IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

Blog Archive

Working from home diaries: Alex Broxson
  • 8 Apr 2020
The #WFH Diaries! Go behind the scenes in our latest blog series
Written by Alex Broxson, Head of Marketing With the importance of staying at home, the vast majority of us all at Retail Assist have moved our office lives back home. Whereas in the office we all followed similar rhythms, with everyone’s living situations differing and our ways of going about our working lives evolving, we’ve asked our colleagues to share their working lives with us in our latest blog series. So, whose house are we off to? This week, it’s the turn of Alex Broxson, Retail Assist’s Head of Marketing. Here, she explains juggling work commitments with a love of running, maintaining marketing strategy and trying to keep calm whilst managing her new colleagues – her two young daughters!   Working from home diaries: Alex Broxson I’m writing this during the third week of working from home. Whilst working from home is nothing new to me – I’ve done it in a previous role, and already work remotely or in different locations for Retail Assist – the difference is that now we’re all at home as a country and as a family. I’m joined by my husband, who is also really busy as a Sales Director and co-founder of his own telecoms business, and my two young daughters, aged 2 and nearly 5 (young being the operative word here!) I’m going to be honest: during the first week of lockdown, I had bit of a wobble on the first day.  Firstly, I think it was the initial shock of the COVID-19 lockdown announcement: it wasn’t a surprise, but the “officialness” of the situation just really hit me. It was also the pressure of trying to manage a really busy and responsible job and marketing team at a time of crisis, but to also all of sudden have to manage schooling for my 5 year-old, at the same time as being a parent to two kids! In a work sense, I found this difficult because I have always liked to maintain a line between the career-driven, professional me, and the me that is a parent. At first, I found it really hard to accept that my kids might walk in on a video call and cross this professional line. Whilst this now seems silly as everyone with kids is in the same situation, I didn’t want it to impact my professionalism (people that know me will probably disagree with this anyway and say I’m a bit of a prankster!) However, I needn’t have worried. It was after one of our daily conference calls that both Dan, our CEO, and Matthew, our COO, picked up on the fact that I wasn’t quite myself and called me to check I was ok. It was so great to have their support, to talk things through and discuss how I was initially finding it tough, and also to address some of my concerns, for example, if the kids walked in on one of our board calls (which as parents themselves they were absolutely fine with!).…
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Supporting the “New Normal” Count On Our Unwavering Support
  • 31 Mar 2020
Supporting the “New Normal”: Count On Our Unwavering Support
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead Although many businesses claim to put their customers at the heart of everything they do, for us, putting the customer (and our customer’s customer) at the centre of our operations has always been our modus operandi. That’s certainly something that will never change. So much has happened in the last two weeks that it’s been absolutely mind-boggling. For many of our customers and our partners, it’s simply not “business as usual”; the reality is that retail and hospitality sectors are facing many pressures in light of our “new normal”. So, if our customers are not “business as usual” then, by definition, neither are we. Except, for us, our business – providing the best customer support, especially at times of crisis – is unwavering. This is a time when our customers need to count on our support, more than ever. So, whilst the world has changed, our core objective hasn’t: we’re here to support our customers, no matter what the current situation throws at them. Working From Home So, what have our teams been doing? Like many businesses up and down the country – and, indeed, around the world – we’ve seen huge shifts of teams taking their work from the office to their homes. We’ve built many laptops, installed software and continue supporting VPNs, so that our customers can continue their work, no matter where they’re based. We’ve enabled our users to work remotely, ensuring their operations are as consistent as possible. One of the qualities we pride ourselves on is our ability to evolve; in our 20 years of trading, we’ve always been proactive in our approach, been able to react swiftly and to provide support no matter what the changing needs of our customers are. Now is no different; whatever issues COVID-19 throws at us or the sanctions being placed on our society to minimise the threat, our teams are here to consider the best IT support that underpins their operations. So, although your business isn’t “usual”, our key objective remains the same. Dan Smith, our CEO, said: “Our initial focus has been on assisting our partners of the last 20 years, and Retail Assist has naturally prioritised our customers over requests we have received from outside our existing client base. We are here, like our clients, for the long term and we are supporting them in moving towards the “new normal”. There is no need to make a drama out of a crisis: this is the time for a measured and supportive response.” Customer Support We’re so proud of our internal teams and the way they have worked together to provide incredible support to our customers, especially at a time where they need it most. It turns out that many of our customers feel the same. We’ve been delighted to hear the positive feedback from our customers about our teams’ work over the last couple of weeks. Here’s just some of the lovely things they had to say. Is your IT…
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The New Working Week? For Us, It’s Business as Usual – But With Many More Offices!
