IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


retail week live blog
  • 12 Mar

Retail Week Live 2018: The Highlights

What were the key takeaways from Retail Week Live 2018? ‘The most important 48 hours in retail’, hosted last week at Intercontinental London, The O2, saw over 150 speakers and retail leaders, plus 1700 delegates come together to discuss Retail 2018 and beyond. We identified the key trends at Retail Week Live set to shape retail operations and the customer experience this year. Welcome to the digital revolution The opening address at Retail Week Live really set the tone for the Conference, with Retail Week’s Managing Director Chris Brook-Carter welcoming a buzzing audience to “the digital revolution”. However, rather than a revolution to come, this is the world we’re living in right now. Digital is not a separate entity, but it is the means of our current existence – whether we like it or not. “The danger of fixating on the past is that it becomes an ill-advised defence against the radical scale of change we as leaders must now bring about” – Chris Brook-Carter. AI is overhyped and underestimated On the theme of leading and inspiring change, there were many examples of AI dominating the conversation at Retail Week Live, as we had experienced in January at NRF. According to Ocado’s chief technology officer Paul Clarke, the grocery disruptor “would not have a business” without AI. “AI is the core of what we do and has been for quite some time now. It’s going to come a hell of a lot faster than people think; it’s overhyped and underestimated at the same time.” The ‘overhyped’ part of Clarke’s view comes from people viewing AI as “the next big thing”. Rather than “next”, it is the “now” big thing. It is certainly not a gimmick, nor or tech for tech’s sake. AI is woven into the very fabric of our digital existence. The scale of the transformation that AI can bring about is ‘underestimated’. Used in the right way, AI will bring benefits to retailers as well as their time-poor, convenience-seeking customers. However, the journey to AI excellence starts with the common pain point of retailers drowning in a “deluge of data” that they don’t know what to do with – a worrying sentiment expressed by M&S’ boss Steve Rowe. Disrupting the first and the final mile The first and final miles in retail were repeatedly addressed as key areas for disruption. At the start of the customer journey, voice and conversational commerce have the most potential to be enhanced through AI. But it’s so much more than AI makes conversational commerce more connected and more personalised. For example, Ocado’s adoption of AI means that if a customer asks its voice-enabled device “add milk to the basket”, AI will have learned which milk product it is. Similarly, using voice technology to “add instant order” to your weekly grocery basket means a pre-curated list of what Ocado thinks forms your weekly basic shop. At the final mile (delivery), AI will centre on driverless vehicles. Whilst driverless deliveries still seems a few…
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IT Managed Services
  • 5 Mar

Preparing to Scale: Peak Trading Periods

Guest blog feature: Douglas Greenwell, Growth Director at Blue Chip Whilst every sale is important, peak trading puts enormous pressure on retailers’ computing capability to manage intense traffic. It’s not only the rise of the Black Friday “uber peak” that has caused retailers to redress their approach to IT infrastructure. The lead up to Christmas, January sales, even Easter and Bank Holiday periods, all require retailers to flex their capacity to accommodate active consumer demand and successfully convert browser volumes into spend. The trick, of course, is to have sufficient computing capacity available to manage the biggest peaks without having to commit to that higher volume throughout the year, when most retailers won’t need that level of capacity. An agile approach to IT Managed Services Agility is key – and technology, as well as contracting models, are evolving to accommodate variable capacity requirements. The result? Retailers can manage their budgets more effectively, whilst prioritising that all-important customer experience and ensuring they can deliver for consumers consistently. Here are a few areas that retailers should consider when developing their IT strategy: Responsive service When requirements are variable, a supplier that can flex to meet your needs is a must. Consider their technical scope and availability to ensure the solution works for your business. Work out your maximum anticipated demand – and add some. Does your provider have the capacity available to support that additional demand? If you needed to call on it, how quickly could it be provided? It is also important not to overlook the people aspect – do you have a named contact? How easily accessible are they, and can they respond to immediate change requests? Make sure you have the breadth of support you need, with expert technical competence. Our partnership with Retail Assist means all of our customers have named contacts that are easily contactable. Our data centres are manned by our engineers 24/7 and parts are held on site, enabling us to quickly respond to requests for change or conduct maintenance promptly. Support on-hand It’s critical to ensure that an appropriate level of technical support is on-hand should any problems arise. For instance, you will want to know the exact provision of technicians on-hand to conduct any maintenance or repair work for you, when required. Is this a 24/7 service? In addition, check the detail of monitoring systems that your provider has in place to help prevent any downtime for your business. Blue Chip Itheon monitoring software not only identifies potential issues, it understands the linkages between systems and the business impact of individual errors, enabling us to take a far more proactive and intelligent approach to protecting uptime. A large number of incidents can be prevented using the right monitoring and alert software, backed up by a proactive engineering team. Understand your recovery arrangements In the event that there is a problem, ensuring that you have the right recovery arrangements in place is vital. Speak to your IT managed services provider about the “RTO”, Recovery…
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London Fashion Week Festival
  • 26 Feb

