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IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

Blog Archive

  • 5 Nov 2012
Shopping in the 1970s vs Retail Today: Technological Advances
Back in March, blogger Ellie interviewed her Mum, Val, regarding the difference between shopping in the 1970’s and today. One of the key points we picked up on was, as Val mentioned, that the nearest a shopper had to online purchasing at that time was “buying clothes from catalogues”. With industry news such as Retail Week reporting ever more technological advances implemented within the retail industry, and in many cases instigated by our clients, we thought it was time to revisit the subject, so here are some of the key things we have picked up on that highlight how drastically retail has changed since Val’s days of browsing through catalogues: Aurora Fashions is adopting a 60-minute delivery window service as of next year, offering shoppers the chance to choose when their items are delivered instead of waiting around. This follows the introduction of in-store iPads as mobile point-of-sale devices, something that didn’t even exist in the 70’s, when shoppers would have had to buy from a fixed till. Online retailer ASOS has launched a live styling chat service that allows you to ask a personal stylist for advice on purchases. ‘Live Style Advice’ gives shoppers the chance to ask questions and receive an instant response, and even gives them the chance to have a personal shopper pick out their clothes for them. Once again this differs greatly to the way questions were asked 40 years ago, when response (excluding face to face discussion, of course) was anything but instant. Warehouse have launched a virtual fitting room on a selection of their dress range. The service allows shoppers to choose their exact measurements and even upload a picture of their face to allow them the chance to ‘try on’ clothes from the comfort of their own home. If you had told your Mum you’d be doing that 40 years ago, our guess is that she probably wouldn’t have believed you. There are many other advances in retail year on year, but these are the ones that are exciting us right now. With everything moving so quickly we can’t help wondering what retail will be doing in another 40 years! What do you think to these updates in technology? Can you remember a time before online shopping? To learn more about how we work within the retail industry visit the Retail Assist website.…
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  • 29 Oct 2012
Halloween at Retail Assist
As it’s Halloween this week we plan on taking advantage of the latest scary films on offer, and thought we would dedicate our blog post to our client, Vue Cinema’s, and share what they have showing on the big night. After a lot of thought, our top picks for the day are: Paranormal Activity 4 Continuing on from the second movie (but incorporating themes from the third –a prequel) Paranormal Activity 4 follows Katie, a possessed character last seen mercilessly killing her boyfriend, sister and brother in law, and kidnapping her nephew, Hunter. Katie’s whereabouts were unknown, until now. With new characters and a new family to focus on, Paranormal Activity 4 is just as scary as it’s predecessors and, in the words of Vue cinema, “is set to freak out a whole new generation of movie-goers.” Sinister Another spooky movie based on ‘found footage,’ Sinister continues in the vein of such horrors as Paranormal Activity and Insidious (having been produced by the same person.) The story follows crime writer Ellison as he is forced to downgrade his family home and move into a house where the previous tenants were found hanged. Vue says: “Finding old films in the attic, it starts to look like the killings weren’t isolated incidents. Is there a serial killer at work or are the deaths the result of paranormal activity which seems to be targeted at children?” Hotel Transylvania Last but not least, if you like the idea of a horror theme but don’t want to be scared out of your wits, animated comedy ‘Hotel Transylvania’ could be the perfect outing for you this Halloween. With a ‘U’ rating making this one good for an evening with the kids, Hotel Transylvania is set in a world of vampires and monsters, and focuses on vamp Dad Dracula trying to protect his daughter, Mavis, from humans by building a non-human only resort. However, according to Vue, “a human lad called Jonathan somehow infiltrates security and falls in love with Mavis. Can he convince Drac he’s a suitable boyfriend for Mavis or will Hotel Transylvania prove to be his final resting place?” What are your plans this Halloween? To find out more about our work with Vue, and how we support them on our 24/7 help desk, feel free to request a case study.…
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  • 22 Oct 2012
Will You Wear It Pink?
