IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


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 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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Sponsoring a Day at Emmanuel House
  • 3 Feb 2020
Sponsoring a Day at Emmanuel House: Will Other Businesses Accept the Challenge?
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead Warm showers, a hot meal and a strong support network might be essentials that many of us take for granted. But, at Nottingham’s Emmanuel House, all of these things come as part of the vital service that they provide to the city’s homeless and vulnerable adults. In December, Retail Assist took part in Emmanuel House’s Lunchtime Scheme, where businesses could sponsor a December lunch. After a visit and tour of the centre by Retail Assist’s Chief Executive Officer, Dan Smith, Head of Marketing, Alex Broxson and Communications Lead, Anna Murphy, they found it to be a very humbling and emotional day, understanding the stark reality that many people face daily. It costs an average of £1,400 per day to run the support centre and, following the December visit, Retail Assist sponsored this amount to fund the centre for one whole day on 1st February 2020. And now, Retail Assist’s Dan Smith has a challenge for other businesses, too. Dan explained: “Retail Assist has been supporting Emmanuel House for many years now, in reflection of the incredibly important work they do. It was a privilege to contribute towards their daily lunch service and, as a result of our visit, we decided to pay for the centre’s costs for the 1st February. I want to strongly encourage any other business to take on the 1st March – and hopefully the rest of the year! So, we want to know… who else out there will join us?” Denis Tully, Emmanuel House’s Chief Executive Officer, added: “We are delighted that Retail Assist has pledged to cover the cost to run our Support Centre on 1st February: it is very much appreciated. We provide a range of support services aimed at giving practical help to prevent homelessness and enabling people to recover from homelessness. The donation will contribute to these support services along with basic services including food, showers and laundry. “Emmanuel House is an integral part of the plan to reduce homelessness in the city of Nottingham. With the help of business support, such as this generosity shown by Retail Assist, we are able to continue to help people out of homelessness. We’d like to thank Retail Assist, not only their financial support, but also for helping to raise our profile within the business community. More and more Nottinghamshire companies are now getting involved to help and it’s great to see how our community of supporters are growing. It is this business support – and the support of the local community – that makes the difference.” If you’d like to support Emmanuel House, please visit their website here.…
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Andrea Williams Placement Student
  • 27 Jan 2020
She’s Top of the Class! Andréa Wins NTU Placement Student of the Year
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead Committed, highly capable, creative and calm under pressure: we’ve always known that Andréa Williams, our Marketing Officer, is brilliant but now she’s got the award to prove it! Nottingham Trent University (NTU) named Andréa their Placement Student of the Year (SME) after she completed a year in our Nottingham head office. Andréa said: “My placement year at Retail Assist was such a great experience and I’ve found what I learnt so valuable in helping to complete my final year of my degree.  The team were brilliant at always sending opportunities my way which I’m really grateful for!”. Last year, NTU had over 1,350 students completing a year in industry and the other winners included placements held at professional services firm Grant Thornton, Toyota and Unilever. Alex Broxson, Head of Marketing, said: “From the interview process, Andréa stood out. She has gone from strength to strength, bringing new ideas to the role; she is enabling the marketing team to achieve more and develop improved lead generation for the company, as well as being a fantastic team player who is widely-regarded across the company, too. She is by far the best undergraduate placement we have seen in the business.” Dan Smith, Chief Experience Officer, added: “Andréa quickly showed a firm understanding of our business, our clients and the complexity of retail. She has proved to be a well-respected member of the team, and a delight to work with.” Andréa has continued to work part-time at Retail Assist whilst also completing her final year at university, studying for her final year in BA Marketing (Hons). Well done, Andréa! Fancy joining our award-winning team? Click here to see our latest vacancies.…
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Common Supply Chain Issues and How to Avoid Them
  • 20 Jan 2020
Chain Reaction: Common Supply Chain Issues and How to Avoid Them
