IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


store of the future
  • 6 Nov

Investing in the store of the future

Store retail strategy “The high street is dead”, “the department store is dead”. We’re hearing it over and over, and yet stores still form the cornerstone of brand experience, for the majority of successful omnichannel retailers. There’s still a strong customer demand for store experiences – over 70% of all retail purchases touch a store at some point in the journey. The 21st century store: John Lewis Industry stalwart John Lewis unveiled its newest store last week at Oxford Westgate. It’s the 49th in the John Lewis portfolio, an anchor store of the future, and its most experience and service-led to date. Being dubbed the “Store of the 21st Century” by Drapers, the new store centres on providing exceptional experience and service, in order to engage and retain loyal customers. There are five “dwell” spaces throughout the store, to host “customer experience events” for John Lewis shoppers. These range from traditional personal styling sessions, to modern yoga classes capitalising on the athleisure trend. The new “Experience Desk” is perhaps the culmination of this thinking, where shoppers can buy-in to experiences at a concierge style service, to help the customer arrange and organise their day around their product needs. One thing is for sure – John Lewis’ store experience is attempting to give the customer exactly what they want from the brand. Fulfilling the customer promise “Never knowingly undersold” is perhaps the most famous brand promise in British retailing. John Lewis operates under banners of quality and customer reassurance. One of the biggest bugbears for customers is the non-fulfilment of the customer promise. If you promise that an item is in stock, for example, can you ensure that it reaches the customer? This relies on multiple elements – is your stock view in real-time? Is it a central, single view, or do you have ring-fenced stock? Opening up your inventory with a single, centralised view is the best way to ensure you can fulfil the customer promise with accurate stock information. Consumers are also more demanding: if they need a product “now”, they’ll be put off by out-of-stock notifications, or “wait 2-3 weeks for delivery”. Are you using surplus store stock to fulfil online orders? Ship from store can make you more likely to be able to fulfil more orders, whilst also increasing full price sell through. What will the store of the future look like? What we don’t believe is that the store of the future should become a glorified click-and-collect desk. The store is still the manifestation of your brand in its physical products. So, how to get it right? Make sure they are in the right place, at the right time, in the correct quantities, and sold by store associates with the best levels of product information is key. John Lewis might have based its new store around experiences as well as its products, but their value lies in the encouragement of brand loyalty, bigger baskets, and future purchases.…
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IT Support
  • 18 Sep

The Evolution of IT Support

IT Support: from early beginnings to critical importance Through the decades the notion of IT support has changed radically. From the well-known and much parodied ‘try turning it off and on again’ cliché of years gone by to the troubleshooting systems and proactive support we see in use today, the industry has altered greatly. 1980s Following Microsoft being founded in 1975, the 1980s saw computers and the technology that powered them reaching the masses. No longer reserved for the domain of scientists and high-tech businesses, desktop computers began to seep into the fabric of society. With this move came the need for IT technicians to support them. The problems they were called on to solve centred around keeping computers connected to mainframes and installation. 1990s With computers becoming standard technology in offices across the country during the 1990s, internet connections soon followed within the same decade. This rapid adoption, which saw individuals as well as companies relying for the first time on machines and methods of working that were entirely new to them, meant that the need for IT support expanded too. Where a business may have made do with a single member of staff handling technical issues, they suddenly found themselves overwhelmed.  As a result, outsourcing IT support was introduced, and people found themselves describing IT problems over the phone. Email and live chat became a way of communicating problems that started to become more common as the internet continued to increase in popularity with the dotcom bubble. 2000s As computers embedded themselves firmly in day-to-day life, so the nature of IT support changed in the 2000s. With reduced barriers to entry, new technology companies were formed, cloud storage became widespread, and apps entered the marketplace for the first time. Once again, demand for IT support staff expanded, as the ease in which small companies and individuals could launch websites, apps and other digital facilities continued to grow. During this period, remote desktop support became more prominent. This allowed IT support teams to access computers remotely and perform diagnostics checks, making the process of eliminating problems smoother and quicker for the user. The Future With cloud migration becoming increasingly popular, the trend to outsource managed services is set to continue its growth. Managed service providers bring the capability to streamline and devote attention directly to a business; a departure from the way in which IT support has operated in the past. Whilst problems were previously fixed as and when they occurred with billing for the work done, now proactive support is available as a fixed-cost model with shared services to benefit from. Under a subscription model, work is undertaken on a proactive basis with a contractual agreement looking to provide a constructive and forward-thinking attitude to IT support. A demand for 24×7 IT support will continue to be of critical importance as businesses operate online, with customers accessing their services in different time zones across the world, and expecting excellent customer service around the clock.  Increasingly high standards with…
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IT outsourcing in retail
  • 11 Sep

Why outsource IT in retail?