  • 23 Mar 2020
The New Working Week? For Us, It’s Business as Usual – But With Many More Offices!
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead In just one week, people around the United Kingdom have faced many changes. As the response to COVID-19 has developed, millions of people have juggled changes not just to their working week, but also with social restrictions, limitations and new routines to put in place. So, with all the changes taking place, how have we at Retail Assist adapted to working from home? Here’s a look behind the scenes. Working Remotely Like many people around the country, we’ve seen the majority of our team move to working from home. We’ve seen big changes as we’ve moved from 8 offices to over 200 locations! Rae Hayward, our Head of People, said: “All of those who are working from ‘other locations’ have set themselves up well and we are encouraging use of video calls and sending daily updates. For our Data Centre colleagues, some are still safely working a shift from the office whilst others are working from home, to decrease the numbers of people that are within the vicinity.” Jordon Graham, Digital Executive, said: “Having worked from home as a freelancer prior to joining Retail Assist, I think that it’s easy to feel disconnected. As a marketing team, we’re making sure to keep in touch, but also to stay in contact with as many people as possible – especially in times like these – everyone is in the same boat and will be happy to hear from you!” Keep reading for more working from home tips from Danielle Bamra, from our Client Services team. Sneak peek! Here’s a look at some of our team’s new working spaces.   Business as Usual Whilst our office postcodes may have expanded somewhat, the level of service we provide hasn’t dropped. In fact, our call stats and call volumes show that it’s been very much business as usual – and that we have been helping more client head office users to sort out their remote access to systems. Kevin Greathead, Chief Services Officer, said: “We’ve reached the end of a very busy week and we now have most of our team members working from home, whilst several are still helping clients on-site. Over the week, we observed a gradual decrease across both incoming calls and incidents as we progressed further into the week, which is what we anticipated. “However, the number of incidents raised remained higher than the previous week due to a number of head office users reporting issues within their VPN connectivity. A big thank-you to everyone for their patience and good humour through this transition.”   Customer Support We’ve always been proud to keep the customer at the centre of our business and that has been true now more so than ever. Bill Parker, IT Service Delivery Manager at Pizza Hut Restaurants, got in touch with us to share his feedback of our teams’ reactions to the COVID-19 situation. He said: “I just wanted to thank you all for the sterling work you and your teams have…
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  • 19 Mar 2020
COVID-19: Our Plan
At this unsettled time, we wanted to update you on the actions Retail Assist has already taken to respond to the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak. At Retail Assist, we are proud to have a strong “do the right thing” ethos, strengthened by the diversity of our teams. Alongside working together with our clients and other service providers to deliver services and solutions that meet the distinctive needs of the markets we operate in, we are focused on achieving resolutions that deliver the right result, rather than just ticking a box on the SLA. With this in mind, we have initiated our business continuity procedures to enable homeworking, where possible, for most of our team members: we are able to trade as normal and it is very much business as usual. As ever, the health and wellbeing of our staff is our priority and we shall be observing government advice in terms of health, safety and environment. Retail Assist is currently minimising, where possible, face-to-face contact within the business and with our clients and partners in order to maintain the highest availability of team members, in order to reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread. However, we have always placed our customers at the centre of all of our business decisions and this time is no different. Whilst you shouldn’t notice any difference, we ask you for your patience and support if you find that our measured response provides a slightly different experience than usual. Please bear with us as we navigate these uncertain waters together. At this concerning time, our thoughts are with those who have been personally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that you, your loved ones and colleagues stay healthy during this outbreak. We all look forward to the future when we are able to return to a more normal situation. Thank you, Dan   Dan Smith, CEO…
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Digital City Festival 2020: Our Top Takeaways
  • 16 Mar 2020
Digital City Festival 2020: Our Top Takeaways