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead January. Whether you see it as a dull, grey, long month (why does it feel like there’s 5,847 days?) and you can’t wait for it to be over or whether perhaps you take the more optimistic view and regard it as the exciting start to a promising new year, there’s one thing that binds everyone. If December is about looking back and reflection, January is for looking forward. As a retailer, it’s always imperative to look forward, too, and what better time to move processes forward is there than January? Keeping operations moving quickly and smoothly has never been more important. Here’s our list of the top 3 supply chain issues, and what can be done to avoid them. 1. Forecasting and data Let’s get back to basics: the most obvious issue that a supply chain can face is a lack of supplies! Modern consumers lack patience when it comes to finding products and if they can’t find it via one of your channels, you can bet that they’ll begin searching for it elsewhere. The key is to be able to accurately forecast demand and recognise the trends and dynamics that lie behind shifts in demand. The best way to do this? Data. Collating, analysing and using the information that can be acquired from customer activity, insights can be gathered into behaviour and trends forecasted. Using an omnichannel supply chain solution such as Merret Pro offers real time data, so that it’s easy for merchandising teams to see what’s selling well and where, so that decisions can be made to either replenish or to send more stock to a certain area or store. A WSSI is another useful tool for in-season planning, enabling future stock levels to be calculated in comparison to targets 2. Managing demand Success – you’ve created an amazing product and now everyone who shops in your Oxford Street store wants one. However, whilst it’s selling fairly well in other stores, it doesn’t seem to be doing as well in Sheffield or Bristol. Items must be in the correct place, at the correct time, in order to maximise profitability; having something in stock but in a location where it is not needed is always a problem. By moving stock to around to where it’s needed can mean a lowering of costs alongside an improvement in profit margins and, of course, a rise in customer satisfaction. Critical to ensuring that demand is met by managing distribution is an allocation and replenishment system that ties into a warehouse management system in order to fulfil stock based on order volumes or sales: by utilising these two aspects together, the process is well-functioning, efficient and can recognise where items need to be located and when. By using your stores as distribution hubs, stock can be moved not only from your warehouse but also items that have already made it to the shop floor 3. Lack of information It doesn’t matter who you are or where…
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How Digital Technology Has Shifted Retail Experiences
  • 13 Jan 2020
Tech-ing On the Future: How Digital Technology Has Shifted Retail Experiences
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead What comes first? No, we’re not talking about a chicken here. Instead, which comes first in this instance: does a good retailer follow the shifting demands of a customer or, instead, lead them to develop new expectations? Whether you think in-store retail experiences have been altered by forward-thinking retailers, leading their competitors to play ‘catch-up’, or whether you believe it’s more driven by consumer wants and needs, at the centre of every side of the argument lies one thing: digital technology. NRF 2020: Retail’s Big Show takes place in New York City today and tomorrow; with the angle of ‘2020 Vision’, the show promises to showcase the technology that retailers can adopt to have a ‘visionary’ digital strategy of the future. But the future doesn’t need to be a far away concept: so what can retailers do to future-proof their store estates now in order to provide a positive customer experience? The obvious place to start: online sales The headlines reporting online sales are certainly nothing new and although the media depiction of the “war” between online sales against the high street is obsessively tracked, there’s not been a substantial change for some time. In fact, the latest report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that online retail sales (as a proportion of all retailing) stands at 18.7%, with online sales accounting for 18.2% of sales from clothing, textile and footwear stores. So, why shop online? Whilst there are certainly many benefits of trying on clothing in-store and walking away with your new purchase within minutes, not everyone has access to the stores they want to shop at on their local high street and consumers increasingly have access to quicker, more convenient technology that allows for speedy delivery, all from the comfort of – well, from wherever and whenever you want to shop! Its importance within our society cannot be underestimated. But it’s not just how we work or shop or even socialise that technology has had an impact on; it’s also encouraged customer expectations to evolve and now retailers must swiftly react. Wider