were invited to purchase balloons which, bearing their details on return luggage labels, were released from the Castle Green on 22nd November by Nottingham’s medieval answer toPosh and Becks. £ 1,444 was raised from the sale of the balloons and all proceeds were given on the day to Retail Assist’s corporate charity, Rainbows Children’s Hospice in Loughborough. Rainbows is the children’s hospice for the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, and provides respite, palliative and terminal care to families who have a child with a life-limiting illness. Over the next two weeks, anyone finding a balloon is asked to post back its luggage label to Retail Assist, specifying where it landed. The sponsor of the balloon which has travelled the furthest from Nottingham Castle will win two return Eurostar tickets to Paris or Brussels, courtesy of the company.…
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Harvey Nichols
  • 10 Oct

Harvey Nichols out-of-hours support

International luxury lifestyle retailer, Harvey Nichols, has extended its contract with IT partner Retail Assist to include an out-of-hours Service Desk. Observes Martin Schofield, Harvey Nichols’ IT & Logistics Director “Our goal was to upgrade our IT support to provide a guaranteed telephone answering service that reflects our stores’ extended opening hours. In selecting an out-of-hours service from Retail Assist, IT can now better support the business and benefit from using a trusted partner. Britons reputedly have one of the longest working weeks in Europe. The ability to shop early and late on working days (as demonstrated by the growing popularity of Harvey Nichols’ Foodmarkets) adds to the convenience and quality of life. In addition, the retailer’s focus on lifestyle services and products has turned it into a favoured leisure destination for weekend shopping, eating and relaxing. Retail Assist is providing Harvey Nichols with out-of-hours Service Desk support, based in its Bingham, Nottingham Support Centre. Cover is provided during the early mornings and the early to late evening period during 6 days a week, with a full day of support provided on Sunday. Calls are directed to Call Analysts trained to immediately act upon major IT issues. A 2nd-line support service is also provided to address more complex EPoS problems. The support service encompasses both Head Office staff and those working in the retailer’s six stores in the UK and Eire, two stand-alone Restaurants and Warehouse. Support is also provided for some 700 EPoS tills and PCs across these locations. The contract awarded to Retail Assist builds upon an existing relationship with Harvey Nichols. Martin Schofield joined the company in 2003, since when he is credited with having contributed to the retailer’s increased competitive advantage and market agility through the fine-tuning of its technical infrastructure and systems. Amongst his early changes were the acquisition of an IBM iSeries processor and the outsourcing of its hosting, operation and support to Retail Assist two years ago. The iSeries, which drives the retailer’s key functions including stock management and supply chain, is housed at Retail Assist’s Northampton Data centre. Concludes Retail Assist’s Services Manager, Dave Roberts, who is responsible for the out-of-hours service “We are particularly pleased to see our relationship with Harvey Nichols develop further. Their request for us to provide an out-of-hours Service Desk is testimony to the confidence that the company has in our people and our facilities.” Harvey Nichols’ estate covers Dublin, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Leeds in addition to its flagship Knightsbridge, London store. Its international expansion has seen its stores in Riyadh, Dubai and Hong Kong become landmarks in cities where luxury is a byword. September 2006 marked the opening of its latest store, occupying 8,000 sqm in Istanbul’s Kanyon Levant state-of-the-art shopping mall.…
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Alan Morris
  • 30 Sep