1. Mint Velvet Blossom Pink Silk Front Tee – £55 . 2. White Stuff Primrose Pumps – £17 3. Cambridge Satchel at Paperchase – £115 . 4. Coast Sairah Dress – £135 5. Rimmel London Princess Pink at ASOS – £2.99 1. Toywatch at Harvey Nichols – £125 . 2. Nike Elite Vintage Trainers at ASOS – £57 3. Paul Smith Jeans at Selfridges – £115 . 4. Reiss Explorer – £69 This Friday marks the tenth year of ‘Wear It Pink’, a charity day in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness, and we’re looking forward to seeing some colour around the office. (We are also secretly hoping that someone takes this years ‘be a superhero’ slogan literally, and comes in dressed as an off colour Batman, but that’s a story for another day.) Wear It Pink is one of the many charity events supported by the retail industry, with Coast, one of our clients, offering the cause 10% of their sales on specially selected items. In case you were stuck on what to wear, we’ve put together some of favourites pieces from our clients collections above – you can thank us later, or better yet, tweet us a picture of your pink outfit to @RetailAssist. Last year Wear It Pink raised a massive £2.2 million for Breast Cancer Awareness, bringing the 9 year total to £22 million. The charity hopes to reach £25 million this year, and all they want you to do is wear something pink, and donate £2. We look forward to sharing and seeing some of the photos from the day, as well as raising funds for a worthy cause. Follow my blog with Bloglovin…
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  • 15 Oct 2012
Interview with Cath Kidston
You may have heard about the exciting news regarding our latest client to join us, Cath Kidston.  We are thrilled about this, particularly some of the females in the office.  We have a number of Cath Kidston fans here alongside our mum’s of course!  We are all proud to say we are providing them with our support at Retail Assist. For those of you who somehow may not have seen Cath Kidston products, take a look at the pictures above to give you an idea of the original and vintage inspired prints which depicts their brand. We decided to have a chat with Mike Padfield, the IT Director from Cath Kidston, about their requirements and the reasons they came to Retail Assist.  Mike could you give us some background on the recent partnership. Mike: This year Cath Kidston have opened seven new UK stores including Bournemouth, Chester, Nottingham and Meadowhall and we have a further three UK stores scheduled to open this autumn, in addition to our international growth. The location of our outlets in airport and train stations and a couple of shopping centers has also increased our retail trading hours, and so we wanted to ensure that shop staff could continue to receive the high levels of support that they are used to. Our internal IT team were busy launching the new UK and international stores, and so we needed a partner who would provide us with a help desk service to Cath Kidston stores between 6am and 10pm, 7 days a week. Alex: Mike, so what happens if there are IT issues occurring that your internal IT team want to get access to? Mike:  The Retail Assist call management software gives us real time access to everything.  Therefore, we’ve got complete visibility of any IT issues across the expanding store estate. Alex: What happens is something goes wrong with the hardware? Mike: We are now working with a third party supplier, Retail Response, but Retail Assist are responsible for the escalation of issues to them.  Therefore, we can leave everything to Retail Assist to manage. Alex: Earlier you mentioned your UK growth, but I understand you are growing internationally too.  What support do you require there? Mike: Yes, we currently have overseas in partners in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Korea and we are about to open two new concessions in Spain.   We needed something in place to enable us to exchange data between our Head Office in London and the partners overseas.  We decided to use Retail Assist’s data exchange solution Ra-X.  I knew this solution worked well, and had previously used it whilst in my previous roles at White Stuff, and Aurora Fashions.  It’s used by lots of other retailers too, to send and receive product, price, promotion and sales data from store concessions or international locations back to their central operations.  The good thing is the Ra-X solution is easy to use, it’s secure and will grow with us as we expand and…
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  • 8 Oct 2012
International Retail
Alex: With many UK retail brands now performing well overseas we decided to chat with Nigel Illingworth our CEO of Merret at Retail Assist about his views on Internationalisation, along with his recommendations to consider when making decisions to trade in multiple countries. Nigel, we’ve recently seen and heard lots of news about UK retailers expanding to the likes of the USA, China and the Far East.  As well as gaining bricks and mortar stores overseas, retailers are also developing trading partner relationships, and providing the localisation of language on their website.  At what point do you think retailers need to make the decision to set up international operations? Nigel: This is dependent on the amount of trade they are gaining from that country at the current time.  Once trade reaches a threshold value, then decisions need to be taken about whether an international operation would be of value, over the current distribution from UK.  As a certain sales volume has been achieved this becomes the tipping point to start to weigh up international trading costs. It also depends on the type and volume of product they are selling. Many branded retailers are starting to see a real boom.  