By Anna Murphy, Communications Lead The famous Tony Wilson quote of “This is Manchester: we do things differently here” was certainly celebrated as the Digital City Festival opened its doors over 9th – 13th March 2020. Showcasing the best in digital, it had various speakers across tech, retail, marketing, eCommerce and the media, we walked the show floor to bring you our top takeaways. Adam Warne, CIO at the N Brown Group, spoke about his experience as a modern CIO joining such a well-established company and how they’re using technology to bring innovation. He said: “This might be a big claim, but we believe we were the first business to use the Royal Mail’s parcel service to ship products to customers. It doesn’t sound that exciting today but it was revolutionary when we started in 1883. “Now, we’re trying to become 100% digital, which is quite a target when you consider that some customers still send us cash through the post. Whilst some of our customers are in their teens, some are in their late 90s. Despite that, the app today is one of our fastest growing channels. We needed to change, otherwise our competitors would overtake us.” He also discussed innovation across product range. Displaying a few of the products across the N Brown Group range, such as a pair of size 18 trainers and a pair of 54” waist jeans, Adam said: “Using technology, we’ve scanned thousands of bodies to see how people’s bodies change and grow. We’re always trying to get the perfect fit, regardless of shape or size. We want to be the most loved inclusive fashion retailer in the industry. How can we make all of our customers look and feel amazing?” Conor McIlduff, Channable’s Business Development UK team, spoke about how brands can create exciting and elaborate ways of connecting with their customers. He said: “Just because your offering is neither exciting nor glamorous, it by no means indicates that you can’t have loyal customers. Channable was able to break free from the traditional tech stereotype to build a fiercely loyal customer base.” He explained that Channable was able to build a strong network of brand ambassadors and hold events such as its popular “Customers’ Day”, where Channable ran user experience demos of their feed management solution, eCommerce talks and networking sessions. Also speaking was Colin Neil, SVP Business Development at payment company, Adyen. He explanined the importance of remaining agile and needing to keep pace with changing customer needs, including a ‘tech first’ approach. He said: “Technology should be about the enablement to grow. Speed to market is really, really important and retailers are moving away from traditional banks and legacy systems because they don’t move quickly enough. “Omnichannel is a funny term – you should just call it retailing now. It’s all about having one view of the customer.” To read more of our industry insights, subscribe to our blog here.…
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St Patrick's Day Consumer Research
  • 9 Mar 2020
Green Machine! Our St Patrick’s Day Consumer Trends Research
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead What’s green, loud and commemorated across the world? St Patrick’s Day might have started out as a religious saint’s day, but it’s now celebrated as a day for Irish culture – and with the festivities to match. However, it’s not just Irish people that take part, and with many events and ways of getting involved all over the UK, we surveyed the public to find out their St Patrick’s Day plans and what this means for the UK’s retail and hospitality sector. Key Findings St Patrick’s Day takes place on the 17th March every year, but this date falls on a Tuesday this year – not usually a weekday saved for partying. However, this doesn’t seem to have put many people off, as a third of people said that they planned on taking part in 2020. Whilst this figure might be slightly less than America – the NRF estimates that 56% of Americans plan on celebrating this year – it’s still a decent surge in the number of people that retail stores and hospitality vendors might usually expect to see midweek. So, how are consumers looking to get involved? Of those surveyed, 71% of people said that they planned on wearing green, with 82% saying that they planned to take part by going out socialising with their friends and family. With these high figures looking to engage with retail and hospitality brands, it’s encouraging to see that 25% of people plan on spending between £31-40 and 21.5% of people looking to spend over £50. But what are consumers going to spend their pretty green on? For a day that’s synonymous with parties and celebrations, it’s perhaps unsurprising that 96% of people said that they were going to buy beverages and 60% of people going to buy food. However, it’s not just the hospitality sector; many consumers are also looking to hit up the shops, with 68% of people saying that they’re planning on buying something green to wear, with 39% buying accessories, 25% buying make-up and 18% buying decorations. Whilst the high numbers of people looking to spend their money on food and drink are perhaps to be expected, it also highlights a brilliant opportunity for retailers to get in on the act and to engage with their customers on another level. Just last week, Kate Middleton showcased a plethora of green outfits whilst on an official royal trip to Ireland and online fashion magazines such as Elle, Harpers Bazaar and Cosmopolitan have all done articles over the last month with St Patrick’s Day outfit inspiration. With consumers looking to add green items to their wardrobes, retailers can capitalise on this by ensuring that stock levels are optimised with a merchandise management solution such as Merret Pro and that product information is enriched with the help of a PIM solution to make items as easy as possible for consumers to find. However, if your trading peaks this St Patrick’s Day, don’t get caught short…
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How Will 5G Affect the Retail Industry
  • 2 Mar 2020
Gimme 5(G)! How Will 5G Affect the Retail Industry?