London Fashion Week Festival 2018

London Fashion Week Festival Guest blog from Andrea Williams, Retail Assist’s Marketing Officer for 2018-19. London Fashion Week Festival The weekend of London Fashion Week Festival celebrates London’s fashion scene as one of the most diverse and creative showcases in the world. It is no surprise that London is now considered the ‘melting pot’ for culture as the event oozed designer chic and own label edginess from all corners of the globe. Although, however multifarious the festival, it was hard to turn a corner without sighting an exclusively designed Markus Lupfer tote and a flute of Pommery. Fashion Royalty A day of strolling through the designer pop ups and browsing apparel at some very tasty insider prices really is an ideal Saturday afternoon, and although we were five days late of a royal sighting, we were lucky enough to encounter Made In Chelsea royalty Millie Mackintosh and Rosie Fortescue as they displayed their brands in the galleries. The Trend Show There was an extensive programme of talks over the weekend that included bloggers Lucy Williams and Deliciously Ella, as well as designer Orla Kiely and fashion expert Trinny Woodall. The main event of the day was the Trend Show, displaying an array of inspiration for SS18 predicted by trend specialists The Future Laboratory and styled by LOVE Magazine’s Executive Fashion Director, Steve Morriss. The catwalk highlighted 3 main focuses:  Vintage vacation – consisting of tropical prints, vintage sunglasses and bold patterns New wave – emphasising strong shoulders, sharp angles and graphic reds, whites and blacks Cyber sports – composed of a neon palette and layered metallics (think Ibiza nights with a sportswear blend) Artifical Intelligence in Fashion With regards to digital marketing, the preshow explained how the use of big data is now at the forefront of influencing and determining fashion trends and as we’re all well aware, the vital use of social media in the use of identifying opportunities in the fashion industry – more crucially through Instagram. The most interesting feature underlined the growing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the fashion industry and the introduction of a concept considered ‘predictive fashion’, where AI and automation have become a key area for brands to focus and develop through 2018. AI allows brands to nurture their target audiences through the use of personalised content in far more detail than ever before. The use of AI in social media marketing was also mentioned as brands are looking at creating digital avatars to model designs, and to decide their success and popularity prior to market release – so watch out Kendall Jenner. Click here to read our London Fashion Weekend blog from 2015.  …
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tablet management software
  • 19 Feb

Is Automation Inevitable?

Across all industries, the issue of automation is hotly discussed, debated and analysed. The retail sector, no stranger to innovation, is one of many that are adapting to the notion that automation could indeed be inevitable. Adoption of new technologies Shoppers have eagerly embraced the inclusion of tablets in stores, and have been quick to recognise the advantages of digital technology within their shopping journey. Different retailers use tablets in different ways, but a common factor is their assistance in digitising the offline shopping experience, allowing customers to gain product and stock information more easily. Alongside this, retailers are finding that bringing tablets into use supports their employees. Checking stock levels, undertaking returns and making orders can all be completed by staff on the shop floor, who can take themselves to the customer, providing more opportunities to sell. Employees are able to undertake a variety of tasks from emails to creating visual merchandising looks, meaning that productivity levels can also be enhanced by using an IT retail system on the tablet. Benefits to customer experience The impact of automation provides huge potential for increasing the quality of customer experience. Introducing tablets to retail store environments brings digital benefits to the customer. A common trait amongst Generation Z, impatient information-seeking consumers can also avoid the feeling of ‘wasted time’ that waiting for a store associate can bring. Automating the ordering process in-store fulfils their demand for a fast-paced response. Allowing consumers to be able to conduct their own transactions via automated approaches to checkouts is also seen as largely positive, giving them the feeling that they are in control and lowering queuing time. This is appealing to many shoppers, especially digital native Gen Z, who have grown up with automated approaches to various aspects of their lives. Supply chain software, whilst unseen by shoppers, is also impacted significantly by automation. Supply chain software which uses an auto replenishment system for inventory optimisation, using AI and intelligent algorithms to replenish stock, is becoming increasingly popular amongst successful, forward-thinking retailers. Ensuring that shelves are full with the right product, and items are not ‘out of stock’ is incredibly important to fulfilling omnichannel customer demand.  Changes in roles: a help, not a threat With automation will come a variety of changes, not least of which are around the way in which employees work.   A versatile approach to IT retail systems could mean that store associates are more engaged with omnichannel, as automation brings the need for them to perform and have knowledge of a wider variety of practices such as ship-from store and online ordering. It goes without saying that automated approaches to IT retail systems must be monitored, to ensure the technology functions as it should. Perhaps the most interesting potential development will centre around how bricks-and-mortar retailing must adapt as a result of automation, as new ways of engaging customers are experimented with.…
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Generation Z shopping habits
  • 12 Feb

