IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

Retail Assist 2012 Restructure

  • 20 Dec 2011
Retail Assist 2012 Restructure
As Retail Assist continues to grow and support some of the major brands in retail, the business has taken the decision to change its senior management structure to reflect the core areas of operations; Managed Services and the Merret supply chain solution. The re-organisation will be effective from the beginning of 2012. From the 1st January Nigel Illingworth will become Chief Executive Officer and Gary Broughton Chief Operating Officer of Merret. Nigel’s role will be focussed upon the on-going development of the Merret applications whilst Gary will be responsible for implementations and the support of the products. Nigel and Gary, who are currently the Retail Assist Product Services Director and Professional Services Director respectively, were two of the original founders of the business. Dan Smith, the current Managed Services Director, will become Chief Executive Officer for Managed Services. Dan will be responsible for the provision and on-going development of the managed support services. Dan joined the Board of Retail Assist in 2004, bringing with him more than 20 years’ experience in multi-site manufacturing and retail support. A Chief Operating Officer for Managed Services will also be appointed in due course. Alan Morris, co-founder of Retail Assist and current Managing Director comments: “As a result of this re-structuring I will be able to focus on the overall development of Retail Assist as we look to strengthen our market position. My position will be Executive Chairman and I will be responsible for implementing our strategy as well as being responsible for the day to day operation of our internal shared services such as Human Resources, Commercial Management, Sales and Marketing.” Tim Moxon will continue in his role as Chief Finance Officer being responsible for finance and governance. Prior to joining Retail Assist in 2004, Tim had been providing the company with property consultancy and had managed the acquisition of its new Nottingham headquarters. Alan concludes: “The transition to the new structure will be seamless to our clients but we hope that the results of the exercise will be evident to them as they experience the improved services and products that the changes will deliver. On behalf of the entire team I would like to thank the businesses that we work with for their continued support of Retail Assist.”…
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  • 19 Dec 2011
12 Days of Christmas… with a little help from Retail Assist’s clients
Over the 12 days of Christmas, Ra’s clients sold to me Twelve drummers drumming: Eleven pipers piping: Ten lords a-leaping: Nine ladies dancing: Eight maids a-milking: Seven swans a-swimming: Six geese a-laying: Five golden rings: Four calling birds: Three French hens: Two turtle doves: And a partridge in a pear tree!…
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  • 12 Dec 2011
Guest Blog: Retail and Cinema Chain IT Similarities and Differences
By Dave Wilson, Head of IT Operations at Vue Having previously worked within the IT departments of large retail businesses, I can say that there is not a huge difference between the IT discipline there and the one in my current role as Head of IT Operations at a major cinema chain. At Vue cinemas we deal with a product, just as retail businesses do. For us, that product is either a film or a concessions item such as popcorn or pick and mix sweets. Any business that sells products requires the relevant IT systems to facilitate this.   The main difference between retail and cinema is probably the varying trading patterns of the two sectors. However there is some crossover in busy times, for example the school holidays, Christmas and Easter. At Vue, there are peaks and troughs depending on what type of films are out or whether the kids are in school or not. Over a year we may have 38 million visit us. Recently we had 7 million people through the doors over the summer holidays and the half term generated over a million visitors.   Retail is also very seasonal as there are sales on at certain times of the year, for example the traditional January promotions. Retailers and cinema chains both rely upon IT services to support their varying trading patterns. Planning within the IT department happens weeks before a major event as at Vue so that when we come into a half term for example, we hope that the pre-preparation leading up to that period will help to minimise the call upon IT. Similarly, retail IT departments will plan for peak Christmas shopping times.   Weather also plays a definite part in trading patterns – the more rain there is, the better this is for cinema. Whist pleasant, sunshine isn’t really good for cinema, but it is for retailers. When the sun shines people tend to prefer to go out onto the high street rather than sitting in a dark cinema auditorium. When it rains people prefer to stay indoors and turn to the film industry for amusement, therefore high street retailing is the reverse of cinema in that sense.   At Vue, we are currently digitalising our cinema circuit which allows us to react more efficiently to trends in trading patterns. For example if we see that there is an opportunity to show a blockbuster film on more screens on a Saturday evening when it looks like there is going to be high demand from cinemagoers, we could make those changes as late as Saturday afternoon.   By looking at data throughout the trading day, the IT department at Vue can see which films are doing well and which we might like to show on more screens. You can do that with digital but you couldn’t really do that with the 35mm films because physical prints would need to be ordered and moved around. Digitalisation is certainly the future for cinema and is…
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  • 5 Dec 2011
The ‘Digital Native’ Generation
