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IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

Lubricating the retail supply chain

Nigel Illingworth
  • 15 Nov 2008
Lubricating the retail supply chain
Nigel Illingworth, Product Director of Retail Assist, argues that optimising supply chain performance is fundamental to success, especially so when markets are unsteady and consumer confidence is jittery, and that technology is the key to success. Even when retailers have streamlined and optimised their supply chain, there is invariably still more to be achieved. There are many ways for retailers to make real improvements, not only making cost savings but also finding ways to increase revenue, and technology is a key enabler of all that. For example, in a multi-channel world, it is critical to ensure great customer service, optimise operations and control costs by, say, integrating stock for stores with stock for online purchases via a single stock source. Technology can help you get those logistics right, and support all channels effectively. There are clear opportunities for further gains through, for example, greatly improved communications and collaboration through the chain. Indeed, one of the biggest wins technology can deliver is by providing far greater visibility across the entire process. This enables the retailer to focus on potential logjams before they become an issue, to ensure the right business process is followed to drive workflow and move the chain on. For this reason, it is important to integrate your supply chain system with other retail systems. The payback is particularly significant when you build in an integrated retail business intelligence (BI) solution that offers powerful analytics. The benefits provided by technology are self-evident. For instance, the Global CFO of retailer Paperchase attributed a 6.4% sales uplift to its Merret supply chain solution in the year following its deployment. With gains such as that, you can make a strong case for investing in the right technology. Payback can be fast and sustained. In any case, entry level costs today aren’t necessarily high: managed solutions and ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) approaches mean you don’t have to be a big player to get the same benefits, with smaller retailers able to pay a flexible ‘per user’ cost, or access solutions on a rental basis. As the technology develops, so do the business opportunities. In terms of future trends, true mobility is really gathering pace. We are now seeing sales staff use in-store hand-held devices in real-time to check stock availability in the warehouse, or on the shop floor in front of the customer. These devices can also speed up the returns process from stores, ensuring even quicker stock turnaround in sales, markdowns and promotions. RFID technology is another growth area. Here, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of its practical application. Automating warehouse operations is one example, using RFID tech for scanning and tracking, and robotics for picking, sorting and despatch. Warehouse management also becomes automated. The results are faster throughput, faster and more accurate store replenishment, lower costs, and retailers meeting seasonal changes in consumer behaviour. Even the best-designed, highest performance sports car will seize up if its moving parts are not lubricated effectively. That’s the…
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The White Company
  • 28 Sep 2008
New Client – The White Company
Multichannel retailer, The White Company, selects Retail Assist for store systems Service Desk and hardware maintenance Retail-only solutions and services provider, Retail Assist, has announced that it has secured a three-year contract from The White Company to maintain the retailer’s store systems hardware in partnership with Toshiba TEC Corporation. The White Company is one of the UK’s fastest-growing multichannel retailers. What began in 1994 as a concept for beautifully designed affordable home accessories, principally in white, has become a benchmark for the lifestyle market. The White Company is today one of the UK’s pre-eminent brands with 21 retail outlets, 16 brochures per year and a thriving online store. Marc Harper is IT Support Manager at The White Company. He explains: ‘Following our selection of new software for point-of-sale and back-office, we looked hard at our existing hardware maintenance services. We didn’t feel confident that these services were cost-effective and responsive, could maintain a stable store environment, and were capable of underpinning our expansion plans.’ The White Company has subsequently chosen Toshiba TEC to deliver on-site hardware maintenance for 54 tills and 31 PCs, via Retail Assist. The service operates between the hours of 09.00 to 17.30 Monday to Saturday and 11.00 to 17.30 on Sundays. Through a dedicated telephone number for The White Company, Retail Assist proactively manages store maintenance calls via its Service Desk and coordinates Toshiba TEC’s activity to deliver against service level agreements. As the primary point of contact, Retail Assist provides an account management service and is responsible for call management through to resolution. It also looks after all stores-based communications as well as call reporting and supplier management. Bespoke reporting creates real-time status statistics on every call.…
