IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


Best Food
  • 10 Dec

‘Effective and efficient’: How Retail Assist supports Best Food Logistics

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Director of IT for Best Food Logistics, Cindy Howarth-Stares, praised Retail Assist for their on-going support in the latest of our Customer Testimonial Series. Best Food Logistics, formerly Bidvest, partners with many household names in the food, drink and hospitality sector, such as KFC, Pizza Express, Pret a Manger, Pizza Hut, Zizzi’s, ASK Italian, TGI Fridays and Burger King. Cindy said: “We pride ourselves on fantastic customer service to our clients. We needed to find an IT support provider who mirrored that and provided the same level of service to their clients as we provide to ours. “With effective and efficient call resolution, we’re able to plan for the future.” Retail Assist provides Help Desk support, technical support, project management, asset management and desktop management for Best Food Logistics. Cindy continued: “I run a really lean team at Best Food Logistics, so having access to an experienced project management team who know our business and know our strategy is invaluable. “They act as an extension of the internal team.” Click here to watch the video on YouTube Retail Assist’s Managed Services team provide proactive support to both retail and hospitality customers. From working alongside an existing IT team to even becoming a customer’s entire IT department, we can underpin a customer’s entire business, whatever the level of support required. If you would like more information on the support we provide to Best Food Logistics, click here to request a case study, or email marketing@retail-assist.co.uk. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the next video in our Customer Testimonial Series or, if you’d like to watch more of our videos, click here.…
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  • 3 Dec

“They care about our business as much as their own”

Retail Assist and Vue International join forces for an inter-vue Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive At Retail Assist, we keep our customer’s customer at the heart of everything we do. Ensuring that our clients – and their customers – receive the best levels of service is paramount and it is this belief that we have built our business foundations on. This month sees the launch of our Customer Testimonial Series, where we speak to our clients regarding our work together and the many ways in which we support them. Our first interview is with Roland Jones, Executive Director of Technical Services at Vue International. Retail Assist have supported Vue since 2009, when we took responsibility for the management of user support and technical service management in both Vue’s Head Office and across their entire cinema estate. Having experienced significant growth in the UK and internationally, Vue’s technological assets are critical to the service that they offer their customers; underpinning this structure with Retail Assist’s Help Desk support has seen a reduction in incident volumes and, in 2014, saw Vue International renew their contract for another five years. Roland said: “As a supplier, I find them (Retail Assist) an extension of my own organisation – and you don’t find that with every supplier. “I have always got the feeling – and continue to have – that they care about our business as much as their own.” Click here to watch the video on YouTube Retail Assist’s Help Desk provides a single point of contact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for all business support calls covering facilities management and technology. If you would like more information on the support we provide to Vue International, click here to request a case study, or email marketing@retail-assist.co.uk. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the next video in our Customer Testimonial Series or, if you’d like to watch more of our videos, click here.…
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Black Friday 2018
  • 30 Nov

Top Ten Black Friday Stats 2018

Written by Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Black Friday, once a day of discounts prior to Christmas, is now an almost two-week long spending phenomenon including blanket discounts, price matching and squashed margins. But with a loom of economic uncertainty round the corner, did this stop Brits from splashing the cash? We’ve picked out ten stats to round up 2018’s Black Friday. 1. Online sales soar We knew online sales would dominate Black Friday sales based on previous research, however Springboard reported that online sales had reached a 46% YoY increase by just 4pm. This is a reflection of not only larger discounts being offered online, but convenience. Why battle through the crowded streets in your half hour lunch break, when you can make your purchases from the comfort and warmth of your office chair? 2. Cheaper treats Barclaycard reported transactions were up 10% YoY by 3pm on Black Friday, despite spending value being down 12%, suggesting that consumers are spending less but buying more. It is likely that this figure comes from shoppers buying small treats for themselves, but perhaps also includes those that hadn’t planned to make a purchase, but who had been lured in by offers. 3. Internet browsers Online browsing remains strong with 1.2 billion website visits from 19th to the 25th of November, only a 1% decrease from last year: 194 million of these visits were on Black Friday alone. These figures show how consumers are browsing deals online before committing, something we’ve referred to as the research revolution. 4. The search continues As suggested in our annual Black Friday survey, consumers are making more informed decisions and Google stated that Black Friday searches have increased 80% over the last two years. With retailers disclosing deals over a week in advance, shoppers have the time to sit back and decide what they want to get out of the Black Friday sales, rather than purchasing on impulse. 5. Clued-up shoppers Google also identified how, earlier in November, non-branded searches are more frequent, but as Black Friday dawns, users become more informed and therefore specific about their options as they start to identify the best deals and savings. Branded (blue) vs Non-Branded (green) searches, Think With Google. 6. Amazon hold their own Amazon held a 26% share of the Black Friday market, a 3% increase from last year. Amazon claimed that this Black Friday was their busiest day of the year so far, which is an achievement when comparing Black Friday to the massive price slashes of Amazon’s very own discount day, PrimeDay. 7. Food before tech As expected, electronics sold well. However, this year the biggest growth in terms of web traffic was in the grocery sector, with a 12% YoY increase. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a blanket deal offering 40% off the weekly food shop, but British supermarkets did engage with Black Friday this year, slashing the prices of spirits. 8. Leaders without the loss Typically, British fashion retailers offered products discounted between 20 and 30…
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Nelson Blackley
  • 26 Nov