The purchasing habits of customers are changing, with those of tomorrow’s consumers being very different to those of older generations. Retailers need to be taking note of this now to ensure that they are able to attract and engage their future customers. The term ‘digital native’ is one which has been coined recently. The characteristics of this generation are as follows: 1. Firstly this generation are connected 24/7, and many don’t even have an email addresses.  Instead, all of their communications are carried out via Facebook, or instant messaging. They want information now, therefore email or texting may be deemed too slow. 2. Searches conducted by this generation are predominantly done via You tube, as opposed to Google, which is my natural search tool. This demonstrates the importance of video content to retailers to attract younger generations. 3. As keen social ‘social shoppers’ this generation like to get their friends opinions on items before purchase, or read reviews by fellow customers. Posting photos can be from either the retailers social media site, or from the Facebook pages of individual customers, who are not just using f-commerce to transact but also for that all important peer approval. 4. Retail reviews are becoming increasingly important. With the younger generations preferring to read non-official reviews, or choosing not to look at the company website to gain information, but instead entrusting fellow customers and their ‘real’ opinions. This demonstrates the importance of customer service. Essentially what people are saying about you or your products, will be their key selling point. 5. This generation are less loyal; one third of 18-24 year olds not belonging to loyalty schemes, yet, this demographic are more open to receiving ‘relevant’ offers from retailers. This is where the importance of personalisation is highlighted The key for retailers is to ensure that their communications are relevant and timely. Does your business target ‘Digital Natives’? Or would you consider yourself to be a member of the ‘Digital Native’ generation? Post your comments below or email…
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  • 3 Dec 2011
SuperGroup Selects IT Services from Retail Assist
SuperGroup Plc, the parent company of iconic young fashion brands Superdry, Cult, SurfCo California and 77Breed has overhauled its existing IT services provision with the help of Retail Assist. Retail Assist is providing a first line Help Desk for SuperGroup between the hours of 8am and 9pm, and 24/7 remote infrastructure management services. Hardware maintenance for stores is being provided by ICM, and managed by Retail Assist. SuperGroup contracted with Retail Assist to support the strategic objectives of the business. The group has invested in an extensive store rollout program, and earlier this year announced the opening of a new flagship location on Regent Street in the space formerly occupied by Austin Reed. Neil Hooper, IT Infrastructure Manager at SuperGroup explains: “Following SuperGroup’s rapid growth the company wanted to find a partner who could support our current and future expansion plans, and with Retail Assist, we found this.” Hooper continues: “It was critical to the business that a complete range of IT services, and the option of 24/7 cover was provided via a cost effective shared service model. Retail Assist were already delivering 24/7 support to a number of well known retailers, and doing it well. The company was therefore confident that they could make a positive contribution to SuperGroup’s vital operations and also take on the service rapidly.” The timescales for the project were tight, with only six weeks to go-live after the contract was confirmed. Retail Assist are providing a single point of contact for all IT issues across the entire SuperGroup store estate, including own branded retail outlets and concessions. Dan Smith, Managed Services Director at Retail Assist comments: “SuperGroup now have a scalable IT services structure in place that will support the future growth of the business. Investing in shared services also means a low overall cost of ownership and access to a wider resource pool.” Smith concludes: “Retail Assist are delighted to have won the SuperGroup contract and successfully delivered the IT transition, however our work continues. Delivering service improvements and call reduction are ongoing projects, as they are for all our clients”.…
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  • 28 Nov 2011
Integrating vs Interfacing
Within any retail business, the IT solutions used on a day to day basis require integration. This is very different to interfacing, for example within retail stock management an interfaced solution may include product files in two separate locations being used by different systems. Once an item has been purchased in store, the shop’s product file will recognise that this has happened immediately. However, this information will not be fed back to the central solution until polling occurs overnight. This can obviously lead to difficulties if for example a customer attempts to purchase the same product online before the central database recognises that it is no longer in stock. By contrast, an integrated solution will have a single database, utilised by a number of IT systems. This ‘single view’ of stock is invaluable for any retailer. Building links between different applications always presents a challenge, but if it is carefully thought through, well designed and well implemented there is no reason why there should be any major problems. All retailers should be striving for improved products, better locations, more customers and higher net margins. Therefore, all systems suppliers and IT professionals should be using their resources in order to help the retailer find what they are looking for. These four factors should be the underpinning corner stones for any IT strategy. I have already alluded to the fact that multichannel retailers require significant integration across their various routes to market. The ultimate desire of all good retailers is to have the right products at the right prices available in the right channel to meet their customers’ needs. They also want to be able to link that customer into a standard ‘promise’ which ensures that the customer receives the same high level of service regardless of whether they are visiting a store or a transactional website. I believe that in order for any project to be successful there has to be a lot of togetherness – the retailer and the supplier must work as one in defining the requirements, designing the integration, planning the implementation and then dealing with the subsequent issues which may arise. If there is not a pulling together of the human resources then systems resources will never integrate – at best they might interface.…