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Adams IT Outsourcing
  • 20 Sep 2008
Adams commissions Merret.NET
Retail solutions and services provider, Retail Assist, has announced that its long-standing client, Adams Childrenswear, has commissioned it to provide a supply chain and merchandising solution to replace its current systems. This is the first contract for the .NET version of Retail Assist’s Merret application. Adams will use Merret .NET for its merchandising and distribution centre management. It will also utilise Merret BI for business intelligence and reporting. The rationale is for Adams to operate a single all-encompassing solution that supports planning, and interfaces with its automated sortation warehouse system and e-commerce, replacing current systems such as JDA and Business Objects. Explains David Carter-Johnson, Chief Executive of Adams: ‘Retail Assist is a trusted long-term partner. By implementing Merret .NET, we will gain a modern, flexible and fully-supported packaged solution that will make us more productive, giving us better management information and control.’ Adams is confident that this new system will help to make its business more dynamic and transparent as well as providing better functionality than its current systems. As a packaged product, Merret .NET can be easily extended at no additional cost to support Adams’ growing multi-channel, multi-site and international businesses. The solution will provide in-season planning, allocation and replenishment, inward & outward distribution, management of product, pricing, purchase orders, warehousing and distribution, together with merchandising analysis, business intelligence and store back- office. Comments Nigel Illingworth, Product Director at Retail Assist: ‘Merret .NET will give Adams a raft of benefits including the agility to support its growth. The company will gain from increased functionality, improved integration with its existing systems and a low total cost of ownership.’ Celebrating its 75th year in business, the retailer prides itself on being the UK’s only children’s clothing specialist with a distinctive brand proposition. The company now has 260 stores in the UK and Eire and 116 international franchise stores alongside ‘mini mode’ trading in 330 Boots stores. Retail Assist has worked with the retailer since 1999. The companies recently renewed their IT outsourcing relationship in a £multi-million 5-year contract.  …
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Adams IT Outsourcing
  • 20 Sep 2008
Adams Contract Renewal
Retail-only solutions and services provider, Retail Assist, has announced that its long-standing client, adams kids, has renewed its IT outsourcing relationship in a £multi-million, 5-year contract. Early last year, retail entrepreneur and former Stead & Simpson Chairman, John Shannon, purchased 270 of adams kids’ UK stores and 100 international outlets. Comments David Carter-Johnson, Chief Executive of adams kids: “Retail Assist has a long history of working with our company as a trusted partner and we consider them to be an integral part of our business. We see Retail Assist playing a valuable part in our growth plans for the future.” Retail Assist has worked with adams kids since 1999 in all areas of system support and development. Its Managed IT services contract includes 24/365 application level support in merchandising, warehousing and finance, plus Service Desk, EPoS, PC and network support, desktop support, offsite data centre hosting and overnight schedule support. It also provides the business with store development, disaster recovery, project management and PCIDSS compliance services. Alan Morris, Retail Assist’s Managing Director, says: “We’re delighted to have reached this new agreement with adams kids. It’s very positive news for Retail Assist. It reinforces our relationship with a key client and gives us a platform on which to move forward.”…
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Retail Assist news
  • 11 Aug 2008
Mosaic: Sales Data Visibility with Ra-X
A data exchange solution from Retail Assist is providing Mosaic with accurate, timely and consistent sales data across all brands worldwide: a solid platform for international business growth. Mosaic Fashions is the parent company of eight design-led fashion brands: Anoushka G, Coast, Karen Millen, Oasis, Odille, Principles, Shoe Studio Group and Warehouse. The brands in Mosaic Fashions’ portfolio are sold through 2,015 stores in 37 countries. Background Mosaic Fashions development has been through brand extensions, organic growth and brand acquisition resulting in an expanding network of UK and international concessions and franchises. Retailers are finding data exchange a big challenge as they work with more trading partners and must develop and maintain multiple interfaces across different time zones and systems platforms. With Mosaic expanding its network of concessions and outlets to include many more partners, data exchange requirements increased and became far more complex. The company had previously used standard file transfer protocol (FTP) to send PLU data to its partners and receive sales data back. Whilst aiming for file standardisation from all concessions, Mosaic found it needed to manipulate numerous formats before data could be processed into its merchandising system. Solution Rather