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IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

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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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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  • 21 Aug

Is visual search the future for fashion retail?

ASOS: tech pioneer Last week, ASOS launched visual search capabilities within its app. The move is a no-brainer for ASOS – 80% its UK web traffic comes from mobile devices. Currently available in the UK for iOS users, the app will be rolled out for Android, and internationally, in due course. Renowned for its investment in technology, ASOS is paving the way for a fashion-forward, customer centric way of searching for products. So, how does visual search work? The technology ASOS has developed matches items in photos with products directly from the ASOS catalogue. As the picture below shows, when uploading a photo to the app, it then displays instantly shoppable search results of visually similar, or complementary products. Their Head of Product & UX explains, “if you’re not quite sure what you want, or you’ve seen something that’s inspired you, visual search is designed to kick-start that discovery… It’s about getting as close as possible to giving you something that is visually similar.” Who are you wearing? The capability taps into ASOS target market – the tech savvy millennial – with absolute precision. The technology powers the social trend of “social media stalking”, be it strangers, celebrities, or influencers, by enabling the user to “get their look” without difficulty. It’s also instantaneous, removing the pain of scrolling through pages and pages of products. The most impressive feature is the tool’s ability to search the sheer amount of inventory held by ASOS. Given that it adds about 5,000 products every week, it certainly comes as a relief for the customer. Fashion inspiration can strike at any time – a stranger’s outfit on a bus, a post on Instagram, an advert on a Tube – and ASOS has recognised this. “Now, with just a couple of taps of their mobile device, ASOS customers can capture that fleeting moment and instantly search our 85,000 product lines to find the item that’s inspired them – or similar – at just the right time.” explains Andy Berks, digital product director at ASOS. It’s fast fashion in a nutshell. Voice vs visual There have been many articles predicting voice search as the next big thing for retail.  However, as commented before in our blog, we haven’t been convinced that voice search fits the bill for fashion retail. The ability to instantly order groceries or household basics is the most obvious use for voice-enabled retail. But in fashion retail, there is enjoyment to be had in browsing choices. Would you really ask your Amazon Alexa to order a black dress for an upcoming party in the same way you would a pint of milk? Of course, ASOS’ target market wouldn’t. That’s why visual search has paved a new way for using the technology as a simplifier for ordering in fashion retail. Less steps from the initial inspiration to completing the purchase is a win-win for the retailer and customer alike. For more retail technology insights, download our new whitepaper – What is Omnichannel Retailing? – available…
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  • 14 Aug

Video: Price Management

We’re excited to share with you our latest video in the Merret series, featuring our price management solution. Advanced pricing functionality has already enabled one of our customers to increase their weekly global sales by £400,000. Find out how in the video below: As ASOS’ Nick  Robertson notably said, “get your prices right and the rest follows” – this statement came after rolling out zonal pricing to improve the brand’s international performance. Zonal Pricing Global retailing often results in the requirement to introduce different pricing in different territories. Our solution manages advanced pricing across the globe in the following ways: Timed promotions When operating a promotion across different time zones, such as Black Friday, it can throw up operational challenges. How can Black Friday “begin” at the same time in all countries? Merret’s global infrastructure can set up time zones to trigger promotional offers in the correct timeslot. As shown in the video, a Black Friday 16:00pm start in the UK will be offset to ensure the US also experiences a 16:00pm start. Exchange and Price Point tables Retailers might not always want to use exchange rates to calculate international prices, due to their volatility. Merret has therefore been developed to operate with static international prices in a ‘Price Point’ table, which could mean that £50 always equates to €60 or $70, regardless of any fluctuations in exchange rate. The retailer can manually set price points. Over 20 leading global retail brands are benefiting from our award-winning solution, which is responsible for managing advanced pricing strategies across the globe, in order to maximise profitability, and ensure a consistent customer experience no matter which country you’re shopping in. If you want to see how Merret’s pricing functionality supports omnichannel retailing, check out our dedicated video here.   For more retail technology insights, download our new whitepaper – What is Omnichannel Retailing? – available as a free PDF.  …
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  • 7 Aug