‘Clicks to bricks’: an unexpected retail phenomenon

Guest blog by Nelson Blackley, Retail Research Associate at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University What is ‘clicks to bricks’? Five years ago, some retail commentators were predicting that, by 2020, the unstoppable rise of online shopping would have completely taken over retail and driven ‘bricks-and-mortar’ stores to extinction. However, the Office for National Statistics claims that online sales currently accounts for around 18% of the total UK retail market and, whilst it is highly likely that this will continue to grow, it’s clear that the promised online ‘takeover’ of retail is unlikely to happen any time soon. An unexpected trend has emerged over the past few years, with online retailers and brands now moving ‘offline’ and opening stores, the so-called ‘clicks to bricks’ phenomenon. Even Amazon, the global online behemoth, now operates over 600 physical retail venues of various kinds around the world, including Amazon Go and through its acquisition last year of the Whole Foods chain. Which online retailers are moving into bricks-and-mortar? It’s an increasingly long list but amongst UK-based retailers these now include: Loaf was established in 2008 as an online retailer of beds, sofas and accessories, and now has seven showroom stores ‘helping consumers to relax and chill out with products showcased in realistic settings’ in locations including Solihull, Guilford and St. Albans. Missguided, the own brand womenswear retailer, also began purely online, gathering a huge social media presence amongst its target group of 16-34 year olds. They now have two stores in shopping centres in East London and Kent, designed to be ‘a deconstructed version of the Missguided website’, as well as concessions in Selfridges stores in Birmingham and Manchester. Joe Browns, an online and mail order fashion retailer, has also moved into physical retail, opening its first store opened in Sheffield Meadowhall last November. Their team are looking to create ‘an impressive three-dimensional version of our catalogue’ and a store which ‘crystallises their brand in a physical space perfectly’. But why now? With extensive consumer databases accessible through their catalogue and/or online operations, and integrated data processing systems, retailers moving from ‘clicks to bricks’ have in-depth and personal understanding of the changing demands and behaviours of their consumers, and so can ensure decisions are customer focused and market driven. ‘Clicks to bricks’ retailers also appear to have a clear view of the role stores play within their channel ‘mix’ and so are using their newly acquired physical space strategically to complement, rather than compete, with their online operations. Online retailers also recognise that a physical presence offers the consumer different benefits and can be used to reinforce a consistent brand image, as well as broaden the appeal of their brand. Stores have the potential to engage the customer’s five senses and so demonstrate how the brand looks, sounds, smells, feels and even tastes. Finally, fulfilling customer orders is one of the biggest outgoing costs for online retailers and so the move from ‘clicks to bricks’ can provide a more efficient way of getting…
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Retail Assist Emmanuel House
  • 21 Nov

This year, give hope: why our charity of the year, Emmanuel House, needs your support