than continue managing this process on an agreement-by-agreement basis, Mosaic uses Retail Assist’s Ra-X as a consistent end-to-end solution. “To support our ambitions for expansion, it was critical to establish a resilient and scalable polling model which can be extended to any concession or Mosaic brand store”,says John Bovill, Group IT Director at Mosaic Fashions. “Retail Assist had a proven track record in managing polling services to support own-fascia and concessions and gave us real confidence.” Ra-X manages Mosaic’s concession and international channel polling, giving each the same importance, and ensures that critical data is produced across the entire business. The service is fully scaleable to support growth and rising data volumes. Ra-X transfers sales data between host retailers and Mosaic’s own systems for all of its brands. This includes daily collection of consolidated sales data from each business outlet and its transmission to Mosaic together with analysis of any failures or discrepancies. The service is governed by service level agreements (SLAs) that aim to achieve a consistently high rate of polling success. The primary service is hosted at Retail Assist’s Northampton Data Centre, a secure facility with 24/365 monitoring and a controlled environment for full backup and disaster recovery. The Data Centre links to sales systems in Mosaic stores, concessions, franchises, online sales and Head Office, translating PLU and sales data into the correct format and sending it out quickly and securely. This has given Mosaic business visibility over sales data without the costs and burden of maintaining systems in-house. Ra-X has been rolled out to Mosaic in a number of stages. Today, trading data is collected from all of the Mosaic brands across all of its outlets. The company’s network of host retailers includes some of Europe’s premier department stores: House of Fraser, Selfridges, Fenwicks, Allders, Debenhams, Vroom and Dreesman, and Brown Thomas. This amounts…
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World Duty Free - IT Help Desk
  • 1 Jul 2008
Sky’s the limit as Retail Assist signs WDF
Retail-only solutions and services provider, Retail Assist, has revealed details of its relationship with a new client, airport retailer World Duty Free (WDF), who is using the company to provide a front-line IT Help Service to all its duty-free stores across the UK. The 24-hour Service Desk provides both 1st- and 2nd-level telephone support for a number of systems and applications. For the Retail-J EPoS software, which is pivotal to the success of WDF’s operations, this includes round-the-clock, proactive monitoring of the architecture to maximise resilience and operating performance. Retail Assist provided consultancy on the Retail-J and Oracle environments, supported the JDA interface and coordinated partner activity. The contract also encompasses support for the Sony digital signage hardware and software that is an integral part of WDF’s Heathrow Terminal 5 operation. Adrian Frymann, Head of IT for WDF, describes how Retail Assist convinced his company that it was the right choice. ‘Retail Assist’s retail and technical understanding are second to none. Its staff combine real-life retail experience and technical skills. They have an excellent reputation for working with solution partners, and are very experienced in supporting both the Retail-J application and leading department stores such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.’ Last year, as part of its Improving Customer Experience (ICE) project, WDF decided to upgrade its EPoS system to a new-generation platform, which would deliver rapid customer service and enable fast-paced and transparent product replenishment. Having chosen Retail-J, the retailer’s challenge was to roll out the system to its complete store estate: 57 World Duty Free-branded department and specialist stores totalling more than 250 tills, in 12 UK airport terminals. Rollout was completed within three months, which included the Easter peak trading period. The project also addressed complexities such as controlling the sale of duty-free products, processing multi-currency transactions, Dynamic Currency Conversion and faster transaction times. Significant advancements were also made with the introduction of automated global flight lookup and electronic reading of boarding cards at the point-of-sale. All of these elements were important in ensuring that time-constrained customers would be able to complete their purchases comfortably and quickly. Adrian Frymann praises Retail Assist for rising to the challenge: ‘Close cooperation between project teams and total focus on the part of Retail Assist’s Support Services and Store Systems teams got the Support Desk up and running in 3 weeks. It was a great achievement.’ WDF started to enjoy real benefits from the earliest point. After only one month, there was a 53% reduction in 3rd-line support calls. Elimination of merchandising pricing issues and better communication between IT and Customer Service leaders have been two further positive outcomes of the new relationship. Continues Frymann: ‘Retail Assist’s responsive service has resulted in the improved in-store customer experience that was the goal of our ICE project. Customers queue to check in, to pass through security and to board their plane. We were determined to play our part in achieving minimal queuing time whilst in our stores and to provide our customers with great…