There is a real desire for British designs and fashion in these emerging overseas markets. In some cases this is almost taken to quasi-religious proportions and therefore the retailer needs to maximise on this as soon as possible. Where the product branding strengths are less obvious there are still opportunities to grow market share quickly and economically where the market is saturated in the UK and the company already has a quality web presence with associated fulfilment processes. Alex: I’m guessing it’s not just a case of the costs involved but the legalities and red tape which surrounds much of the international trading zones.  Can you give me some examples of these areas you have experienced with clients? Nigel: There are lots of regulations around export including the requirement to supply CN22/23 export documentation, which includes product weights and compositions with the correct language variants.  For example what is named Viscose in the UK, is known as Raylon in the USA. Retailers also need to allow the customer to tender in numerous currencies, whilst also deciding how to facilitate true differential pricing to maximise market opportunity.   The ‘Actual Price’ in a market should be treated separately from ‘Tendered Currency’. Another consideration is the VAT implications of trading overseas in relation to the volume of rules and regulation related to the trading thresholds and rates. Retailers have to decide how to charge for delivery and returns, and consider how to facilitate delivery and returns in countries that are distant and have basic postal/carrier services. Alex:  There is also the issue of language barriers. How have you seen retailers overcome some of these hurdles, and what have you seen retailers achieve to date? Nigel:  Many retailers have localised their websites.  There are of course lots of issues around labelling and legal requirements, all…
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  • 1 Oct 2012
Vue Entertainment outsources IT Support & Service Management to Retail Assist
Vue Entertainment , one of the UK’s premier cinema chains, has outsourced the management of user support and technical service management in its head office and across its 69-strong cinema estate to Retail Assist. It is a milestone for Retail Assist, marking the company’s entry into the leisure sector. Vue employs 3,000 staff, including 100 at its head office. The objective was to establish a single point of contact across the business for everything IT related, and to formalise all elements of service management by means of structured processes and procedures. Observes Vue Entertainment’s IT Director, Roland Jones: “This new partnership with Retail Assist means our staff will no longer need to think about who they need to call for what. With just one team owning all calls, we can look forward to faster problem resolution and better communication.” Prior to engaging the services of Retail Assist, Vue used a third party for 1st-line user support of its Vista software solution whilst support for other IT systems was provided inhouse. Support services needed to be streamlined, both to reflect Vue’s increased reliance upon IT and to optimise the cost-effectiveness of the operation. The decision was made to put both elements of service management out to tender; a process from which Retail Assist emerged as winner. “We couldn’t help but be impressed by Retail Assist’s Help Desk. They are used to supporting some of the UK’s largest retail businesses,” continues Roland Jones. “We also liked their professionalism, energy and enthusiasm.” Retail Assist pulled out all the stops to get the new service up and running speedily. It achieved this in just 5 weeks after securing the contract, well in time to support Vue’s peak trading over the Christmas holiday period. Retail Assist is providing a Retail Service Desk service between 9am and 12am, 364 days a year, covering 1st-line support and incident management. It is also delivering a full IT service management function encompassing problems, service levels and knowledge, together with service asset and configuration management. Retail Assist is the channel for all IT support across the Vue business, and is also assisting in the day-to-day management of third-party suppliers and their service level agreements. Retail Assist owns all support calls until resolution. Using its specialist Retail Service Desk technology, it provides full visibility of support calls, manages required changes and liaises with internal or external teams providing 2nd-line and 3rd-line support for specific hardware, software and services. Retail Assist’s Managed Services Director, Dan Smith, carries ultimate accountability for the success of the new relationship. Excited to see the company move into the leisure sector for the first time, he states: “The critical success factors of this new relationship will be to use our experience to drive down call volumes and fix as many problems as possible at 1st-line. We need to provide Vue with management information that will enable it to more easily manage IT operations across a large and geographically diverse business.”…
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  • 1 Oct 2012
Retail Insight from the Retail Systems Multichannel Conference