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Alan Morris
  • 25 Nov 2011
Systems Integration – getting it right in retail
Alan Morris, Managing Director at Retail Assist and Ian O’Rorke, Managing Director at Triquestra UK, debate the issues retailers need to consider when integrating multiple systems such as supply chain and EPoS, and the challenges that they might face. Within any retail business, the IT solutions used on a day-to-day basis require integration. Retail systems integration is very different to interfacing.  For example, within retail stock management, an interfaced solution may include product files in two separate locations being used by different systems. Once an item has been purchased in store, the shop’s product file will recognise this has happened immediately. However, this information will not be fed back to the central solution until polling occurs overnight. This can obviously lead to difficulties if a customer attempts to purchase the same product online before the central database recognises it is no longer in stock. By contrast, an integrated solution has a single database, utilised by a number of systems. This ‘single view’ of stock is invaluable for any retailer. For start-up businesses, the desire to ‘get it right’ from the outset is emphasised, as poor initial interfacing or integration will result in further expense down the line. A joint client of Retail Assist (Merret for supply chain, merchandising and warehousing) and Triquestra (for point-of-sale) is new womenswear brand Mint Velvet, who can be credited with getting integration right from the beginning. Ian: How should retailers go about selecting a systems integration partner? Alan: It is vital that the suppliers involved in systems integration projects prove they have the capability and experience to deliver in this area. It is always a challenge when you are building links between different applications, but if the development is carefully thought through, well designed and well implemented, there is no reason why there should be any major problems. Alan: How can retailers benefit most from systems integration? Ian: Rather than having a ‘jack of all trades’ system that does everything not very well, I’d advise them to start by choosing ‘best-of-breed’ solutions, and have the best of PoS, ERP and finance. If they go for the ‘middle of the road’ solution, they’re more likely to have problems down the line. Investing in the software at the outset is a big outlay, but ‘best of breed’ solutions will last retailers 15 years. Ian: What do think retailers should be looking for? Alan: Better products, better locations, more customers and higher net margins. All retailers should be looking to achieve these objectives, and systems suppliers and IT professionals should use their resources to help retailers find what they’re looking for. These four items should be the cornerstones underpinning any IT strategy. Ian: I echo your comments. You have to agree all these things up-front. Retailers should also look for references, speaking to users of the system before they commission them. Talk to other customers, and make an informed choice. Ian: As you recall, the Mint Velvet solution required a lot of integration.  Looking back, how difficult do…
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  • 21 Nov 2011
A week in the life of Dave Wilson, Head of IT Operations at Vue
Ellie: I’m here today with Dave Wilson, the Head of IT Operations at one of Retail Assist’s clients Vue. Hi Dave, how long is it that you’ve worked for Vue now? Dave: Hi Ellie, I joined Vue in February 2010 so coming up to 2 years now. I started off as a freelance contractor for 6 months then was offered the job permanently by Roland Jones the IT Director in September 2010. Ellie: Would you be able to describe a typical week at work for you at Vue? Dave: Every day is different in any business, particularly in IT, as you can encounter a major incident, or it could be a calm and productive week. There is a typical week however – on Monday it typically starts with KPI (Key Performance Indicator) reporting, management and team meetings. We tend to meet suppliers such as Retail Assist around once a month for review meetings. I live in Leicester so have to commute to Chiswick and generally work from home one day a week. I tend to stay over in a hotel a couple of nights a week and have to plan my diary a couple of weeks in advance as it involves a lot of commuting. Ellie: So during the week, which is your busiest day in general? Dave: From a business perspective, it tends to be Wednesday evenings due to Orange Wednesdays. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are also very busy. For me personally, my busiest day tends to be a Monday, purely because I have to analyse what has gone on over the weekend and what is coming up over the week. IT is a 24/7 service and always will be, especially as cinemas are now open longer hours. We now have midnight showings for certain big film releases, but have a support infrastructure in place externally. Typically Retail Assist supports the business from 9am until midnight, but this is flexible, in the past Retail Assist have provided additional hours of cover as and when required for late night showings. I think anybody considering entering IT who wants to work 9 – 5 should potentially choose another industry because you are required inside and outside of core hours. Ellie: You’ve touched upon the fact that in your role you are tasked with managing both internal and external outsourced teams such as Retail Assist and also Vista – how do you keep on top of this? Dave: I think primarily what you need as a head of department is to be well organised, you need to make sure that you have the relevant reports in place. We take a daily feed of data from Retail Assist and we put that into an automated report that tells me how many issues I have in each cinema. That gives me a platform for the day to see if we are on top of things. We set certain KPIs for example that we don’t want any more than 5% of our PoS devices or…