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Dan Smith - Retail Assist
  • 14 Jun 2008
Outsourcing in the retail sector
By Dan Smith, Managed Services Director of Retail Assist Many retailers are turning to IT outsourcing as the means to control costs and improve their service delivery. Look at some of the benefits that outsourcing IT can bring and the mindset needed to make it a success: The benefits Cost savings from exploiting the outsourced partner’s (OP’s) shared services model Innovation and business improvement Removes distraction and allows you to focus on your core business More predictable budgeting Flexible staffing, evening out peaks and troughs in resource demand Keeps the business up to date with new skills and technologies Meeting project deadlines, including those outside mainstream IT activity Getting the mindset right and preparing to outsource Outsourcing can provide a fast track to excellence by introducing experts in non-core operations. Foster a balance between control and trust by viewing outsourcing as a medium- or long-term solution. Set clear and realistic targets. Define all the expected benefits financial, process and quality – and make sure they tie in to corporate objectives. Clarify the relationship between inhouse and outsourced staff. Keep employees informed to eliminate potential concerns and get buy-in from key sponsors. Aim for a contract that is as simple as possible and that exploits the flexibility this new relationship can bring. Define accountability and build in regular review points. Some outsourcing contracts founder because they fail to keep up with the changing face of retail business, so it’s important to build in flexibility. The services themselves will also need to evolve and flex as the business progresses, so be wary of a contract, and a mindset, that is too rigid. Communication is critical and must be multi-layered, to include: Jointly-agreed service level agreements Change control procedures Continuous performance measurement Disaster recovery Dispute resolution Selecting a partner Outsourcing is a critical relationship and it is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Cultural fit is more important than anything else so select the supplier with whom you feel most at home. Retailers should look to work with an OP who has specialist retail knowledge and can work to the structures and timetables imposed by retail, such as overnight processing and pick schedules. Ensure that your OP is resourced by a team that understands your business challenges. Look for a critical mass of staff with the right skills, plus make sure you get continuity of key individuals. Look at your OP’s past record with similar types and sizes of retail client. Whilst major outsourcing organisations can offer stability, they can also introduce timescale and budget issues. When you need flexibility, ask yourself whether a smaller outsourcer with fewer procedural constraints could produce a better result. Make sure your OP is highly accredited. Ask if they adhere to the ITIL framework for service management. Check too whether they have the ‘gold standard’ of ISO 20000 accreditation which guarantees that they are indeed operating to the framework. Managing the relationship For an IT Director, outsourcing IT can be life-changing. It releases you from the…
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Harvey Nichols
  • 10 Jun 2008
Harvey Nichols opts for Merret BI Solution
Retail-only solutions and services provider, Retail Assist, has named international luxury store chain, Harvey Nichols, as the first client to adopt Merret BI. Merret BI is an ‘out of the box’ retail-specific business intelligence solution that includes budgeting, planning, forecasting and profitability analysis. At Harvey Nichols, it replaces BI tools such as Business Objects, Arthur Planning and Hyperion. Explains Harvey Nichols’ IT & Logistics Director, Martin Schofield: “The new solution is easier to implement and easier to use. User requests can be actioned in hours, not days. Our reporting is now more accurate and, as we have only one licence to pay, it’s more cost-effective. With the Merret BI framework in place, we can build in enhancements that will support our business expansion.” Whilst Merret BI primarily reports on supply chain activity, it can also include other parts of a retail operation to create a universal and consistent business view. Merret BI is not a generic tool: it is designed for retail, and to enable retailers to address the challenges they face through sector- and activity-specific business reporting and workflow. Retail Assist signed a partnership agreement with software author, Board MIT last autumn. Merret BI is built upon the Board MIT engine, and comes with a wraparound of Retail Assist’s sector intelligence, services and retail-ready report structures. This makes it very quick and easy for a retailer to get up and running with Merret BI. Pre-built retail report templates mean that new users can gain business intelligence from their data gathering, analysis and reporting from day one. In addition to being the business intelligence option of Retail Assist’s Merret supply chain system, Merret BI is available as a stand-alone solution. Continues Martin Schofield: “Merret has been driving our supply