product exposure As technology has made it easier for a customer to browse through multiple items and styles, via many different channels, so have retailers had to embrace technology to provide the wide range of products to satisfy this. Getting as many items seen as possible has become vital for modern retailers to survive; if a customer can’t see what they want in a retailer’s selection, they will quickly find it elsewhere. The 2017 World Economic Forum (WEF) insight report ‘Shaping the Future of Retail for Consumer Industries’ states that retailers need to “build a greater understanding of and a stronger connection to increasingly empowered consumers”, later adding “the traditional measures of cost, choice and convenience are still relevant, but now control and experience are also important”. Putting the power of choice into the hands of the consumer can also be harnessed by store staff utilising technology such…
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Mint Velvet Customer Testimonial
  • 6 Jan 2020
“We’ve Had Retail Assist with Us All the Way”: How Retail Assist has underpinned the growth of Mint Velvet
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead We’re kicking off this new decade with a celebration of our own decade-long partnership: in the latest in our client testimonial video series, we spoke to Laura Boyd, Trading Director at Mint Velvet. Since we started supporting Mint Velvet in 2009, their business has grown from one shop to well over one hundred high street locations, a growing international presence, with Drapers reporting that turnover at Mint Velvet’s holding company, Sabre Retail Fashion, has risen to £101m. Laura said: “Retail Assist has been our partner since the birth of Mint Velvet. We partnered with Retail Assist right on day one to get the business up and running so, from that very first store that we opened in Chichester, to now, where we have over 150 locations on the UK high street and a very big digital ecommerce business which actually accounts for 50% of the brand’s sales, we’ve had Retail Assist with us all the way.” Click here to watch the video on YouTube. How do we support Mint Velvet? We provide complete IT support services for Mint Velvet, including our first-line Help Desk support, technical services, 2nd-line store systems support (including store openings), IT project management, business and network comms support, data centre (including support of machines, back-ups and operational support) and our supply chain software solution, Merret, and data exchange solution, Ra-X. Mint Velvet have been using our omnichannel supply chain, Merret, since 2009. “The reason the solution’s so valuable is that it really is an end-to-end solution for us,” Laura explained. “It provides everything the team needs in head office, so they have the back-office system for raising purchase orders, which is the very beginning of the process, and has the WSSI, which allows the teams to manage the stock, sales and intake through the business. “We also have an international presence now: we trade internationally in bricks-and-mortar stores and digitally. Again, Retail Assist has been the partner that has allowed us to do that and has supported that journey.” This has been through our software solutions and Help Desk support to their stores. How has our partnership evolved? Reflecting on the partnership, Laura said: “The high street and the way in which people have shopped has changed and, as it changes, we’ve needed to evolve the way in which we operate. Along the journey, there’s been many times we’ve requested enhancements or changes to the product and every time this has been required, together, as a team, we’ve been able to deliver what we wanted. “Retail Assist has been very open and supportive to changing that product to support our needs.” We’re here to support your expansion plans for this decade – and beyond! Click here to get in touch or email…
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  • 30 Dec 2019
What a Year! Here’s Our Round-Up of 2019’s Best Bits
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead, and Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer 2019 has certainly not been without its events: a general election, Brexit (almost!), the first sub two-hour marathon, another royal baby and England nearly winning another rugby world cup have all captured just some of the headlines this year. So, as we all reach the end of this year – and this decade – it gives us a chance to reflect on the year we’ve also had and a few of our own headlines. Thank you for all of your support over the last year. From us all here at Retail Assist, we’d like to wish you all a wonderful, successful and prosperous 2020. Happy new year! January We kicked off the year by attending the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show. Held in New York City, Alex Broxson, Head of Marketing, and Anna Murphy, Communications Lead, represented Retail Assist at the show, vlogging live from the show floor. Read their blogs from Day 1 and Day 2, and also to watch their videos from Day 1 and Day 2.   