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive A warm bed, a hot bath, and a steaming cup of a tea are all things that help us get through the harsh, freezing winter months. But, instead of this, what if your priorities involved finding bedding, food or even a safe place to sleep? Emmanuel House is Retail Assist’s charity of the year and today, we attended the launch of their Winter Appeal. Whilst homelessness is a year-round issue, the focus of their Winter Appeal is to work with beneficiaries to help find a home of their own – something that many of us take for granted. Speaking at the launch, Denis Tully, Emmanuel House’s Chief Executive Officer, said: ‘Ultimately, our ambition is to ensure that people recover from homelessness, forever.” Emmanuel House’s services, and the Winter Shelter they co-ordinate, are an integral part of the plan to reduce homelessness in Nottingham city. In 2017-2018, over 900 individuals used the service, amounting to over 17,000 visits to the centre. The services they provide are varied, with the provision offered covering everything from advice and advocacy around tenancies, benefits, mental health support, training and workshops, drug and alcohol support, and a daily nurse, to a core programme of social activities including art projects and a choir. They also have an on-site charity shop, which brings in much-needed income and is also a place for service users to gain all-important work experience. With the support centre costing £1,000 a day to run, plus extra funding needed to finance the Winter Shelter, and no statutory funding received, donations are vital to provide support and services to the centre’s users. However, whilst monetary donations are crucial to keeping the centre running, contributions of food and clothing also make a significant difference to the work of Emmanuel House. Their ‘most-needed items’ include tinned tomatoes, cooking oil, stock cubes, tea, coffee and gravy powder, with other essentials listed such as rucksacks, trainers, sleeping bags, jeans and jogging bottoms. This December, Retail Assist will hold its annual Christmas raffle, which takes place across all of our sites. With an office fuddle, fundraising activities and a Christmas Jumper Day, all proceeds raised will go to Emmanuel House. Many of us will be looking forward to a joyful Christmas, filled with loved ones, parties and presents. However, perhaps this winter, you might want to consider supporting vulnerable adults and the challenges they face. Because, as Denis summarises: ‘Without hope, we wither.’ Emmanuel House is Retail Assist’s charity of the year. You can read more about some of our fundraising efforts here and here, and for more information regarding how you could support Emmanuel House, visit their website here.  …
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Inventory Management
  • 19 Nov

Stock Right Now! Why inventory management is vital for retailers

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Maintaining an accurate and successful supply chain is critical to any retail operation, and inventory management is a big part of the success. Ensuring that sufficient stock is ordered – and that the right items are in stock and the products on sale are correct – is all part of a successful retail business. Why is inventory management important? Having the correct items, in the right places, at the best prices possible, can be the difference between a functioning retail business and a flourishing one. Those who get inventory management right give themselves a natural advantage over their rivals. If stock is not in sufficient supply, customers will soon look elsewhere; excess stock leads to wastage, with retailers feeling a need for clearance sales and costly storage solutions. While purchasing stock plays a large part in inventory management, many other factors must be considered. How much can be stored? What are the transportation costs? How can potential shortages can be handled? Getting things wrong can very quickly lead to a loss of any customer loyalty that has been carefully built up, as well as potentially souring any profitable relationships with suppliers or distributers. What can be done to help with inventory management? There are ways of simplifying inventory management, rendering it as easy as possible. Retail Assist offers various solutions, which include the following: Stock Management Software Taking advantage of recent advances in mobile technology, stock management software can allow employees to access stock inventories at various locations, at convenient times. As offline in-store inventories are possible, which later connect and synchronise when connections are available, inventory processes can be undertaken on shop floors, in store rooms or wherever stock may be. The need for expensive, static hardware is removed and replaced with functional and easy to use tools that are easy to integrate into existing retail environments, and can be swiftly adapted to by staff members. Click here to watch the video on YouTube Purchase Order Management Systems Ensuring that any purchase orders are made in a centralised and visible way is important and using a Purchase Order Management System ensures that this occurs. Financial commitment information is readily available, as is clear information as to an order’s status, no matter where in the world it may be occurring. All stages of the process can be looked at, which purchase orders have been approved, which have not and which have been sent. Budgets and workflow levels can be set, with transparent audit trails ensuring that awareness is always clear. There are many other elements that aid inventory management, ranging from the ability to accept multi-drop purchase orders to automatic calculations of freight and duty that may be incurred. Warehouse Management Systems For retailers who deal with warehouses of significant size, organising those spaces and making sure they run well is a very important component of inventory management. Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) are contained within a Warehouse Management System (WMS) and can monitor many…
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  • 16 Nov

Celebrating good times: Retail Assist’s award-winning week!