Reasons to outsource IT in retail The most popular reasons to consider IT Outsourcing? As discussed in the IT Outsourcing Study Europe 15/16, cost reduction is the most important driver for organisations planning to increase the level of IT Outsourcing within their organisation (64%), followed by focus on core business (57%), improvement of service quality (47%) and access to resources (45%). In retail, the benefits are much more focussed on the retailers’ day to day operations, and future strategy. Empowering the CIO role beyond day-to-day IT Retail IT Directors and CIOs are retail’s most indispensable multi-taskers; required to focus on their consumers’ wants and needs, their organisation’s core competencies, and most importantly – which innovations must be implemented to keep customers coming back for more. When retailers measure the tactical benefits of using an outsourced IT partner, they should not ignore the value that comes from being able to release the CIO to focus on strategic business growth. For an IT Director, outsourcing not only relieves them of non-essential duties, but also provides time to focus on critical technology developments which might otherwise have been neglected. It releases him or her from the daily management of services to managing a few key individuals within an IT Outsourcing partnership. CIOs and IT Directors should look upon this as the chance to improve their credibility as a business enabler and adopt a new field of vision. When Retail Assist transitioned Coast, Oasis, Karen Millen and Warehouse’s IT department to allow its IT Director to focus on business growth strategy, outsourcing was achieved with no job losses, and saved 30% of their IT costs. You can download the case study here. Making IT more efficient to fulfil growing consumer demand Today’s omnichannel supply chain retailing operations – buying and merchandising, product information management, allocation and replenishment,  fulfilment and delivery – are more important than they have ever been. Consumers today are accustomed to buying anywhere, anytime, anyplace, expecting to view where items are in stock, expecting faultless and consistent delivery, and setting the bar higher with each experience. IT processes are the engine that powers these mechanics. So, as more is asked of retailers, naturally they should expect more of their IT department. But is the in-house team fit for purpose, and is the resource scalable with business growth? Many retailers outsource to manage key functions such as a Help Desk for store-based and office-based staff, a Data Centre environment where hardware and systems are hosted by a third-party, the development of new technology, and project management of new IT infrastructures and systems. If the outsourced provider is well-selected, expert understanding and hands-on experience of retail can also be provided. So, why dedicate costly in-house resources to these areas when an expert can offer a consistent service with focussed and skilled resources, scalable to flex and grow as required, and offering more cost-effectiveness by sharing the service across a number of retailers? Our customer Bidvest Logistics, has chosen selective IT Outsourcing to benefit…
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back to school 2017
  • 4 Sep

Back to School: lessons to learn for retailers

With the arrival of September and the cooler weather, it’s officially that time of year: back to school 2017. As a prime time for reflection and forward-planning as peak trading approaches, here are 5 back to school lessons retailers can learn from the last year. Your stores are a valuable asset, when used in the right way No more “death of the high street” as retailers continue to reap the benefits of Ship from Store strategy. If you’re not using the stock within your stores to fulfil orders from the website, or orders from other stores, you could be missing out on a huge number of sales. For example, just because your new season bestseller is out of stock online, it doesn’t mean that the order can’t be fulfilled from a store with surplus stock. In this way, there are benefits for the retailer and customer alike. Stores have taken on prime importance as “virtual distribution hubs” within retailers’ omnichannel strategy. One of our customers reported 20-30% increased web sales after implementing ship from store.                  Single view of stock in real time As a proviso for point 1, having a single view of stock is critical for successful omnichannel trading. An increased number of concessions, faster introduction of new products, and greater international presence has provided big successes for retailers in the past year. But consolidating all of this retail data, including a real-time view of the product, is a must have in order to provide the most seamless experience, wherever the customer is shopping. Getting price right is more important than ever Selling internationally can be hard, and in the wake of Brexit, all retailers experienced the effects of the devaluation of the pound. A year and a half later, we’re still feeling it. However, as ASOS’ Nick Robertson said, “Get your prices right, and the rest follows”. As retailers such as ASOS have shown by continuing to report growing profits, providing a price point that is competitive, whilst pleasing the customer, is achievable, by implementing techniques such as zonal pricing to adjust prices in different territories. You can find out more about the benefits of our price management solution on our dedicated webpage. Empower your store associates Thanks to big data and the smartphone boom, customers have more and more information at their fingertips, meaning they’ll be disappointed to find store associates who can’t provide them with the answers they need, and fast. “Is this available in my size/a different store/a different colour?” – we have all been there. Store associates need to be able to provide second-accurate information, as well as a result – can the customer have the item delivered from another store to their home, for example. Our multifunctional tablet inventory solution has replaced bulky, single-function HHTs to empower store associates to fulfil customer demand more easily. Watch the video to find out more. Your customers will continue to demand more As retailers buckle up for the run-up to peak trading, now is not the…
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retail technology blog
  • 12 Jun

How to target Gen Z?