February In February, we were very excited to welcome Smythson to our growing list of customers. Read more about how we support Smythson here.   March March held some very exciting news for us as we won ‘Best Service Desk CX (Customer Experience’ and were finalists for ‘Best Managed Service Provider 2019’ at the IT Service & Support Awards, hosted by SDI. Click here to read our overview of the evening and for a few more photos, including our Greatest Showman-inspired finalist video!   April This month saw the launch of our video mini-series, talking to smaller retailers and seeing how they approach providing the best customer experience, including 200 Degrees, Bird & Blend Tea Co. and Doughnotts.   May In May, we visited RBTE to network, walk the show floor and to record our highlights from the show. But that wasn’t all… we also won the ‘Sales and Marketing 2019’ award at the Nottingham Post Business Awards!   June On 16th June 2019, we turned 20! With celebrations both in our offices and also at our client drinks event in London, we welcomed in our next decade. Read our round-up here.   July At Retail Assist, we pride ourselves with the positive relationships that we build with our customers and we were thrilled to announce the contract extension with our customer, Hobbycraft.   August Over the summer, we enjoyed having YouTube blogger, Lydia Violeta, as a welcome addition to our marketing team. As a placement student, she produced videos for us, including ‘A Day in the Life’ as an insight into what it’s like to work in our Nottingham head office and Help Desk.   September In September, we attended the E-Commerce Expo, held at London’s Olympia. We also enjoyed a guest blog from Nelson Blackley, Retail Research Associate at the Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, and published our latest Gen Z research.   October Even more awards success! This time it was the turn…
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Boxing Day Stats 2019
  • 23 Dec 2019
Will It Be Boxing Yay? Our Round-Up of Black Friday Stats and Boxing Day Sales Predictions
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead Peak trading is here. Retail’s busiest time, followed by Easter and Halloween, has landed with a bang and, with it, has brought some much-needed festive cheer to an otherwise challenging industry environment. But just how good was Black Friday 2019 and what does it suggest about Christmas shopping and the more traditional Boxing Day sales? Black FridayAs predicted in our annual Black Friday survey, 2019’s Black Friday sales proved to be a hit. In fact, the British Retail Consortium found that November clothing sales were up 6% for the period from 27 October to 23 November, compared to the same period last year. Helen Dickinson, chief executive at the British Retail Consortium, said the figures suggested shoppers were “ready to take advantage of the great bargains available, both online and on the high street”. The good news continued for the high street, as Black Friday footfall rose by 3.3% year on year compared with the equivalent day in 2018, research by intelligence analyst Springboard found. Alongside this, Barclaycard said that transaction values were up by 16.5% compared to 2018, with the volume of transactions up 7.2%. However, whilst this spells out great news for retailers who could capitalise on sales and increased footfall, will it lead to a quieter December as consumers bagged their bargains earlier than usual? Christmas Spending 2019Feel like your Christmas list seems to get bigger every year? You’re not the only one. Advisory firm Deloitte ran their European Christmas Survey which suggested that us Brits are the highest festive spenders in Europe, with people in the UK spending £567; this is up by £6 from last year and significantly higher when compared to the average European budget of an anticipated £395. But how is this money being spent? Unsurprisingly, the majority of UK shoppers’ budgets are headed for presents (£299), with £143 being spent on food and drink, followed by £63 on socialising and £62 on travelling over the party season, highlighting real opportunities for retailers and hospitality vendors to capture consumer spending. Deloitte also analysed more than 800,000 online and in-store products and suggested that this Christmas could see average price cuts potentially topping 50% by Christmas Eve for the first time, meaning that savvy shoppers could even grab a bargain in the run up to the big day, rather than waiting until Boxing Day for their sales items. Boxing DaySo, with a more positive outlook during this trading period, is it set to continue? Potentially, yes: in 2018, footfall on the 27, 28 and 29 of December was a third higher than on Boxing Day and it’s predicted that footfall on each of these days will be higher this year. This also leads support to our 2019 Black Friday survey analysis, which suggested that customers are now more tech savvy, taking the time to research where to find the best bargains before venturing to the high street. But when will the bargains go live? And is there a…
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