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive They say that good things come round in threes and this week that’s certainly true for Retail Assist. This week saw the annual BCS UK IT Awards and the Nottingham Post Women in Business Awards. They were both fantastic evenings and we are delighted that we came away as finalists! On Wednesday, Kieran Bowden, Head of Business Development (Services) and Tina Hand, Head of Systems Support, travelled to London for the annual BCS UK IT Awards where Retail Assist was a finalist for the Services Company of the Year. Celebrating excellence in the UK technology sector, the awards were a wonderful night to praise and reflect the good practice shown in the industry over the last 12 months. The next day, two of our members of staff were finalists in the Nottingham Post Women in Business Awards. Alex Broxson, Head of Marketing, was a finalist in the category of Digital Ambassador after being nominated by her team. Alex was celebrated for her innovative approach to digital marketing and the development of a digital-led strategy, which has seen her vlog from the NRF (National Retail Federation) Big Show exhibition, held annually in New York, and also running Nexpo, a three-day experiential retail tech pop-up store event in Shoreditch, London, which showcased a ‘store of the future’ environment. Alex said: ‘It feels amazing to be a finalist for this award.  I’m used to writing and submitting award entries on behalf of Retail Assist, so it’s an unusual position to be a finalist for an award myself.  But what meant the most to me was the fact that it was my team who nominated me and put me forward, without my knowledge!  ‘To have the support and confidence from your team that they believe you should be recognised for your achievements is fantastic and very humbling.’ The second celebration of the evening came as Apprentice Call Analyst, Chantice Sullivan, was announced as a finalist for Apprentice of the Year. Since starting at Retail Assist just over a year ago, when she was just 16 years old, Chantice has wowed her team leaders with her professionalism and maturity. Chantice was complimented for her drive and her ability to take on the training of new starters, showing great knowledge and understanding of our company. Chantice said: ‘I was so happy to be a finalist for Apprentice of the Year. Working at Retail Assist has really encouraged my self-confidence and, thanks to working here, I know that I’ll one day have the skills to pursue my dream of owning my own business.’ It was a truly fantastic evening and the end of a busy, but successful week at Retail Assist. Well done to everyone involved! If you’d like to join our award-winning team, take a look at our careers page here.…
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Black Friday 2018
  • 12 Nov

Black Friday Survey 2018

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive This year, Black Friday falls on Friday 23rd November. However, whilst we didn’t see as many hordes of people waiting to push through the doors of their favoured store as we had done with borderline hysterical scenes from previous years, Black Friday was still a huge retail event in 2017, with an estimated £1.39bn spend in the UK alone. So, is 2018 set to match this? In order to take the pulse of consumer response towards Black Friday, 200 participants took part in our Black Friday survey, conducted by digital survey professionals, Toluna. High (street) hopes Remarkably, the responses reflected a positive outlook for the high street; this year’s survey showed the first drop in people planning to shop online. Although 73% of consumers plan to buy online, 27% of consumers plan to hit the high street to grab their bargains. Although this might only be a 6% rise in comparison to 21% last year, the previous three years have shown a steady decline YoY, perhaps heralding the theory that consumers aren’t prepared to ditch the high street just yet. The research revolution Interestingly, whilst some shoppers might succumb to FOMAD (Fear of Missing a Deal), our survey advocated otherwise. 75% of consumers said that they don’t get carried away over Black Friday, with 79% claiming that they’ve never returned a Black Friday purchase. This suggests that customers are clued-up on their buys, supporting the research revolution, where consumers are using webrooming (looking online but buying in-store) and showrooming (looking in-store but buying online) to their advantage, empowering consumers to make the right choice for them. Returns However, for the slim percentage that had returned Black Friday purchases, 24% said it was because they regretted an impulse buy, with 35% of respondents saying that their return was due to sizing problems. A further 28% returned the item due to finding it cheaper elsewhere, highlighting the need for retailers to be price savvy – or customers will take their business elsewhere. However, 13% explained that they returned the item due to ‘insufficient funds’ perhaps highlighting that, for some, the opportunity for a good deal is too good to miss! Black Friday Participation This year, our survey found a small drop in people planning to participate in Black Friday, suggesting that just 48% of people plan on taking part. Whilst previous years had seen higher numbers, with 2015 and 2016 suggesting that 59% of those surveyed were going to participate, last year was only 1% higher. This could suggest that whilst there might have been an initial hype surrounding Black Friday and the deals that were offered in relation to it, consumer interest has waned, but is showing signs of stability.   Whilst a figure of 48% might seem low, this figure doesn’t factor those impulse buyers who might be swayed by attractive deals and price reductions. Are you ready for peak trading? With the possibility of mounting queues over a short period, till downtime and slow…
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  • 5 Nov

Generation Next: how can retailers support Gen Z’s retail expectations?