Last week we attended the Retail Systems Multichannel Conference. I wanted to share some of the beneficial points that were raised for retailers. Firstly the conference opened with the message that the new retail driver is convenience over location. Customers want something which fits in to their own lives and spending habits.  The ability to buy or access the store though which ever method they prefer is essential as the store could be located within their pocket on their smartphone. In terms of click and collect retailers are seeing a sharp up take in this service amongst customers. John Lewis have seen a 30% increase in click and collect orders. This is growing at twice the rate of delivery to home. Marks and Spencers are experiencing a 40% increase in orders via click and collect. At the conference we then heard from Facebook, in which they stated they now have 27 million monthly active users. They claim that every 1 in 5 internet minutes is spent on Facebook. With this in mind Facebook are now working much more closely with retailers to develop tailored solutions. One of the features is ‘Facebook exchange’, if a potential customer has abandoned their cart on the web, then the cookie information will store this and then target that customer on Facebook with a personalised ad which then features in that same individuals news feed. This could be seen as intrusive and slightly ‘Big Brother’, but could potentially offer retailers a great opportunity to increase conversions. ‘Custom Audiences’ is another feature launched by Facebook. Data is matched from the retailers database to Facebook’s own data by email, or name. The retailer then has the option of targeting via Facebook once they have funelled the data to produce relevant and targetted lists. ‘Facebook Offers’ was another way that retailers are using the offer concept to drive sales. When individuals claim the retailer offer, this then features in all of their friends news feeds, and therefore is gaining wider reach for subsequent consumers to claim the deal. Google also presented at the day, who stated that 1 in 10 sales are now online. They also suggested that the purchasing decision is taking 7 times longer because of the research element now involved. An interesting development by Google on the day for me was that of indoor maps. This will enable a customer to navigate a store whilst inside using the Google map functionality. We have all heard lots about QR codes in recent times. Schuh shared their experiences of QR codes in store. Whilst Schuh have displayed QR codes in the store for customer to scan to find out about products etc people just weren’t scanning them. The interesting observation was that people are now starting to use these lots more, but when they are used on customer receipts to instead fill out reviews on their shopping experience. From this we could assume that QR codes are better when used for certain types of activity. One of…
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  • 24 Sep 2012
The Retail Assist Client Day
Last week we held our client event at the very impressive Skyloft in Millbank Tower, London.  We invited both our Managed Services and Merret clients with the aim to provide insight, innovations and updates, and so I wanted to share some of the interesting highlights from the day. After taking in the very impressive view from the 28th floor we were ready to kick off the day with Alan Morris, Retail Assist’s Executive Chairman setting the scene.  He talked about change.  Retail Assist exists because of change and the changes that retailers face.  The ever growing consumer demands impact on the solutions we build, implement, and support for retail.  Therefore the day was about ensuring we embrace the changes ahead and try and identify what some of these changes might be. We then heard from Professor Joshua Bamfield from the Centre for Retail Research, who shared with us the position of the UK economy and retail trends.  Some of the insight from this revealed that as we all know customers spending habits are changing.  They are now more frugal with their spending patterns, which therefore impacts on retailers.  Instead of people purchasing a dress in three different sizes to try on knowing they would take two back, customers are now just purchasing the one dress.  Another thought was that of ‘show-rooming’, and the concept proposed that some bricks and mortar stores are now becoming a showroom for purchases then made on Amazon after research had been done in the store. Then came Hash Ladha, Deputy MD of Oasis.  Hash shared a very interesting concept, Generation X and Generation Y.  For those of you who haven’t heard about this, essentially you are in Generation Y if you were born after 1980, and obviously Generation X if before this year.  At this point I would like to add I am part of Generation Y….just!  Generation Y are very different to X, and are always connected via their smart device, they are in an always on world.  They are less loyal, value the views of the friends, and like to share option and thoughts.  Generation Y are Oasis’ target market and therefore, to understand the mind set of this market segment Oasis decided to set up a shadow board made up of Generation Y members. This is to understand the behaviour, views, opinions and ideas from the Generation Y shadow board, to ensure the company understands the market which they are trying to target.  This was a very interesting way of understanding your market segment and one which Hash said has helped them to better serve their target customers. Borys Krywyj our Head of Sales then provided us with an update for Ra-X, our data polling solution built for retailers.  Borys demonstrated how retailers are using this solution to transfer sales data globally, with concessions, partners, and to take on other challenges such as the polling of payroll, website sales and more. After a tasty lunch clients then split into the Merret or…
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  • 17 Sep 2012
7 Top Retail Supply Chain Solution Requirements