Latest Omnichannel Whitepaper

If you’re looking for the latest insights into omnichannel retailing, including trends, stats, innovative approaches, and best practice, download our latest whitepaper here: “what is omnichannel retailing?” In a free PDF, we’re providing information to retail decision-makers on all things omnichannel. As retail industry experts, our intimate knowledge of omnichannel is benefiting 20 retail brands using our supply chain solution, Merret. Read how Harvey Nichols and Morrisons are benefiting after recent upgrade projects. Real time stock availability and stock accuracy are some of the biggest benefits cited by our users. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE PDF NOW In a feature-length download, we expand on the need for a single stock pool, why retailers should be using their stores to fulfil orders, and the benefits of omnichannel approaches to the product journey. Watch our omnichannel video below to find out more, or download the whitepaper here.  …
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  • 31 Jul

Why retailers must invest in tech

Despite headlines being dogged by Brexit woes, and consumer-confidence lows, the current underlying message begs more attention: businesses must invest in tech, or get left behind. Invest for the future Commenting to Retail Week, Sunday Times economics editor, David Smith, summed up the sentiment: “good companies invest when others don’t and seize the opportunity. If you wait until everything is right then it is probably too late.” The challenge for retailers is to invest in their products, people and systems, no matter what the external backdrop. And what better poster-child for technology investment news than Amazon? It’s been a busy week for Amazon UK, as they unveiled shiny new 600,000 sq ft headquarters in Shoreditch, which will house its research and development teams. As part of Amazon’s push to expand its UK workforce, the company plans to double its technology team in London from 450 to 900 by the end of 2017. Since 2010, Amazon has invested £6.4bn into research in the UK. In line with the “London is Open” message, this development completely nullifies the impact of Brexit on business’ ability to secure top tech talent in the UK. Innovating for the customer Whilst new Amazon staff in Shoreditch will be developing its Prime video service, in other areas, there have been big leaps in AI with Alexa innovation. If you have one of Amazon’s voice activated personal assistant devices, you’ll understand the frustrations of holding a “normal” conversation with Alexa: attempting to go beyond a weather update, or calling for the lights to be switched off, is currently asking for frustration. However, Amazon says that rapid progress is being made behind the scenes.   As well as updates to Amazon Echo’s skill set – 37 times more than Google’s – the Amazon Echo family recently introduced two new models. One has a built-in screen, the other – still in test mode – is designed with two cameras to make recommendations about what you should wear, based on the user modelling outfit choices in front of the device. Amazon’s UK boss, Dave Limp, commented to the BBC: “The ability to have a machine-learning algorithm distinguish through Style Check which outfit is better to wear at that particular moment, is just mind-boggling. It’s informed by human beings but the algorithms are coming along quite nicely – I’m very optimistic that this is a problem that can be completely solved by machine learning. “The thing I am sure of is that this time next year she will be significantly more intelligent than she is now, and that sometime in the future we will hit our goal of reinventing the Star Trek computer.” Another example in the fashion retail sphere is ASOS. It’s no coincidence that the pureplay etailer’s continued growing sales and profits come after launching more than 300 tech releases in the last quarter alone. What to take from this? Albeit tongue in cheek, Amazon’s goal to create a Star Trek supercomputer is pretty lofty. But, why not? Both Amazon…
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retail technology blog
  • 24 Jul