Generation Z shopping habits

Generation Z and the Future of Retail Driven by new technologies and the changing buying behaviours of younger consumers, the retail industry is undergoing a monumental transformation. Most retailers have focussed on the demands of millennials, but the younger Generation Z (born post 1995) have come into spending power, and now represent the future of retail. By 2020, Generation Z will account for 20% of working adults. We took part in a research project with students at Nottingham Trent University – ‘University of the Year’ in the Times Higher Education Awards 2017 – to find out more about Gen Z in retail. Retailers must face the reality that there is a significant sales uplift when consumers are offered an omnichannel experience: where they can start shopping in one channel, browse in another, and complete the journey in either, with their basket history and previous purchases remembered. One survey found that 69% of customers who entered a store to pick up an item they ordered online bought additional products. Younger consumers also want more transparency where inventory is concerned, so they know if a product is available, and if not, where else they can get it. This gives rise to the first trend identified: convenience. Generation Z and convenience It came as no surprise that the focus group preferred brands like Asos, that sell multiple brands in one place, with a powerful search function that finds exactly what Gen Z are looking for. Not only does this a) negate the need to physically walk around different shops to browse products from different brands but b) negates the need to do the same virtually. This example is a clear feature of Gen Z shopping: convenience is king. Generation Z like to shop, but the experience needs to be centred completely around them. We still have a way to go in the “final mile” in retail: delivery. However, Gen Z do not expect a product to be delivered to their home, nor to a store – not to an exact address, but to themselves as the location, wherever that may be. Although delivery speeds have increased in recent years, location-based delivery should invite similar attention if Gen Z’s demands are to be fulfilled. Generation Z and experience “We grew up with technology; we’ll try anything”.   Generation Z multitask across 5 screens on average, and spend a staggering 10.6 hours a day consuming digital content. As digital natives, Gen Z are natural information-seekers. They know how to locate the information that they’re looking for – so if they can’t find it, that’s a big turn off. This means that ecommerce must be easily searchable to ensure that the most relevant products are displayed. Visual search technology was an innovation made for Gen Z. If a Gen Z consumer is struck with inspiration – a celebrity outfit, a product on screen, or on another real-life person – they want to be able to shop it, now. Visual search enables their shopping journey to be completed…
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product information management system
  • 5 Feb

Why Product Information Management must be central to retail strategy

The rise and rise of Asos, the boom of the Boohoos and proliferation of Pretty Little Things. Fast fashion is only becoming faster: as the shelf-life of retail products diminishes to as little as 6-8 weeks, creating and launching products must be accelerated in order to remain competitive. It comes as no surprise that retailers with shorter supply chain lead times, introducing new products at a faster rate, experience much greater sales growth. In our latest retail whitepaper, learn: Why product information accuracy is critical to omnichannel success; How to shorten product lifecycles to remain competitive in a fast-fashion environment; How to improve channel partner strategy for more efficient product creation; PIM best practice. Download our Product Information Management in Retail whitepaper here. What is a PIM? A retailer’s Item Master Data, or product information management system (PIM), is the source of initial product data as it enters the supply chain. Before a product is released for sale, retailers create and configure the product, assign a description for its purchase order, define the product properties and attributes, and assign the product to its relevant retail category hierarchies.  The number of retail teams, and the varying information they require surrounding the product, calls for a centralised system capable of unifying product information in one accurate, real-time, dynamic view. PIM systems must support multiple geographic locations, as well as the maintenance and modification of item master data by the retailer’s teams and third parties where necessary. Retailing is more dynamic than ever. Frequently changing product information is handled efficiently by PIM, to ensure easy re-class and re-coding, especially during time critical periods and promotions.  Why do retailers need a PIM? When retailers were single channel, using only bricks-and-mortar stores to sell their products, the need for detailed product information was negated by store assistants, who provided all the information about a product that a customer required. Add to this a slower pace of product introduction, and a smaller inventory, a PIM might not have been a priority. Fast forward to today, where the number of channels is expanding at a rapid rate. An essential part of most retailers’ strategies are partners, franchises, concessions and affiliates. Channel partner standards are changing, which places new demands on retailers. With a proliferation of channels, and different demands for product information, managing products is a labour-intensive nightmare, especially if multiple systems are used. Once a retailer’s product is ready to release to market, administrative blockers such as product information conformity causes serious delay. Furthermore, if your attributes are not provided in the correct format for different channels, your product will fall low in any searches, reducing saleability. A product information management system makes the product introduction and acceptance process easier to manage through greater efficiency and accuracy, with a single place to record rich product information. Confidence in your products is the cornerstone of profitable, customer focussed retailing. If you’d like more information on how we support leading retailers with our supply chain software, please get…
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IT Help Desk
  • 29 Jan