Align business goals with IT deliverables

By Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist Some companies are better than others at realising that all business change has an IT dimension. By the same token, IT is all about change. It’s not uncommon for IT projects that deliver change to be deemed to fail, just because the business doesn’t embrace change at the outset. Users may adopt new functionality but are slow to appreciate how system change will affect familiar processes. To avoid this disconnect, it’s critical to align business goals with IT deliverables from the outset. At the heart of this sits the issue of change. Retailers need to ask themselves who owns change in their business. Is the IT Director involved in the change process, early enough or at all? Or does the internal culture see business strategy and IT delivery as separate elements, each operating within its own silo? The IT function needs to be involved early on in the process of change so it can contribute to the optimum degree. In an ideal world, IT Directors would sit at the heart of the business as the agent of change and would play a key role in strategic planning. They would focus their resource on meeting business goals, rather than delivering ‘projects’ which are often, wrongly, seen as the whole deliverable. Most importantly, they would ensure that no change, business or IT, takes place without being dovetailed into the organisation’s enterprise architecture. So is architecture the key to aligning business goals with IT deliverables? In simple terms: yes. Whilst few would deny the folly of erecting a new building without the services of an architect and a design blueprint, surprisingly few retailers employ the same disciplines in their business. This can be a positive attribute. After all, change is the lifeblood of retail and success often comes from recognising a commercial opportunity and being quick to grasp it. Nevertheless, having no more than a loose-knit set of tactics rather than a strategic plan to guide operations can result in worrying gaps between processes and systems. By failing to adequately architect change and assess its impact on their business, retailers risk being taken by surprise by its costs and effects. This wouldn’t happen if IT deliverables and business goals were aligned and set in the context of an evolving change management programme. Before they assert that IT is not meeting the needs of the business as it develops (a not uncommon lament), retailers need to have the courage to look at their strategic goals and processes. If that strategic view doesn’t exist, it’s time to call on the services of a business architect. Just as an architect would ensure that all the elements of a new property happily coexist, and all costs and impacts are clearly understood, so the services of an enterprise or change management architect can ensure that IT systems support, rather than work against, business processes and take the retailer in its strategic direction. Few retailers enjoy the luxury of an inhouse…
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Retail Assist news
  • 20 Aug

IT service manager award 2006

Dave Roberts, Services Manager at Retail Assist has reached the final stage in the IT Service Manager of the Year award category. Dave is the only representative from the retail industry among this year’s award finalists, who also include employees of Rail Settlement Plan, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council and Lloyds TSB. The BCS awards have very quickly established themselves as the leading hallmark of success amongst practitioners in the IT industry today. As standards of sophistication, business acumen and skill in the IT world are continually developing, the role of IT and its effective management is critical across the whole spectrum of business. The British Computer Society has created the IT Professional Awards, designed to embrace IT and business achievement. The IT Service Manager of the Year award is an individual excellence award sponsored by the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF) and recognises those whose outstanding IT achievement helps the nation’s IT industry maintain its position as a leading global player. Dave Roberts, Service Manager of Retail Assist’s Service Desk and Store Systems team, has been selected to go through to the final stages of the judging process for demonstrating consistently high levels of service delivery through a well-motivated and highly competent team. Dave is now required to make a presentation to a panel of judges in September 2006. Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist commented “We are very proud that a key employee for Retail Assist has been selected by the most prestigious IS body in the UK. During Dave’s time here he has made a significant contribution, improving service delivery against SLAs and building two strong customer focused Retail Support Teams.” David Clarke, BCS CEO, added “The diversity of entries this year has been impressive with projects from IT suppliers as well as from the end user community. We have been very impressed by the high quality of all the projects and the judges certainly have their work cut out to find the overall winners from the medallists who have reached this stage.”…
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Alan Morris
  • 10 Aug

