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IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

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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amazon key
  • 30 Oct

Amazon Key: do you trust your personal assistant?

Smart home technology: Amazon Key You’ve given your personal assistant a place in your home. But would you give it the keys? Last week, Amazon announced a new product in its bid to take over the home with smart technology. Amazon Key is a new smart lock and security camera system. It permits users remote control, to allow couriers to unlock their front door to place orders inside the home. Users can choose to watch the delivery live in real-time, or receive a short video after the drop-off for confidence that the courier has completed the delivery with integrity. Acting, as always, in the name of customer convenience, Amazon is making it simpler than ever to order products for home delivery. Resolving the issue of being out of the house when a home delivery arrives, and removing the need to visit a click-and-collect locker or location, the customer can be sure that their order will be delivered successfully without the need to lift a finger. The Verge has a great video of Amazon Key in action here. Can customers trust AI? Slightly uncomfortable? You’re not alone. One analyst said that Amazon would need to convince consumers that the technology was completely secure if they were to use it as remote permission for a stranger to deliver orders inside their own four walls. There have also been concerns raised over the Cloud Cam, which records continually whilst inside your home.  If Amazon is as ‘unstoppable’ as the market thinks it is, it wouldn’t take much for a security breach to damage the whole operation – whether that takes the form of the smart lock being hacked, or the courier losing integrity when inside the home. But, as Amazon has quickly pushed its range of personal assistants into our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms, the boom of AI is simply undeniable, along with the surprising level of convenience it offers. We are becoming more accustomed to having personal assistants carrying out our “thinking and doing” processes, just as smartphone usage has become second nature. The growth of artificial intelligence The much-quoted Gartner statistic could not be more relevant here: by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human.  Amazon Alexa can advise you in the kitchen with a recipe, whilst turning up your favourite music, and turning the heating down. But we are now trusting a technology device to unlock your front door with a digital key, which crosses both a symbolic and very physical threshold. What will be next from the world’s largest online retailer? Post your comments below.  …
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Black Friday 2017
  • 23 Oct

Black Friday 2017 Survey

Black Friday 2017: all you need to know When is Black Friday 2017? This year, Black Friday 2017 falls on Friday 24th November. We expect the discounting event to continue over the weekend, with Cyber Monday on 27th November, and stretching over the rest of the week. Last year, £1.23bn was spent online on Black Friday alone, making it the UK’s first billion pound shopping day. Spanning the whole week, from Monday 21st November to Monday 28th November in 2016, online sales rose to an estimated £6.5bn in the UK. But how many people will shop on Black Friday this year, taking place in just 5 weeks’ time? The results may surprise you, as the “death of Black Friday” has begun to dominate the retail headlines, with retailers reluctant to participate in order to protect their margins. As in previous years, check out our Black Friday 2017 research in our infographic below. Black Friday 2017 infographic In order to analyse consumer sentiment towards Black Friday trading, this year 400 respondents took our Black Friday survey, powered by digital insights company Toluna. See our full findings in the below Black Friday 2017 infographic. You can view our Black Friday 2016 survey results here. For the first time ever, more consumers plan to avoid Black Friday this year than those who are planning to participate. With just under half of respondents planning to buy something on Black Friday (49%), this is significantly lower than the same percentage as in 2016. Of course, this does not account for the impulse buyers that could take unexpected advantage of deals over the sale period. However, many analysts have pointed towards the fact consumers have become accustomed to an ongoing discounting calendar throughout the year. Summer and autumn in particular have been stunted by mid-season sales. If sales and discounts are less of a “big deal”, and just part of the retail fabric, it’s understandable why the consumer mindset has shifted in the same way as Black Friday becomes “just another sale day”. Another reason for the declining popularity of Black Friday can be understood from consumers’ strong disdain for Black Friday “hype” – over a third of respondents (33%) dislike Black Friday for this reason. An online-only affair 79% of respondents are set to be online Black Friday shoppers, which is a small increase on 77% in 2016. The shift to online in recent years can be tracked through our research displayed in the infographic. The majority of Black Friday spend in 2016 was via online channels, rising 12% year on year. Ensuring that you have extra capacity in place is critical for omnichannel retailers and pureplay etailers alike, as a surge in website traffic can cause fatal outages for those who are unprepared. As well as completing special data capacity increase projects for peak trading, Retail Assist’s 24×7 operations monitoring and support is facilitating greater systems uptime, which is critical for any brand over Black Friday. Priming your retail operations for peak trading Long…
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global data exchange solution
  • 16 Oct

