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Blog Archive

Influencer Marketing Retail Assist
  • 25 Mar

The Rise and Rise of Influencer Marketing

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive, and Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Imagine being at a party. Your friend walks in wearing an amazing dress and you instantly love it; she looks so happy in it, the colour really suits her skin tone and, as she’s a similar size to you, you can already imagine picture what it would look like on you. You ask her where it’s from, track it down either online or in-store and make the purchase, as an equally happy customer. Influencer marketing is certainly nothing new; there are generations of people who have been inspired by their peer group and who have been lead to making a purchase because they’ve seen someone else wear it or review it. However, with social media now ubiquitous, a brand’s potential reach is exponential and modern consumers can view products whether they’re actively shopping or not. In this way, Instagram is a powerful tool for retailers; whether it’s through increasing brand awareness, sharing reviews or even user-generated photo content, influencer collaborations or paid content. Brands can reach audiences that might have previously been difficult to target. In fact, word of mouth sales generate more than twice the sales of paid advertising and 81% of consumers make purchase decisions based on friends’ social media posts. Coupled with this, conversions are four to 10 times higher from offers shared by trusted advocates than brands. Our customer, ASOS, uses this strategy to great success. Instead, ASOS work with microbloggers (influencers with followers of several thousands or even hundreds, rather than Insta-famous influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers) to create ASOS Insiders. Here, the micro-influencers take photos of themselves wearing ASOS clothes and post the item’s unique code into the photo caption so that their followers can simply copy and paste it straight into ASOS’ website or app, leading straight to the item. In an interview with Drapers, James Apsley-Thompson, PR manager at fashion retailer I Saw It First, said: “Instagram opens up a direct conversation with our customer. We can immediately find out what she is shopping for, the trends she wants to invest in and the celebrity styles she’s lusting after. This constant dialogue is invaluable for fast fashion retailers in particular, as we can quickly adapt our product offering for commercial success.” Being able to react quickly is invaluable. Social media is a 24/7 tool and with users able to access it whenever they want to use it, it’s vital for brands to be able to respond quickly. Whilst involving social media influencers and micro-bloggers in campaigns has clear rates of return, retailers should also prepare to react quickly to getting their products recognised. If a key influencer has posted a positive review about a particular garment, updating that item’s SEO so that it is optimised effectively is vital to improve visibility and, therefore, the chances of it being found. Utilising PIM software is a great way to do this, enabling modern retailers to harness the power of influencer marketing…
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  • 18 Mar

“I’m very lucky to work with such fab people!” We talk to our new Learning and Development Manager, Charlotte Lappin

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Tell us a bit about your background. My degree is actually in theatre but it’s perfect for learning and development! The course was involved in all aspects, but I especially enjoyed directing. There are many parts of being a director that apply to my current role at Retail Assist, as it requires you to make plans and bring people from different departments together. After university and a short stint as a Mad Scientist children’s educational entertainer, I worked at a call centre: first as a Dedicated Operator and then as Training Quality Co-Ordinator. After here, I moved to the University of Nottingham where I worked at the students’ union, liaising with both staff and students. Although I loved my time there, I craved a new challenge and wanted more development. When I saw the role at Retail Assist, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to knit together various parts of my skillset and experience. What does your role as Learning and Development Manager entail? My role is brand new and constantly evolving. Whilst it’s currently focused on training and developing colleagues on the Help Desk, it’s moving to broader aspects of the company. I’m naturally a people helper and I’m excited to look at the opportunities to develop our people in a wider sense. What does your average day look like? It’s safe to say that there is no average day! I love the variety of my role; it can range from delivering coaching sessions for our Client Lead Analysts, to creating different training programmes for internal teams, to developing our apprenticeship scheme. I’ve also got some exciting plans for some new company-wide initiatives. Watch this space! What’s your approach to learning and development? I believe that working should be collaborative, inclusive and empowering. This is the focal point of how I work and I keep those elements at the heart of everything I do. With that, I also believe in bringing together experts to ensure we have the right content in the right way. What’s the favourite thing about your job? I’d always wanted to lead my own team; the opportunity to develop my own people and to build those relationships was something I was looking for in a new role, so I’m delighted to have this here at Retail Assist. I know I’m biased, but my team are amazing – I’m very lucky to work with such fab people! What do you enjoy most about working at Retail Assist? I’ve always been a people person and in every job I’ve ever had, the thing I’ve enjoyed most has been the colleagues I’ve worked with. It’s safe to say that this is the same at Retail Assist! I love working with people who have a positive focus and I feel like we’ve already learnt so much from each other. It’s a really great team environment and it’s a lovely atmosphere to work in. I’ve also been impressed with how much internal…
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  • 11 Mar

St Patrick’s Day: Will the Luck of the Irish Turn its Hand to UK Retail?