Mind the gap – managing loss prevention

By Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist No retailer can render itself immune from theft, fraud, shrinkage and loss. It’s a chilling reality, and one that is being addressed by massive investments in security, process and technology. But, whilst each can contribute to an overall solution, retailers often focus on them in isolation, at the same time discarding critical data that could highlight the source of loss and prevent its reoccurrence. To remain competitive, even the most successful retailer must constantly strive to minimise costs, streamline process and maximise margins. Yet, at the same time as attention is focused onabove the line- efficiencies and profitability, a significant proportion of sales turnover, estimated in the UK to be between 1.4% and 1.6%, is lostbelow the line- to shrinkage in all its forms. A retailer turning over £200m with profits of £10m, but with 3% shrinkage, would see those profits rise to £13m if they hit the UK’s average shrinkage level: a creditable 30% increase in profits. As commercial pressures translate into leaner margins, price increases to offset losses are not a practical remedy. Shrinkage has to be tackled head on, but where should retailers direct their efforts? Greatest success comes from a multi-faceted strategy which, addressing the diverse and complex nature of the problem, combines tactics directed at staff, procedures, equipment and IT. And, of course, the starting point has to be an analysis of the problem in all its manifestations, as this will differ by sector, by channel and by retailer. Contrary to popular perception, not all shrinkage is down to customer theft. According to recent US research, staff theft, which is more insidious and harder to spot than customer theft, accounts for over 45% of loss. Procedural errors and poor systems are believed to contribute a further 12%, with supplier errors amounting to 8%. Not surprisingly, whilst improved security measures such as Chip & PIN and RFID are reducing store-based loss, growing online sales have created a new hunting ground for those of a fraudulent nature. Remedies are needed in each of the following areas and, most importantly, must bejoined up- to gain maximum benefit. Security & Culture Retailers are investing more and more in physical security measures, from visible deterrents such as security staff, cameras and alarms, to RFID and source tagging devices on higher value items. Frequently, success is diluted by an indifferent, if not corrupt, staff culture. This manifests itself in little attention paid to security measures, through to active theft, often perpetrated through refund abuse. A less forgiving culture, greater staff involvement and more rigorous training all have their part to play in reducing loss. Process Retailers that take time to map their processes invariably find many are cumbersome, redundant and prone to abuse. There’s much to be gained from tighter policies for refunds and stock management but, even then, a failure to integrate core processes allows shrinkage to pass unnoticed. Only when all phases of the retail lifecycle are integrated, from buying and…
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Retail Assist news
  • 10 Mar

Retail Assist supports transfer to Ikano

Rubicon Retail has revealed how its move to leading-edge store cards for its Warehouse and Principles brands has enhanced its customer experience The systems projects to transfer to new, more functional cards which have taken place over recent months have been managed by Rubicon’s IT outsourcing partner Retail Assist. The project was a collaborative one, requiring Retail Assist to work with Rubicon and two of its partners: GCS, provider of the retailer’s Merret merchandising system, and IKANO, its new store card partner. IKANO are now managing all elements of customer accounts, loyalty awards, tender types and sales transaction processing for the new cards. The launch of the Warehouse store card has replaced and extended the services previously provided by the Creation Store Card. Its introduction has also paved the way for a new scheme, awarding points for spend which are then converted to loyalty vouchers. New development was required to support these loyalty vouchers as a payment method. Principles store card processes were previously managed by GE Capital, and these customer accounts have now been migrated to IKANO. A further card also supplied by IKANO provides credit facilities, enabling it to be more widely accepted through Principles concessions that do not operate Rubicon till systems. Comments Ishan Patel, I.S. Director at Rubicon Retail “The project required great flexibility from Retail Assist in rising to the challenge of managing scope changes whilst keeping to fixed project timelines for systems migration and new card launches. Their contribution to the success of the project was invaluable.” As part of the new store cards’ operations, transaction-level information is provided to IKANO, enabling them to undertake marketing analysis on individual sales and the shopping habits of both Warehouse and Principles card holders. Retail Assist was responsible for delivering a number of technical elements, including: Modifying Warehouse and Principles store systems to replace the Creation and GE Capital cards and accommodate the new IKANO-based cards Updating central and store-based online authorisation services to handle the new cards Introducing support for new tender types into the Rubicon systems Creating an electronic funds transfer (EFT) infrastructure for the Merret merchandise management system to perform data integrity checks, collate and distribute data files Obtaining OLA and EFT certification for card purchases Building a Merret-based SKU-level extract module to provide voucher transaction details Providing a mechanism for passing daily sales information to IKANO in respect of both cards. This enables the tracking and auditing of both card and loyalty voucher transactions Delivering generic file updates to IKANO, including product file updates and stock movement location file refreshes. Adds Iain Hamlett, IKANO project manager “The involvement of Retail Assist was crucial to the overall success of this project, managing a flexible scope through to a timely and quality delivery.” Concludes Gary Broughton, Project Director at Retail Assist “It’s been a pleasure collaborating on this project and implementing the new functionality from IKANO. Looking forward, we will undoubtedly find ourselves putting this experience to good use for other clients wishing to transfer…
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