Who are Gen Z? The demographic after Millennials, Gen Z are born between the mid-1990s to early 2000s, meaning that the current cohort range from teens to young adults in their early twenties. There have been a number of labels attached: digital natives, glued to their devices, social over physical, and lacking in brand loyalty… It’s easy to paint a somewhat undesirable picture of the newest generation to come into spending power, but don’t underestimate their influence. The youth of today definitely flexed their political muscle in the recent General Election, in what the Guardian has dubbed a “youthquake” of increased turnout. They have a strong voice, and want to use it. And their worth? A cool £16.5bn, as reported by Mintel last year. By 2020, Generation Z will account for 40% of all consumers. (And you thought you’d only just figured out Millennials). So, how to tap into this market and capture their attention? Getting the message across The average Gen Z-er has the attention span of about eight seconds. They have grown up at a time when they’re presented with media and messaging from all angles, and have therefore adapted to quickly scanning and devouring large amounts of information. This means that video messaging is more and more convenient to serve their needs. Nearly all of Gen Z use YouTube, and half of them can’t live without it. In a time when email subscription is being challenged by new data laws, and unsubscribing has reached a record level, brands are consistently fighting for success in this channels. Most (90%) consumers have taken themselves off retailer mailing lists in the last year, and 24% of those surveyed said they had unsubscribed from a retailer because the messages they received were irrelevant – and 15% said retailers never sent them relevant offers or updates. Gen Z is also pushing transparency and honesty over the perfectly preened post. 77% of teens today prefer ads that show real people in real life situations, and expect brands to depict people like them — who look like them and share their beliefs — in their creative messaging. The battle for newness This point relates to your product as much as the content and communications. If you’re checking your phone relentlessly throughout the day, you’re expecting to see something different. That’s why Gen Z demand more new content than any other demographic. ASOS, for example, is one of our customers that is continually refreshing their “New In” pages, with hundreds of new styles added every single week. As well as product and content newness, new technology is also on the agenda. More than half of Generation Z are either already using or interested in voice ordering; more than two-thirds are interested in social media purchasing; and 75% would sign up to subscription fashion services. To sum up, the title of this blog is the key: ensure that the targeting is correct, and the rest should follow. Thinking of targeting Gen Z, but want to ensure…
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retail IT solutions
  • 20 Feb

What’s the benefit of upselling?

Upselling in retail is not a new thing: it’s been around for years as an in-store technique employed by sales assistants to boost sales and increase basket value. As footfall continues to represent a challenge for retailers, they must increase average basket size (upselling) and conversion rate, otherwise shops become an unviable asset. However, with the advent of omnichannel retailing came new ways to upsell – that perhaps aren’t as direct as face to face selling – but are now a standard part of any purchase, whether in store or online. We spoke about this on BBC Radio Nottingham last Friday, in a short interview that you can listen again to here. Interview starts at 2:54:40. Click and collect The benefits to retailers of click and collect are not only improving footfall to stores, but the ability to make even more sales when the customer comes to collect their parcel. Thanks to technological advances in customer profiling, the store assistant could pre-identify the product purchased by the customer, and upsell by recommending complementary items. For example, if they know that the customer has bought a dress, why not recommend matching shoes upon collection, or accessories to “complete the look”? New Look reported that over the festive period, 25% of its click and collect customers made extra purchases in store, increasing the basket value by an average of £27. (There’s a reason most click and collect desks are the back of a store, requiring the customer to walk past all items in the store first before picking up their parcel…) The retailer benefits through increased basket value, and the customer receives a personalised experience that’s likely to impress them. Check out other click and collect benefits in our infographic. Online delivery Upselling online is a standard function, unlike in a store where it’s motivated by a sales assistant (who may or may not have the confidence to try). This might come in the form of “complete the look” options and additional suggestions that complement the current basket, like ASOS. Another key example of customers being upsold to online comes in the form of delivery options. For example, if the threshold for free delivery is £30, and the customer’s current basket value stands at £25, they could be persuaded with a pop-up to spend just £5 more in order to receive free delivery. As long as retailers remain transparent about their delivery costs, it’s the consumer choice to buy more in order to benefit from incentives such as free delivery, or even discounts such as 10% off. Conclusion? Customers of today have a strong discount mentality, and therefore retailers must build their profit margin in. Upselling is one of the most popular techniques for retailers to achieve larger baskets and more full-price sales.…
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maximise stock availability
  • 2 May