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive, and Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Saint Patrick might be the patron saint of Ireland, but his name and feast day has come to be synonymous with celebrations. However, whilst many people around the UK will take part in St Patrick’s Day events on the 17th March, in America it’s a billion dollar industry; in fact, predicted spending for 2019 is expected to exceed $5.61bn. If the UK has followed American retail trends in the past, is St Patrick’s Day set to become a key UK trading event of the future? According to NRF, 55% of Americans plan to celebrate this year, with the biggest spends unsurprisingly going on food and beverages. Yet consumers are also looking to spend their pretty green on decorations and apparel, with 77% of men and 84% of women planning to wear green on the day. Interestingly, the breakdown in this percentage indicates that 87% of 18-24 year olds and 82% of 24-34 year olds plan on wearing green, perhaps providing an unexpected link between the saint’s day and the rise of Halloween, as Gen Z and their millennial counterparts tap into the ‘dressing up’ element of the revelries. NRF’s annual St Patrick’s Day research also highlighted retailers such as Aldi who are targeting shoppers with products such as green or beer-flavoured cheese and other grocery chains embracing the holiday’s feature colour with displays of Granny Smith apples. However, it’s not just the supermarket sector. A quick google of “St Patrick’s Day Clothes” leads to some UK retailers, such as River Island, linking to a selection of their green clothes and accessories whilst other global brands are taking it one step further. Adidas recently announced their St Patrick’s Day collection: a limited edition run of their Handball Spezial trainers which has three different Irish-themed colourways and “a clover sign-off to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day”. Perhaps this is yet another example of the globalisation of retail, as certain location-specific trends start to spread to other localities. So is St Patrick’s Day a growing trend? NRF certainly thinks so. A decade ago, only half of consumers under the age of 35 planned to celebrate, whereas now it has grown to over 70 percent. And, if the rising popularity of Halloween is anything to go by, with Mintel now praising it as the third biggest retail event of the year after Christmas and Easter, it suggests that St Patrick’s Day looks set take the UK retail and hospitality sector by storm.   Retail Assist provides IT support to the retail and hospitality sector, which is crucial for peak trading periods. Want to hear how we can reduce your IT costs by 30% whilst also reducing system downtime? Click here or email marketing@retail-assist.co.uk.…
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National Apprenticeship Week 2019
  • 4 Mar

You’re hired! Retail Assist Celebrates National Apprenticeship Week 2019

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Lord Sugar might be famous for saying “You’re fired!” in order to find his perfect apprentice, however at Retail Assist, we take pride in nurturing ours. This week (4th – 8th March) is National Apprenticeship Week 2019; here, we explain about our scheme and celebrate the hard work of all of our apprentices. Retail Assist is fortunate to have six brilliant apprentices who are currently working as Apprentice Call Analysts on our award-winning Help Desk. They receive full training, internally and externally, to work as part of a team to deliver the highest standard of support for our prestigious global client base from across the retail and hospitality sectors. Rae Hayward, Head of People, says: “Our apprenticeship scheme is the perfect opportunity for school and college leavers to develop their skills whilst also gaining a qualification in customer service. “As part of the scheme, our apprentices get time in the office to combine and develop their work experiences with essay-based learning. With their work and drive, we can help to shape and develop our apprentices into the ideal Retail Assist Call Analyst.” James Jeffs, Apprentice Call Analyst agrees: “The apprenticeship at Retail Assist appealed to me because it meant I was earning whilst learning, whilst also gaining experience working within an award-winning company.” But it’s not just the apprentices that stand to gain from their time with us – the feeling is very much mutual. Rae explains: “With Retail Assist’s on-going growth and progress, it’s also a fantastic prospect for us to welcome younger people with varied life experiences and backgrounds to join our diverse and dynamic team. Our apprentices are all really enthusiastic and keen, and we have enjoyed seeing them thrive within our work environment.” Callum Kitson, Apprentice Call Analyst, feels that he has benefitted from this experience of a working environment. He says: “I enjoy working alongside great colleagues and I also like that we support well-known clients. The apprenticeship scheme has helped me to gain new skills; I have learnt how to speak to customers confidently over the phone and I’ve also learnt how to work well in an office environment, which is something that will help me with my future career options.” So, if people are interested in joining, what should they know? Rae says: “Having apprentices gives us an opportunity to welcome applications from our local community whilst also giving another option to school and college leavers. We’re not looking for any specific qualifications, but we are looking for applicants to be able to use a computer, show common sense, the ability to be a team player and the willingness to succeed.” Finally, what advice would Callum give to anyone thinking about joining the scheme? “It’s definitely a good route,” says Callum. “Progress within a company as you learn and earn money whilst you’re learning – who wouldn’t want that?” For more information and to apply for the scheme, click here to visit the government’s apprenticeship website or…
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Nelson Blackley
  • 27 Feb

Online retail is here to stay, but will it ever overtake offline sales?