Benefits Of Using Data Management Software

Best practice data management When dealing with large amounts of data, many businesses will look no further than keeping manual spreadsheets; a method they have been using for many years, and consider necessary. Going beyond this can, however, bring huge benefits, especially within the retail sector. Data Management Software and Data Management Systems (DMS) use the Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) process to store the information collected by a business, and can produce huge rises in levels of accuracy and efficiency, proving to be incredibly valuable. Using systems to ensure a fully automated, timely and accurate approach to managing critical business information can bring many advantages, and create an operation that will allow for rapid analysis of data and subsequent improved decision making when needed. Unification of global data As retailers increasingly look beyond a local presence to national and international operation, unifying data and ensuring an approach that is joined up and connected is vital. Franchising and concessions have meant that data is being collected in many different locations, and inevitably in many different styles and formats. Problems can be caused by this lack of consistency, and bringing this data together in a uniformed and standardised manner can be both costly and time consuming. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) between a retailer’s various sites and locations is necessary, and using data management software this becomes an automated process rather than a manual one. Sales and pricing data can be consolidated for use in one simple format, available for analysis as the businesses requires. Wraparound support A key benefit of using data management software is the inclusion of a full wraparound support package, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As data transfer takes place, should any issues arise around missing files or a system failure, having reliable and dependable support available at any point offers both reassurance and total security. Any problems can be dealt with as they occur, and troubleshooting is possible at any point it may be needed. Back up and disaster recovery also forms part of a wraparound package, something which means businesses do not have to worry about relying on in-house teams to deal with critical issues. Storage options As different retail operations prefer to work in different ways, DMS options reflect this. Both cloud and server based storage are available to suit the needs of the business. The cloud based option is not costly to set up, and by its very nature contains no expensive hardware or equipment. Server based storage is also available at Retail Assist’s around-the-clock data centre, which also offers full operations support. Retail specific data requirements Just as preferences around storage vary from business to business, so do the exact types of data. Various retail organisations value forms of data that others choose not to keep, something that data management software can accommodate. The most popular areas that are stored are based around sales figures as well as pricing, all of which are important for monitoring financial performance. Other retail…
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mobile device management
  • 9 Oct

Benefits of Mobile Device Management

Top tips for in-store mobile device management Digitally enabled stores Opening stores enabled with more technology is a common retail strategy to enhance omnichannel customer experience and increase basket value. Mobile devices such as tablets, iPads, iPods and touchscreens are now indispensable features of in-store retailing. However, there is a lot to consider when growing your technology infrastructure that isn’t given enough attention, such as device management. If you are creating a digitally enabled environment, confirm that the support is in place to minimise downtime, and ensure you get the most from your new devices. It’s no use investing in a digitised store if its technical performance is not prioritised, which can limit the positive results of technology investments. Mobile device management software ensures that your devices are performing at their optimum, benefiting your store associates to deliver the best customer experience. Performance optimisation Our project management team have implemented VMware AirWatch for a number of our customers, allowing them to experience the benefits of remote device management. Every endpoint device and end-user is supported from a single management console. It is typically used to centrally control the applications and profiles installed on mobile devices, to ensure the estate remains consistent.  Central device management systems can deploy app and device updates remotely, which means devices can perform at their optimum, without the need for store staff intervention. AirWatch can provide further benefits for troubleshooting. Should a store call our Help Desk to log an issue with their mobile device, AirWatch displays for example when that device was last online, its network settings, etc. This supports the troubleshooting process, to provide a faster resolution. Empowering the store associate Mobile devices in-store have become an irreplaceable aid for store associates in today’s omnichannel retail world. Firstly, mobile stock management devices, such as our Tablet Inventory solution, offer real-time visibility of stock that is essential for satisfying customer demand. Should the item be unavailable in store, the store associate can check stock levels to ascertain the most relevant method of fulfilment, such as shipping the item from another store. Current strategies such as ship-from-store are already helping our customers increase sales by 20%, and further improvements to stock visibility offers retailers the potential for even greater profitability. Look-book information and cross-selling suggestions on tablet devices can also help store associates to increase basket size and provide optimised customer service. Our IT Help Desk offers 24 x 7 x 365 global IT support in 10 languages for your technology – be it hardware or software. Our retail project management services can also manage the configuration and implementation of any new technology devices across your global estate.…
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biometric payments
  • 2 Oct