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  • 14 Nov 2011
Mobile – the only omnipresent channel
Whilst the idea of omnipresence may conjure up religious images for some, what I’m actually referring to when using this term in relation to mobile commerce is the property of being present everywhere. This is true for mobile phones, as most users carry them around wherever they go. In fact, according to a Pew study last year two thirds of adults sleep with their mobile phone next to their bed. Among millennials (young people aged 18 to 29) this figure rises to 90%. The Pew research states that adults who use text messaging facilities on their phone receive an average of 10 texts per day, rising to 50 per day for most teenagers. There is therefore great potential for retailers to connect with their customers through their mobile devices. However ‘with great power comes great responsibility’; it’s important for retailers not to annoy consumers with irrelevant marketing to their mobile phones or attempt to interact with them at inconvenient times of the day. Used correctly, the immediacy of the mobile channel can bring benefits to retailers and consumers alike; giving customers access to the goods they want when they want, and giving retailers sales that they would not have had access to previously. Say for example a consumer is attending a black tie event away from home and realises whilst travelling there that they’ve forgotten a smart pair of shoes. The consumer could order new ones using their mobile device and have them sourced from a local store using services such as Shutl. Utilising options such as 90 minute delivery from Aurora Fashions, the shoes could then be delivered to the customer’s hotel in time for their arrival. There has been much debate about whether mobile commerce generates incremental sales for retailers or simply cannibalises existing sales. For customers who are glued to their mobile devices, providing facilities such as free Wi-Fi in shops can encourage online shopping in store. This may sound strange – after all, why would a consumer want to order something online if it was right in front of them? One example may be if a given item of clothing was not available in their size within that branch. The customer could order it online without leaving the retail premises meaning that the chance of them going home and forgetting to make the purchase would be eliminated. Furthermore, it’s important to note that the mobile is not just a device that will serve the ability to shop on the go – an area of serious opportunity to both the consumer and the retailer is to learn more about the product. Whether that be scanning the barcode in store to get rich media content about the product sent to the phone, or conducting an internet search for a particular item on the phone whilst on the high street to find out which shop is holding stock. What are your thoughts on mobile commerce? Are you using it to your advantage or do you plan to do so…
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  • 7 Nov 2011
FAQs – The Help Desk
Ellie: I’m here today with one of our Help Desk team leaders, Ellen Roberts, to ask her what the most common issue that clients call the Retail Assist support centre for assistance with is. Ellen, in your experience, what is the Help Desk’s most frequently asked question? Ellen: I would say that the common issues vary according to the client and the type of system they use within their organisation. The majority of questions clients ask the Help Desk are mostly regarding hardware, such as the till and its peripherals, e.g. how to reset / re-start them and where to re-seat / place cabling etc. It does appear that most customers do like to try and apply their knowledge to fix a problem themselves, as when we dial onto customers’ tills / back offices to apply fixes, they are always quite keen to know what caused the problem, how they can prevent it and the steps they can follow to fix it. Ellie: In most circumstances – depending which systems the individual client is using – what is the typical fix or answer to this question? Ellen: There is always the typical fix of “turn it off and wait 5 seconds” and re-try! But that aside, when trying to fix an issue, as a Help Desk we are always mindful of the impact that the issue is causing to the customer’s business and ability to trade, we endeavour to fix a problem as quickly as possible and with minimal disruption. In terms of answering queries such as the scenarios detailed in the above question, we use our procedure database and test kits to the best of our ability to apply fixes to customers’ systems. The test kits are also extremely useful for the types of scenarios when customers are unable to power on their tills or locate a particular cable that requires checking or re-seating, as we are able to talk the customer through this by reviewing our test kit and identifying cables / sockets with the customer very easily. Ellie: Thanks for that Ellen, I think that’s provided a good insight for our clients – or indeed other companies using a Help Desk facility – into some of the ways in which their technical problems may be resolved. Are you supported by an IT Help Desk? Or do you work on the front line in a support centre? Do you agree with Ellen’s most frequently asked questions? Post your comments below or email…
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