The UK scene has changed dramatically over the past few years; with retailers keen to invest in new IT systems and omni-channel functionality, yet having to balance these developments with the tightened budgets. Below are some of the top requirements of retailers when looking to replace their supply chain solutions: Return on Investment Historically retailers highlighted this when looking for new solutions, but in some circumstances did not clearly identify what their return on investment (ROI) would be or how it could be achieved. For retailers today it is vital to gain commercial advantage from implementing a product. Quality of Delivery Retailers always want solutions delivered as quickly as possible because that’s the way their business works. However it’s therefore important that any software delivered is not only timely in the first instance, but also maintains certain standards of design and delivery accuracy because this means that subsequent implementation timetables can be adhered to and costs are contained. Being part of a Community Packaged solutions are key to being part of a community. Retailers are looking for positive roadmaps where they don’t feel that they are developing 100% of the product themselves. This means that they don’t bare the sole burden of cost for functional business driven changes being developed within the system. Ease of Use As IT systems develop, there is a tendency for them to become more and more complicated. There is a balance between providing rich functionality and actually losing the intended audience. Processes should appear simple to the end user, whilst maintaining required levels of complexity ‘under the covers’. Omni-channel Capability Underpinning the ability to make an order via the web are some important supply chain processes; the correct IT systems can ensure that stock is collected from as few locations as possible. Alternatively, systems can ensure that potential terminal stock is removed from the business, by looking at where the highest covers are. Whilst this may not be the most efficient delivery process, it is preferable to complete seasonal recalls or inter-branch transfers. Multi-country Capability The requirement of fulfilling orders across multiple countries or continents means that stock availability within any IT systems must be up to date in order to maintain and improve customer expectations and relationships. The ordering process is very much out in the open domain, but the fulfillment and availability processes are again kept ‘under the covers’. Multi-brand Capability Many multi-brand retail groups are looking for uniformity of processes across their different brands. On the flip side, they do want to split their operations according to the different requirements of each brand. For example the way in which any IT systems allocate or, pick stock across different brands may be the same; however the way in which they fulfill or package stock for the separate brands might be different. Do you agree with these retail supply chain solution requirements or do you have your own suggestions? Post your comments below or email info@retail-assist.co.uk.…
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Nigel Illingworth
  • 10 Sep 2012
Retail Supply Chain Requirements
Nigel Illingworth, Chief Executive Officer of Merret at Retail Assist, discusses the types of IT developments which are currently driving retail supply chains. Nigel talks about the ways in which the requirements of retailers and their customers are evolving and the subsequent impact this has upon IT solutions providers. The UK scene has changed dramatically over the past few years; with retailers keen to invest in new IT systems and omni-channel functionality, yet having to balance these developments with the tightened budgets which have become a reality for many following the economic downturn. Below are some of the top requirements of retailers when looking to replace their supply chain solutions. Return on Investment Possibly the most obvious and essential requirement of retailers over the past couple of years when selecting new IT systems has been value for money. Historically retailers highlighted this when looking for new solutions, but in some circumstances did not clearly identify what their return on investment (ROI) would be or how it could be achieved. Nowadays for example if an existing supply chain process requires 10 people and the retailer is hoping to streamline this to 5 people, then they are carefully planning the systems changes required to achieve this by providing tangible examples of the current and newly perceived business processes. Proof of ROI is encouraging for IT solutions providers, as it’s important when writing software to ensure that the finished product is commercially viable. For retailers it is vital to gain commercial advantage from implementing a product. Quality of Delivery Another key requirement is regarding the timescales of and quality of delivery expected of the systems provider. Retailers always want solutions delivered as quickly as possible because that’s the way their business works. Unfortunately a number of retailers have had software delivered from partner companies where the timescales have been reasonable but they have later found the product to be lacking in design or delivery quality. In these circumstances the software would have to be re-developed and re-tested. It’s therefore important that any software delivered is not only timely in the first instance, but also maintains certain standards of design and delivery accuracy because this means that subsequent implementation timetables can be adhered to and costs are contained. Being part of a Community Packaged solutions are key to being part of a community. Retailers are looking for positive roadmaps where they don’t feel that they are developing 100% of the product themselves. Meaning that they don’t bare the sole burden of cost for functional business driven changes being developed within the system. In contrast, technical change, isn’t always business focused, but is key to keeping a product or package on track. Auditability, purging, re-platforming and performance are all things that typically don’t hit the headlines, however if you don’t keep putting effort and work into these areas, they slip behind and retailers can suddenly find that a product is no longer fit for use. A mixture of functional changes and technology platform changes are…
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