Guest blog by Nelson Blackley, Retail Research Associate at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University The recent, mixed, Christmas trading results from UK retailers with large numbers of physical stores has led many commentators to link this underperformance directly with the increase in online shopping. However, this is unfair and far too simplistic. The origins of many of the current challenges faced by retail pre-date the retail revolution caused by the launch of Apple’s first iPhone in 2007, including under investment in digital technologies and unrealistic rent increases. Whilst reliable internet access, combined with technological development and the universal availability of smartphones (for many, mobile phones are now simply an extension of us as consumers) has had a huge impact in most people’s lives, the growth of online retail in the UK has followed a fairly steady trajectory. Since 2007, online retail has increased from around 5% until, at the end of 2018, online accounted for just 20% of total UK retail sales. However, this total varies across different retail sectors, and by individual retailers, with only around 7% of UK grocery sales being online compared to almost 30% of fashion being ordered online, along with higher online sales penetration levels in music, video, games. We are at the intersection of major technological, economic and societal change. However, online retail has not yet completely replaced physical stores, nor, in my opinion, is it ever likely to do so. Many shoppers use mobile devices to access product information or place orders whilst in-store (and are often encouraged to do so). Shoppers may also go online to find locations and opening times of physical stores or order online and then collect in-store. A much more complex and dynamic relationship has now developed between the two. Gone are the days where shopping is an ‘either/or’ option for bricks-and-mortar and online; the osmosis between the two is cohesive, with successful retailers offering a unified omnichannel experience. I would also argue that this separate measurement of either online and offline retail sales is itself now obsolete (and probably also inaccurate given the high levels of returns in online fashion) as no hard dividing line between online and offline (physical shopping) occasions or experiences should exist. Online retail and physical stores will both play a major part as UK retail continues to change and evolve, and retail will undoubtedly remain a key sector in the UK economy; however, it will do so through a range of different channels and places. It’s now all just retail, not a binary choice between online or offline, and all that matters to consumers is that they get the product they want, at the price they want, when they want it and where they want it. You can read more of Nelson’s retail reflections in his blog, ‘Retail Views and News’.…
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Smythson Selects Retail Assist for IT Support
  • 25 Feb

Smythson Selects Retail Assist For IT Support

Retail Assist is delighted to welcome luxury leather goods retailer, Smythson, as a new client. Smythson are now benefiting from first-line out-of-hours IT support to their corporate users, including head office staff and those based at their distribution centre, and also across their global store estate. Through consultation with the client, Retail Assist were able to tailor a solution to meet the specific needs of Smythson. Eoin O’Connell, Head of IT at Smythson, explains: “Retail Assist does what it says on the tin. Its core strength is that retail is its area of expertise: Retail Assist understands retail. As part of the tendering process, we spoke to their other customers and found that their relationship was built on a long-term rapport, which was fundamental in our decision to work with Retail Assist.” Eoin adds: “We needed a hands-on approach and I’ve been impressed with the support and engagement. They know about our business.” Whilst providing first-line IT support, Retail Assist also delivers desktop and store system support. Retail Assist offers managed services and solutions to a range of retail and hospitality clients, including their award-winning, multi-lingual IT Help Desk, which operates around the clock with support available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Dan Smith, Retail Assist’s CEO, says: “We’re thrilled to partner with Smythson, helping to support their brand, which is rich in heritage and with a reputation for luxury. We look forward to underpinning their IT support as they continue their growth and future business aspirations.” If you would like to find out more about how we can provide your business with IT support, click here or email marketing@retail-assist.co.uk. Alternatively, if you’d like to read more about our other retail and hospitality customers, click here to request a case study.…
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How to Avoid the February Sales Slump - Retail Assist
  • 18 Feb