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead The days of dial-up and dodgy buffering are long gone: long live 5G! Last year, 2019 saw the first 5G systems installed and running within the UK: a far faster version of the 4G version that many are used to. Although at present its coverage is limited to certain areas, 2020 will see it expand across the nation and be utilised not just by consumers but businesses as well – not least the retail industry. Whilst there still needs to be a fair amount of work undertaken on the networks – something which may take some time – it’s exciting to consider the changes that a new 5G network will bring about. So, with these changes on the way, how will 5G affect the retail industry and what innovation will it bring? New opportunities to link online and offline Retailers are increasingly looking for ways to capture the imagination of their customers and reinforce their branding. Whilst much of this stems from creating positive and innovative experiences, focus has been placed on the ways in which in-store and online environments can work together and integrate: something that 5G will no doubt help with. The higher connectivity speeds also open up opportunities for innovations such as overlaid visuals via customers pointing their smartphones at products, the use of 3D technology or even in-store sensors to trigger recommendations and tailored advice. Retailers will be able to interact with their customers in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before. Embracing of AI and new technology While the use of AI and technology in retail is not explicitly tied to 5G, it will thrive on the speed and enhanced data flow that it offers. The faster that information can be shared, the faster it can be used and therefore the more efficient AI can become. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will also become easier, giving consumers the opportunity to do things such as to virtually wear clothes or place items in their home to see how they look, which could also impact the amount of returns that retailers are currently having to process. The personal approach The improved speed of 5G also expands the opportunity for retailers to make personalisation a priority through the use of software such as Mercaux’s sales assist solution, which brings the benefits of digital in-store to drive sales uplift. The ability to respond to the purchases customers make and their patterns of behaviour will be greatly enhanced as a result, meaning that content can be specifically tailored in real-time. This will have a place most obviously with the online customer but 5G can also enhance instore performance as interactions with store assistants, the advice they can give and personal recommendations they can make will be made smoother by the speed of 5G. Communication Not only could the communication between customer and retailer be improved, but also the communications between the retailer and their various contacts. Supply chains will be able to…
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How to Ensure Your Retail Brand is Ready for Return Culture
  • 24 Feb 2020
Point of No Returns: How to Ensure Your Retail Brand is Ready for Return Culture
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead It’s a fantastic time to be a consumer. Never before has so much choice been available to us, with a variety of channels, delivery options, ways of shopping, payment options and even discounts. In fact, we now approach online shopping with the same approach as trying things on in changing rooms – we can take in as many items as we like, try them on and return the items we don’t want to buy, all without having to pay a single penny. However, even better than a changing room experience is that this can now be done in our own homes, all without getting hot and bothered or even having to queue to wait for an available cubicle to become free. All this and throw in a free – and often speedy – delivery service and where once online orders might have been arduous and with tricky returns processes, now the shopping experience has evolved. Many consumers have become used to ordering lots of items from a variety of stores, to find the perfect item or fit and then to return the surplus. The ease with which this is done has been a big spur to many people ordering online; it’s ok to ‘risk’ buying something you haven’t physically seen as you know it can be easily returned if you don’t like it. The downside, of course, is that each returned product is an inconvenience to retailers. But, with a well-rounded customer experience being crucial to a retailer’s success, what’s the solution? Make sure product information is accurate A common reason a customer will give for returning an item is that it isn’t as they were expecting or that it didn’t fit correctly. The best way to reduce the likelihood of this happening is to ensure that all the product information is as accurate and consistent as possible. The easiest way to do this is via dedicated retail IT software such as a Product Information Management (PIM) solution, which ensures that all content is enriched across the many channels a consumer uses, that information updates occur simultaneously and that everything happens in real time. The more information given to the customer, the less likely they are to be dissatisfied and see a need to return. Ensure good warehouse management is in place It’s vital to have a structure in place that allows items to be processed and dealt with efficiently in order to reduce the impact they have on a functioning business. A warehouse management system (or WMS) updates what stock is in the warehouse following returns and is important as ensuring that it is labelled, identified and stored correctly, so that it is immediately ready for re-sale. With a single-view of stock, Merret Pro ensures that this happens, increasing the chances of selling items at full price. Ensure mistakes don’t happen We’re all human and with the necessity for speed to market, mistakes can – and do – happen. However, you can minimise…
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How Technology Can Improve Sustainability
  • 18 Feb 2020
Sustain in the Membrane! How Technology Can Improve Sustainability