Top 3 Takeaways: Restaurant Tech Live 2017

What’s the future of restaurant technology? Last week we attended Restaurant Tech Live and Takeaway & Restaurant Innovation at the ExCeL exhibition centre, London. Both exhibitions offered rich insight into the innovations and concepts transforming the restaurant and hospitality industry. In this feature blog, we share our top 3 takeaways from the Show. Top priorities are ease and speed The key theme emerging from the Expo seminars, and the exhibitors themselves, was the increasing importance of ease and speed within the restaurant customer journey. Neil Manhas, MD of Pizza Hut UK and Yum brands, delivered an engaging keynote on how Pizza Hut’s growth has been achieved by transforming their guest experience. Retail Assist is proud to support this, as our Help Desk supports Pizza Hut’s restaurant estate with 24 x 7 IT Support services. Neil shared that 75% of Pizza Hut’s sales now come through digital channels, thanks to an acute focus on improving the online user experience. Since overhauling online ordering UX, Pizza Hut’s customers experience a 61% faster checkout requiring 50% less clicks – showcasing the importance of ease of journey, and speed of order. With continuous improvement embedded into their company culture, every day there are 50 different Pizza Hut website releases with ongoing testing. Emphasising the importance of omnichannel experience, Neil concluded that “there is little point having great digital experience if the rest of the journey isn’t solid”. This also goes for the physical restaurant experience. Statistics shared at the Expo stated that the number one frustration in restaurants is waiting times. With an average of 20 minutes to order/get the bill, this must be addressed in order to improve the customer experience. This also means that businesses can’t afford for their IT and technology systems to go down. The latest frontier in biometric payment technology By 2020, it is expected that more than $5.6 trillion in payments will be secured by biometric technology. Apple’s latest generation of iPhones have already shown signs of the shift towards biometrics, with the iPhone X using Face ID for security functions instead of the traditional fingerprint. Fingopay, developed by Sthaler, is the world’s earliest customer identification technology powered by Vein ID biometrics. It has launched with payment providers Visa and Worldpay. So how does biometric payment work? Your vein pattern within your finger is completely unique, and remains the same during your lifetime. Unlike fingerprints, it can’t be damaged, stolen or faked. Fingopay Vein ID reads the pattern by using infrared light, and then converts this scan into a digital ID key. Customers’ bank details are then stored with payment provider Worldpay, in the same way you can store your card details when shopping online. After taking the mainstream media by storm last week (you can read a feature here from the Telegraph, featuring a video of the technology in action), we were keen to see the technology in action at Restaurant Tech Live. And it really didn’t disappoint – with the entire payment process taking just 3…
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what is a WSSI
  • 25 Sep

What is a WSSI

What is a WSSI? Breaking down retail terminology, this blog will explore the benefits of a WSSI: a standard merchandising reporting tool that plays a critical role in the day-to-day running of a retail business. WSSI stands for weekly sales, stock and intake data. As an application, it maximises sales by ensuring that stock levels are effectively controlled and optimised. A WSSI allows retailers to manage their inventory based on sales forecasting, actual sales made, and stock information. This helps the retailer determine how much stock is required and when, by generating what is known as Open to Buy. By measuring trading conditions and their impact on stock and sales, the WSSI can support accurate forecasting, and keep markdowns to a minimum. A standard WSSI will consist of sales, stock, purchase order data and more, and can be used in any order or combination that the user requires. Data is then divided into weeks, with each week displayed as a row or column of data. What to look for in a WSSI? For omnichannel retailers, it’s essential to use a WSSI that allows planning and trading at any level of your product hierarchy. It’s also beneficial if each level can operate independently of one another, with the ability to “roll up” lower levels of the hierarchy to see bigger picture. Easy analysis Whilst dealing with very complex information, one of the best attributes of any WSSI is powerful, rich functionality, with a simple, easy user interface. Ensure that “dimensions” can be dragged and dropped in any number or sequence, into and out of the display. Any system used should have a fully integrated export to Microsoft Excel – a “must have” for merchandisers.  This formats the data accordingly, and shows all the row labels and column headings automatically. Sales should further be automatically downloaded, and all plans updated without any need for IT intervention or user action. Can you also plan by different criteria? Planning by Seasonality, by Channel, or Key Lines, are all benefits of an effective WSSI. User adoption With any new system, it should be flexible and intuitive enough to accommodate varying data displays, whilst also being simple enough to adopt, administer, and implement. Offering a customisable view, once a user has defined a way of viewing the data, the same view can be adopted by other users. Users should have the ability to create as many WSSI templates as required, which can be for specific attributes, or different countries, for example. Powerful decision making Powered by Decision Systems, their industry leading Merchandise Planner tool includes Retail Value (Incl & Excl VAT), Cost, Units, Margin Value and Margin % for every data element, (e.g. sales, stock etc.), without the need to specify the necessary calculation or have separate data elements for each. Together with the ability to include Channel and Store plans as well as a traditional Product WSSI, this gives a more accurate, complete picture of performance from which better business decisions can be made for…
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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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