chain operations for some time but we have used a number of tools for variance finance reporting. Once Merret BI became available, we saw we could achieve a lot more with a single tool than with the multiple products we’ve been using.” For Harvey Nichols, Retail Assist undertook database design and population followed by user training, enabling finance users to create their own reports using the Merret BI tool. States Nigel Illingworth, Retail Assist’s Product Director: “Harvey Nichols calls on various sources of information for its management finance reports. These needed to be pulled together into one version of the truth, eliminating the need for dual keying and duplicated effort.” Harvey Nichols has a number of premium lifestyle stores specialising in brand name merchandise. Its estate covers Dublin, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham and Leeds in addition to its flagship Knightsbridge, London store. International expansion has seen stores in Riyadh, Dubai, Jakarta, Hong Kong and Istanbul become landmarks in cities where luxury is a byword.…
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Tec7
  • 15 May 2008
Tec7 implementation short listed for award
The judging panel of this year’s European Solutions Awards has short-listed one of our most successful recent projects for the award category of ‘Project Implementation of the Year’. In April and May of last year, we led a project for VC-backed retail start-up, the specialist electronics retailer Tec7, who had just won a prestigious contract to take over House of Fraser’s Sound & Vision department across 22 stores. Despite the most demanding of conditions, the project came in on time, under budget, making Tec7 ready for trading. A year later, the business is delivering impressive sales increases. The requirement was to start from scratch and deliver a complete IT and communications infrastructure and supply chain solution that would bring together head office, warehouse, distribution centre, data centre and multiple store sites. Our Merret product acted as the keystone of the project. Explains Nigel Illingworth, our Product Director: ‘This project is one of the best examples of how Retail Assist and Merret can flex and adapt to different client requirements and business environments.’ The timescales were extremely tight, budgets were fixed, and there were multiple stakeholders to manage. Within 6 weeks, we had to install all the hardware, software and communications that Tec7 needed to manage its supply chain and support its retail operations within House of Fraser stores from day one. There was no margin for error or delay. Rigorous management of the project and of the many parties involved in it was critical. The result of was an outstanding one. The project not only met the go-live deadline (the first store went live as planned after just 6 weeks!) but also saved Tec7 4% in operational costs plus a further 17% on the capital costs originally allocated. The role of Mark Yates, our Project Manager, was a pivotal one and Tec7 and House of Fraser have paid tribute to his professional and personal skills. One year later, Tec7 is delivering strong sales performance, with substantial increases over House of Fraser’s previous year’s Sound & Vision trading. States Mark Gifford, House of Fraser’s Chief Financial Officer: ‘The introduction of Tec7 as the television, audio and technology partner to House of Fraser has significantly improved our customer proposition. This has lead to outstanding recent sales performance, up over 30% on last year.’ The last word goes to Ravi Virdi, retail entrepreneur and Managing Director of Tec7: ‘Given the deadline, budgets, the various people involved and the fact we were starting from nothing, I believe many other suppliers would have failed to deliver. The flexibility and ‘can do’ attitude of Retail Assist ensured project success. We had a sophisticated, real-time supply chain solution and supporting infrastructure installed from scratch in a matter of weeks. Retail Assist has the experience to deliver this kind of solution – and to do it right, in a focused, agile and risk-averse way – while still providing a personal service.’     The winner of this and other European Retail Solutions Awards will be announced on 25th…
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Retail Assist news
  • 1 May 2008
Merret at Retail Solutions 2008
Retail Assist will be exhibiting its award-winning Merret supply chain solution on the Microsoft Pavilion (Stand G36) at this year’s Retail Solutions exhibition being held at ExCel from 24th to 26th June. Merret is the integrated merchandising and warehousing solution that delivers a payback in months – not years. A real-time multi-outlet multi-channel solution, Merret covers all aspects of stock control and retail supply: from product content, purchasing, warehousing and replenishment, to inward and outward distribution, store back office, financials, in-season planning, CRM data capture and reporting. It meets the needs of medium-size and multi-channel retailers ‘out of the box’, with superb multi-currency, multi-country capabilities for true international retail. Merret has again been short-listed with Tec7 and House of Fraser for an award at the European Retail Solutions Awards 2008 taking place on 25th June at Old Billingsgate Market.  …
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