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead Wherever you live in the world, sustainability and the effect that your business has on the environment around us are ever-increasing hot topics. From ethical trading to single-use plastics, people everywhere are being encouraged to consider what changes we can implement and how we can continue living – but with much less impact. Receiving much scrutiny is the fashion industry: sourcing of fabrics, use of dyes, ethical labour, overall mileage and use of plastics are all areas where consumers and lobbyists want to see change. And, with younger consumers feeling that it’s important that their values align with the brands they like – including 52% of Millennials and 48% of Gen X – it’s not just a good PR or selling opportunity but a catalyst for moral change. So, what methods are retailers employing to make a difference? Here’s our round-up of recent retail innovation. More Accurate Fit Details Our customer, ASOS, have stepped up their fit accuracy to help customers make more informed choices, helping to reduce the number of miles – and potential returns – that their items are making using augmented reality. Instead of viewing one model who might not represent the customer’s chosen size, a customer can select a model that might match their height and/or size. Then, ‘See My Fit’ digitally maps the product onto that model in a realistic way, taking account of the size, cut and fit of each individual garment. In-store Clothes Recycling Stations Having recycling points in a store isn’t a wholly new concept, with many brands such as & Other Stories, M&S and Zara running clothing deposit schemes, but H&M are bringing in technology to aid the process. Starting in their New York City flagship store, H&M is set to install “smart” recycling bins across its stores in a bid to encourage more shoppers to use its Garment Collecting initiative and donate their old clothes. Customers can bring in unwanted clothing, then after placing their bag into the bin, the donation is weighed and the digital screen displays a QR code that gives the shopper a 15% discount code to either spend in-store or online. Sustainable Edits Our customer, Whistles, is a great example of designing for a more environmentally-friendly future. Their plan is to substitute a selection of their fibres with more sustainable alternatives, such as recycled polyester or regenerated cashmere. Their current Sustainable Collection features a variety of items that customers can buy now, with more items being added as they strive for a more sustainable future. Brand Edit And it’s not just in-house brands. Net-a-Porter has released a new platform, Net Sustain, with an edit of brands that meet various sustainability criteria to make ethical shopping even easier for their customers. Both beauty and fashion brands have been curated and have to align to at least one aspect from a list of human, animal and environmental welfare rights. Jean Genies Jeans – and specifically cotton – use astonishingly high numbers of…
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Why Online Shopping is the New Catalogue
  • 10 Feb 2020
Same Same But Different: Why Online is the New Catalogue
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead I still remember the excitement when they would arrive; shiny, heavy and filled with new, beautiful things. My mum was a firm subscriber to the Next catalogue and we’d also dabble with Littlewoods, Freemans and La Redoute. I’d browse the pages and turn the corners over on the pages with the items I liked – sometimes out of hope more than reality – and, once Mum had vetted them (always a tough pitching process), we’d put an order in. I remember thinking how impressive it was that Mum could ring up and then, days later, our items would arrive..! That wonder at a now streamlined process seems quite quaint now, in a world where we expect items to be delivered immediately, usually for free and to a location of our choice. But as we make moves into this new decade and the technological advances that it brings, is shopping online really all that different to the catalogue shopping days of old? From catalogue to online For many years, catalogue shopping saw customers browsing hefty glossy brochures, reading the details and viewing the (limited) pictures of things they wanted, then phoning or writing in to place an order. Littlewoods rebranded as Very.com and, along with many other catalogue-reliant brands such as Next, Freemans and Argos, many embraced having a digital presence. The same concept – look at photos, read a description, make a purchasing decision – seemed an obvious choice for these brands to move online. In many ways, this move from catalogues to online didn’t actually require too much of a change, with the business model largely remaining the same: present product photos and descriptions, ensure producers and suppliers are reliable and that they provide sufficient quality to meet customer expectations, and set the pricing of products competitively. Of course, the big difference is that technology is used to bring the process up to date and create an improved customer experience with an emphasis on convenience. With this, amongst other things, comes easier returns. How has online shopping developed since catalogue days? Customer expectations have developed to mean that we all now expect to return items easily, via a method of our choosing, often for free. The ability of a retailer to handle returns has been improved by technology but this is out of necessity as much as development: quite simply, retailers who don’t efficiently handle returns, either by themselves or outsourced to a returns specialist, will suffer. Alongside this, customers are also perhaps more likely to ‘over buy’, which has a knock-on effect for the delivery, returns and refund processes. For example, if a customer wanted a new dress for a party on Saturday, she could now shop from her desk at work on Friday afternoon, order 10 items, have them delivered the next morning to her home address, try them on at home and choose the dress she wants to keep, then return the other 9 items in-store, all before the party…
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