3 Amazon Developments you might have missed

The last week has been big for Amazon. Here are 3 tech developments you might have missed in our retail technology blog 1. Amazon Spark: shoppable stories for product discovery Spark, released last week, is currently only available for Prime US customers. It’s a shoppable social feed, functioning with the ecommerce style capabilities of Pinterest, combined with the picture-feed face of Instagram (Amazon declined to comment on the similarity). On signing in, Amazon asks you to select 5 categories that you’re interested in, curating a feed of content that includes relevant products for you as a user. Users can “like” images with a smile. Non-Prime users may still use the feature, but they are not able to post or comment. As the picture displays below, product links are visible when clicking on the photo, taking the user to the actual items for sale on Amazon. In a nod to Amazon enthusiasts, you can actually buy Jeff Bezos’ full outfit: You too can buy Jeff Bezos’ bodywarmer jacket, t-shirt, and jeans. In a more realistic example, if you’re scrolling the feed and spot a holiday image with a beach towel that you like, you can tap on the towel to see if it’s linked to the product page on Amazon. This feature makes Amazon Spark different to other social shopping channels, due to the seamless ability to purchase. As Amazon keeps growing, it’s clearly looking to be more than a trusted banner for convenience and price. Amazon Spark, despite its current beta feel, is an experiment in making Amazon shopping a social experience, too. 2. Amazon Meal Kits: another attempt to crack the grocery market Amazon has been trying to crack foodies for a while now. First of all, we had initiatives such as the Amazon Fresh grocery service in the US, then news of the Amazon Go tech-savvy grocery stores, where you can walk out with your sandwich in the knowledge that payment has already been taken care of. Last but not least, we had Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. Rumours circulating last week have been confirmed: Amazon now sells pre-packaged meal kits in the US. It has similarities to subscription services such as Hello Fresh which is a popular “recipe-discovery” meal delivery service in the UK. Again, as with the Spark example, Amazon has created a platform with similarities to existing experiences, to make it a relevant one stop omnichannel shop. 3. Amazon Prime Day: bigger than ever, but should not eclipse all retailers Taking place on the 11th July, Amazon celebrated its most successful 30-hour Prime Day to date, with sales growing 60% globally compared with last year’s figures. Amazon also claimed that its Prime Day sales bonanza resulted in the largest single day of sales ever recorded, overtaking Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The top-selling item in the UK was the Amazon Echo Dot interactive speaker. With July being a particularly sluggish time for retailers, Amazon once again used Prime Day as a…
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  • 17 Jul

Video: Auto Replenishment System

A retailer’s replenishment system is one of the most powerful engines for ensuring the correct levels of stock are in the right place, at the right time, for optimum sales performance. With the right replenishment software, not only are you improving margin and cost-to-serve the customer, but customer satisfaction is further increased with better omnichannel stock availability. We’ve just launched our latest Merret video, highlighting the key benefits of our auto replenishment system. Over 20 leading global retail brands are benefiting from our award-winning solution, which is responsible for the dynamic movement of stock between their warehouses and stores. Replenishment algorithms within Merret are user defined, allowing businesses to have dynamic control over their operations, using 100% stock visibility and critical data analysis to make better decisions on inventory management and forecasting. This means that retailers are achieving more full price orders and maximising their stock turns: margin is made every time the stock in the warehouse is sold or “turned around”. Our auto replenishment system maintains optimum inventory levels on all products using 3 types of store replenishment, which can be manually selected/de-selected: Ideal replenishment (setting min/max levels to prevent under/over stocking). Sales performance is tracked and ideal stock levels replenished. Changes to ideal stock can also be forecast and prior to specific activity e.g. promotional events, to avoid selling out. Replenishment to planned cover Improved stock and sales insight allows inventory forecasting and planning stock cover/safety. ‘n for 1’ For continuity or seasonal items, this rule keeps stock levels at their optimum, whether this be fixed, increasing, or decreasing.  Merret also helps retailers avoid out-of-stock scenarios by using a combination of stock rationing in the instance of low/zero stock, replenishing based on rules that ensure it is assigned to the store where it can be best sold.  Stock substitution can also be activated to provide relevant substitutes to continuity products. Read more about the benefits of our auto replenishment system on its dedicated webpage, here. If you want to see how Merret’s replenishment system supports omnichannel retailing check out our dedicated video here.…
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