Guest blog by Marketing Assistant, Hannah Waterfield Generation Z (born post 1995) are now the largest demographic in the world, accounting for 33% of the global population, with 2.5bn of them worldwide (Gartner, 2018) topping their Baby Boomer, Generation X and Millennial counterparts. The oldest of them are entering the workforce and the youngest of them are in primary school. They are the first demographic to have grown up with technology at their fingertips; they are ‘tech-innate’ and, by 2020, will make up for around 40% of the global consumer market (Adweek, 2017). But how do Generation Z differ from their predecessors and what steps can retailers make to keep them engaged? What does Generation Z want from retailers? Whilst technology is simply second nature to Generation Z, numerous retail reports have gathered that the vast majority of Generation Z value experience as opposed to assets. A 2017 Accenture Global Consumer shopping survey revealed that 60% of Generation Z shoppers prefer to purchase products in-store as opposed to online and around 46% of them check a product in-store before making an online purchase. Moreover, 67% of Gen Z say they liked to always shop in-store, while 31% said they liked to do so sometimes (IBM, 2017). This emphasis on physical experience suggests that Generation Z favour a shopping experience that amalgamates both the physical and digital side of retail, with an experience curated entirely towards their own favours and habits. The question is: how do retailers do this? How can retailers successfully interact with Generation Z? Although Generation Z might have been born with technology at their fingertips, it doesn’t mean that they’ve abandoned the high street. In fact, the interest in physical stores and online shops remains to be pretty even, with 40% of respondents saying that they prefer shopping in store, whereas 45% preferred to shop online (Drapers, 2018). Whilst online shopping is nothing new, the demand for a joined-up approach to online sites and bricks-and-mortar stores is growing. Habits such as ‘showrooming’ and ‘webrooming’ are also prevalent in Gen Z (Drapers, 2018), merging both the virtual and physical store experiences together to purchase their perfect product at the right price. In response to this, retailers are expanding their omnichannel offering, joining together bricks-and-mortar stores, online websites, outlets and social media sites. Offering convenience and supporting how – and, perhaps most importantly, when – consumers (especially immediate-living Gen Z) want to shop will become increasingly important. Retailers are also beginning to think outside of the box when it comes to the customer experience, instead considering a more holistic approach. A rise of in-store features such as coffee shops and beauty bars appearing in bricks-and-mortar stores are becoming more prominent, with retailers considering their customer’s experiential needs. For example, Retail Assist’s customer, Harvey Nichols, offer a champagne and nail bar in their Liverpool-based concept store, ‘Beauty Bazaar’, for customers who want to relax and enjoy the time they spend shopping in store. These added immersive features play to Generation…
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Is Mt Machine Learning about Retail?
  • 31 Oct

Retail Reflections Part Two: Is My Machine Learning About Retail?

Guest blog by Alan Morris. Alan is the co-founder and brand ambassador of Retail Assist. It could be argued that retailers can suffer from the Midas effect when it comes to specifying their requirements from technology; simply, they may not always know how to say what they want. Traditionally, we have written programs that tell the computer exactly what to do every step of the way. We define the input, create the calculation, and we set the criteria for the results. At no time do we allow the computer to consider the facts using its enormous capacity for performing simultaneous and complex calculations, and we never ask the computer to tell us what it thinks because computers have never been able to think for themselves. They may process millions of transactions, carry countless simultaneous calculations, and store massive volumes of data, but they don’t learn from it; only humans use data to learn and build experience so that they can make better decisions in the future. When it comes to decision support, technology has always been typecast into the support role. Technologists have been thinking about this for a long while, and ever since the reigning world chess champion at the time, Garry Kasparov, was beaten at chess by IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997, they have been working to create a computer that will mimic the human brain. Surely machine learning provides this: using algorithms, it learns from data which factors are important in achieving a specific goal. For example, if the goal is to improve the profitability of a particular product category, the system will learn which of the variables in play are important and why; it will also understand the relationships and work out what needs to happen so that the goal is achieved. Unlike traditional programming, the system will continue to learn as the variables change. This learning will continue to develop the computers thinking, expanding its experience so that it ensures the goal is met, regardless of how the business evolves. Given this explanation, you begin to appreciate that today computers can learn and gain experience and as they begin to provide better insights, we will soon be able to rely on them to manage some key processes without human intervention: this is machine learning. Machine learning is already active in retail, with websites promoting other items we’d be interested in buying, based upon our past purchases. These sites are using machine learning to analyse our browsing and buying history to personalise our shopping experience and encourage us to spend more money. In other examples, machine learning is being implemented to improve the supply chain process. Adidas is co-creating a new supply chain with its customers. They use machine learning to look at hundreds of millions of pictures to determine trends in consumer desire and then translate that into a guided design of individualised products. Adidas typically take 18 months to turn trends into shoes, but the new prototype “speed factory” sees customers design their customized…
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