Roundtable Discussion II: Personalisation and getting the message right

Here’s the second instalment of our Roundtable discussion, featuring our team’s insights and opinions on personalisation in retail. If you want to know exactly what personalisation is, check out our blog post. In the last Roundtable video, we discussed that striking the correct balance with customers in-store can be a tricky task for retailers, given that a face-to-face personalised experience is fairly new to consumers. In this video, we discuss how personalising online still requires sophistication regarding targeted marketing. What are the opportunities afforded by big data? Do attitudes to sharing information differ between generations (Gen X/ Gen Y/ Gen Z)? And what about the different profiles you might use online (work/domestic)? These topics and more are covered in our short discussion.   You can watch the full video on our YouTube channel here.…
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  • 11 Apr

Retail Assist Roundtable Discussion: Personalisation

When does “Up Close and Personal” become “Too Close and Freaky” during the retail customer experience? In the first of our Roundtable Discussions, we dig deeper into the personalisation concept, how far consumers are comfortable with sharing their information, and what retailers must be careful to consider. Watch the full video on our YouTube channel here, and look out for our next instalment soon.  …
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  • 14 Mar

Getting Personalisation Right

This week we wanted to share some interesting content we have seen on Twitter that caught our attention, from some of our favourite retail experts. “When Does Up Close and Personal Become Too Close and Freaky?” is a discussion point we have been interested in recently. Retailers can focus so much on trying to grab your attention and create a personalised customer experience, that they completely miss the point and instead annoy you. Whether it be with targeted ads on your Facebook page, to greeting you by your name in the store. How much personalisation is too much? We have noticed this topic crop up a number of times lately, for example, in a recent Retail Week discussion on store associates:   The Retail Week debates are often hosted by Katie Barker, Creative Lead at Retail Week. In the #storeassociate discussion, we can see the conflicting opinions of the personalised retail experience. Although @ManhAssocUK states an important point that 49% of consumers would interact more with store associates if the experience was personalised, Katie Barker and Georgia Leybourne show their concern of the difficulty of keeping a personalised experience ‘cool’ and not ‘creepy’. Miya Knights, Head of Global Technology Practice at Planet Retail, caught our eye with this Tweet where she seems to have experienced a bombardment of retailer ‘spam’ through email, suggesting that there is such thing as a step too far: too much direct Marketing, too much spam, too much “big data”.   We are eager to see how the concept of personalisation in retail (in-store and online) will evolve through technology such as cognitive computing. Yet we’re staying wary of how retailers could jeopardise the relationship with their customers by trying too hard to engage with them on a personal level. We will be releasing a video roundtable discussion, “When Does Up Close and Personal Become Too Close and Freaky” very soon. Make sure to keep an eye out for it on our Retail Technology Blog. In the meantime, drop your comments in the below box or tweet us, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Featured Tweets: Miya Knights, Head of Global Technology Practice at Planet Retail Katie Barker, Creative Lead at Retail Week @ManhAssocUK Georgia Leybourne, International Marketing Director at Manhattan Associates    …
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retail technology blog
  • 7 Mar

Sound Thinking for Customer Experience

Recently, we have been watching some insightful TED Talks – the international ideas exchange – and thinking about how general methodologies and thinking patterns can be applied to the retail experience. We’ve blogged before about the importance of atmospherics in-store, with some great insights from our business partners Inovretail. You can read it here. The environment of the store has a serious impact on your customers, and when at its optimum, retailers can experience more sales and a better store conversion rate. So, how can I increase dwell time in store, increasing the store’s conversion rate? Listen up, and raise sound in your consciousness. In his first TED Talk, Julian Treasure explained that sound affects people in four ways: Physiological – it affects hormone secretions, heart rate, and our brainwaves. Psychological – it changes our moods and our emotions. Cognitive – it changes how clearly and comfortably we think, and how productive we are when making decisions. Behavioural – it changes where we go and what we do. You move away from unpleasant sound, and gravitate towards pleasant sound. All of these factors are in play in a shopping environment. Most retail sound is inappropriately deployed and for the most part hostile, and these soundscapes can decrease sales by 28%, according to Treasure. Are you encouraging your customers to make comfortable decisions about purchasing products, by creating the best environment to do it in? Dwell time increases when shoppers are calmer, less stressed, not overwhelmed or fatigued: remember, we experience with five senses and all must be considered in the retail customer experience. You can watch the full TED Talk below:…
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