Short, but Deadly! How to Avoid the February Sales Slump

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive No sooner has the heady rush of Christmas washed over the retail world than a second wave comes in the form of the January sales. Business is kept brisk by an array of shoppers flocking to spend vouchers, Christmas money and to take advantage of this traditional discounting period. Fast forward to the next month and it’s a stark contrast. February ushers in a more sober retail environment and sales slumps are common as shoppers tighten their budgets. So how do retailers combat this by making the most of this short but challenging month? Target the season Instead of seeing it as a negative month, acknowledging the season and utilising its unique characteristics can produce results. Retailers are fully aware of how customers must feel, so why not capitalise on this knowledge? The New Year mindset in many is one of renewed focus on new ideas, new ways of living and, crucially, of being willing to buy items related to this thinking. Promoting and prioritising items for retail that support this is a good idea; people may well be searching out fitness clothing, but are perhaps less likely to be purchasing clothing for parties and functions for example. Conversely, those who may have participated in Dry January, or who have subsided their extraneous spending until the January pay day, may well be ready to hit the social scene once more! Knowing the target market and how they like to spend their money in minute detail provides key insights no matter what the time of year. Launch a campaign Starting some form of promotional campaign in February can help shoppers make decisions on items they perhaps were putting off until another month. Retargeting campaigns based around contacting who expressed interest in items in the run-up to Christmas, but didn’t actually purchase them, can be part of mail-outs and selective discounting aimed at encouraging customers to fulfil their purchases. There is also scope to base significant campaigns around key dates in February such as Valentine’s Day and the various school half-term holidays, both of which can be used to a retailers advantage. Product countdowns that allow customers to see exactly how much stock there is left of limited items will also draw them in and encourage them to act swiftly. Having a clear customer engagement strategy with specific content marketing will encourage purchasing decisions. Use time and budgets in a different way As sales slow in February, taking advantage of any extra time can be advantageous. Stepping aside from the day-to-day business of a busy retail environment, focus can instead be dedicated to future plans, reflecting on how successful the Christmas and New Year period was and considering what worked and what didn’t. Strategies can be considered for upcoming months and areas such as marketing and its efficiency can be looked at. Considering how the budget might be redirected temporarily can also be helpful. As trading can be slower, taking the usual budget dedicated to the…
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Mixed Reality Debuts At London Fashion Week - Retail Assist
  • 15 Feb

One Well-Dressed MR: Mixed Reality Debuts at London Fashion Week

Written by Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Anyone who’s anyone in fashion will be taking a seat in less than 7 hours, at 180 The Strand to encounter a catwalk experience like no other. Central Saint Martins, the world-renowned design and art college which forms part of the University of Arts London, will be producing a world first: a mixed reality catwalk, powered by 5G. Modelled by Lennon Gallagher, son of Oasis frontman Liam and actor Patsy Kensit, the collection designed by Gerrit Jacob will be based on 1980s gaming and classic fairgrounds. 5G networks claim to offer download speeds of 10 to 20 times faster than what we currently have on 4G now. Its power will offer higher quality videos that enable the use of Mixed Reality, through Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. Lennon Gallagher at London Fashion Week (Evening Standard) What is Mixed Reality? Mixed Reality is a combination of both the physical and digital world, and merges Augmented Reality with Virtual Reality. It is a spectrum of real-world objects dynamically integrating with virtual matter to interact in real time. But how can Mixed Reality be achieved on the catwalk? The Magic Leap One Headset will be available to all those with front row passes. The headset works through superimposing CGI with the user’s view of the catwalk. Not only will the users see the clothes, but will also be able to experience animations and dramatic lighting effects. It has also been reported that viewers will be taunted by smiling tigers and laughing skulls. This is achieved through ‘computer vision’, which makes digital objects contextually aware, meaning they interact with dimensional and structural awareness. The headset also claims to feature ‘spatial audio’, offering sound distance and varying its intensity (a similar experience to surround sound), so users receive an all-immersive experience by appealing to more senses than just plain sight. How will Mixed Reality affect the High Street? These combined technologies allow designers to create a story and showcase their designs in an experiential yet meaningful manner. Naturally, catwalk designs influence the high-end ready-to-wear products, which are eventually adapted and mass made for the high street and, similarly, retailers will need to consider this Mixed Reality process not only for their products, but the experience they are offering in-store. Whilst Mixed Reality is offering a hybrid of technologies and virtual/real world experiences for the catwalk, it is the contextual experience, with clothes being demonstrated in a variety of virtual environments, that will prove to be the most significant to bricks-and-mortar. With the use of VR and AR technologies becoming prosaic to the high street, the combination of both MR and 5G heralds the opportunity for high street innovation like never before.   Read Andréa’s coverage of LFW 2018 here.…
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Is Mt Machine Learning about Retail?
  • 13 Feb

Talking Shop: The Place of Voice Recognition Technology in Retail Part Two

Guest blog by Alan Morris. Alan is the co-founder and brand ambassador of Retail Assist. The retail sector knows better than most the effects of disruptive technology – and the consequences of ignoring it. Retailers are seeing what they always believed to be the case challenged, improved or replaced: it’s now all about what customers want, when they want it and how they want to receive it that counts. All of this started with the first online sale: Sting’s album ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ in 1994. From this point onward, customers started to realise that if you want to buy something, you don’t necessarily have to go to it – it can very easily come to you. The internet provided the platform for e-commerce and this changed the way that we shop forever. So, what impact will readily available, easy to use, accurate, reliable voice recognition technology have for retailers? A report by OC&C Strategy Consultants (February 2018) claims that the value of voice shopping in the UK now stands at £0.2bn, or 0.1% of total online spend, but it is expected to rocket in the next five years to £3.5bn. The report states that just as the prevalence of smart phones drove the m-commerce market, voice commerce is set to grow as a result of rising smart speaker sales, which have boomed since 2014 when Amazon launched its first product to market. Around 10% of UK households already own a smart speaker but this is projected to increase to 50% by 2022 as voice recognition technology becomes increasingly widespread.  I am told that every conversation about voice recognition technology must include a reference to Amazon; as an Amazon Prime customer, I can order and pay for kitchen rolls, bin bags and make other replenishment purchases by asking Alexa to order it for me. It’s quick, efficient and means that I can shop whilst cooking my breakfast – something that Alexa also helps me with by counting down the time it takes for my egg to boil. But it’s not just staple product sales that can be made using a digital assistant. In 2018, Retail Assist’s client ASOS launched ‘Enki’, their AI shopping guide, which allows customers via Google Assistant to interact directly with the brand to get style advice and to make purchases. Customers can send Enki photos of clothing items they like and the technology will search for similar products, then present them as a range from which selections and purchases can be made. ASOS admit that Enki is still learning and they are asking customers for feedback on the good and the bad of the experience, as well as providing any dream-big ideas for Enki’s future direction. This is an excellent example of collaborative development; retailers asking their customers what they want to make their shopping experience better. So, when will our digital assistant, using all of the data it has available, be able to identify which outfit we should buy for an upcoming social event in our…
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Is Mt Machine Learning about Retail?
  • 11 Feb

Talking Shop: The Place of Voice Recognition Technology in Retail Part One

Guest blog by Alan Morris. Alan is the co-founder and brand ambassador of Retail Assist. It’s somewhat ironic that I’m writing a blog about voice recognition technology, at the beginning of 2019, using a computer keyboard that’s an adaption of the original typewriter built in 1873. The QWERTY keyboard has been the input device of choice for millions of computer users across the world for nearly 50 years and it remains central to human-computer interaction today. But, whilst it has a past, does the keyboard have a future in relation to how we use technology in our everyday lives? If you consider that the average person can speak 150 words in a minute but in the same time frame can only type 40 words, you realise that speech is a human’s best form of communication. How many times have you thought that some things are “easier to say, than to write”? Given this, you’d be forgiven for questioning why computers weren’t designed to respond to the spoken word from the get-go: surely, that would have been more intuitive? Well, technologists have been trying to get computers to recognise and respond to the human voice since 1952. One of the very first examples was ‘Audrey’, who could distinguish ten numbers between 0 and 9 and, whilst at the time this was acknowledged as significantly advanced, compared to the human brain it was somewhat lacking. The problem for the early pioneers was that the technology was very computer resource hungry – which meant costly – so widespread adoption was unlikely. As time moved on, so did the technology. In 1962 IBM launched ‘Shoebox’ which could recognise a vocabulary of 16 English words and by 1976 ‘Harpy’ later increased the word count to 1011. Continued advancement saw the introduction of faster microprocessors, which meant the opportunities for voice recognition grew. By 1997, ‘Dragon Dictate’ allowed users to speak at 100 words per minute – two thirds the normal human speed. Impressive, yes, but it took 45 minutes to train the program and it cost about $695. In 2010, Google launched personalised recognition on Android devices which would record different users’ voice queries to develop an enhanced speech model. It consisted of 230 billion English words. One year later, Apple introduced the world to its voice-activated digital assistant, Siri. Not only intelligent, Siri was funny too, if asked the right questions or given the correct commands. So, over a 66-year period, voice recognition technology moved from being able to distinguish between the ten numbers to providing us with a voice activated digital assistant that listens to our speech and takes specific actions based upon our commands. Some predict that by the end of 2021, more than 1.6 million people will use voice-activated digital assistants on a regular basis. But if it is ever to become a ‘can’t live without technology’ we are going to have to accept that this technology has to offer more than just timing the boiling of an egg, playing our…
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