Managing Help Desk Demand

Is your business growing faster than your IT can handle? A well-managed, efficient and slick IT Help Desk service acts as so much more than an IT function. By the very nature of the service, users contacting a Help Desk will be experiencing problems or issues, and may often be stressed, or frustrated. Having their issues quickly and professionally dealt with can have a huge impact on individual satisfaction and productivity, and sends out an image of the brand taking a professional and serious approach to problems, without disrupting customer service. What can cause problems for a Help Desk? Meeting expectations on levels of service can often be difficult when faced with the challenges encountered on a busy service desk. Response times can be seriously impacted by a lack of efficiency or inappropriate focus. Many service desks will look at their initial response times as a focal point, aiming to provide a rapid answering time. This can often result in positive first impressions that may well not be followed through to a successful end result, due to focus being misplaced. A high first line fix means much more than a low answering time with longer resolution. Problems can also arise around creating a cost effective approach, where sufficient financial priority is placed on the areas and timeslots that matter or are subject to enhanced demand. Managing this can of course be difficult, and can be subject to many types of internal pressure, not least of which can form around how to calculate the worth of individual components to the business as a whole. Gauging issues based on their priority can also be difficult and time consuming, as well as escalation to the relevant third parties.  How can Retail Assist help? The specialist Help Desk team at Retail Assist offers services designed to make a business more effective, by providing a streamlined approach to issues. By centralising all problems to one single point of contact, any incident that occurs across an entire business can be logged and resolved in the same place, creating a uniformed and unified service. As the service blends seamlessly with internal teams, the IT Help Desk forms an extension of the business, where problems are managed end-to-end from the point of contact to resolution. The financial benefits to the business are very valuable. The service removes the need for staffing internally, such as the ability to flex cover over peak periods, and all costs are transparent. Regular meetings with users of the IT Help Desk service mean that improvements are continually made in order to align with expectations. In a similar manner, a proactive approach is taken to the incidents about which the IT Help Desk is contacted in order to prevent occurrences of issues in the future. As a result the top issues that the IT Help Desk encounters each month are collected, assessed and removed in order to reduce the volume of incidents that may occur. Retail Assist’s IT Help Desk service is ISO 20000…
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NRF 2018 Retail Assist
  • 22 Jan

NRF 2018: Technology Takeaways

Retail Assist NRF 2018 We’re back from another successful visit to NRF 2018, Retail’s BIG Show and Expo. Over 5 floors at the Jacobs K Javits Center in New York, we were immersed in the latest solutions, technology developments, and trends driving retail in 2018 and beyond. If you haven’t already watched our NRF 2018 vlogs, reported by Rhianne Poole, you can watch Day 1’s vlog here, Day 2 here, and both below. We bring you 5 minute round ups of the top technologies seen each day: So, what were Retail Assist’s key technology takeaways? “Retail is nothing without AI” Once again, and as reported in 2017, artificial intelligence came out on top. However, at this year’s Show artificial intelligence was taken to the next level through relevant application in retail. We were excited to see many use case scenarios and retailer case studies, taking AI from conceptual to applied benefits. AI has transitioned from “data is the new oil” to “retail is nothing without AI”. Retailers must see how critical it has become to operations as well as the customer experience. Beyond more relevant personalisation, there are opportunities for better product visibility, better product suggestion, and enhanced stock positioning. No longer an example in isolation, AI is offered with complementary technologies, such as inventory search; when blended together it becomes a valuable offering which the consumer can relate to.  IBM Watson, always a leader in AI, has applied Watson technology to its retailer chatbots, which are able to understand and respond to the tone of voice used by the customer in the chart below. Should the customer type more quickly, or use a frustrated tone of voice, the chatbot will adapt its semantics and speed of response to fulfil their demand with the best reaction. This leads us onto the next trend – convenience. The customer journey must exist at lightning speed, from browsing, to selecting a product, to payment completion. As Andrew Busby put it, automation is not to be afraid of in retail, and technologies such as those offered by Slyce and Mercaux make the product discovery process more fun, as well as more successful. Convenience for the retailer is just as important: and RFID has finally become more mainstream, enabling greater store and warehouse stock accuracy. We saw examples of an RFID gun sweep in 5 seconds recording over 200 pieces of inventory – pretty impressive for a daily stock take. The dress below has dual tagging – RFID and security embedded within one tag, which can be easily re-encoded. For the retailer, store associate, or customer, AI will combine with more and more elements of the retail customer journey to offer convenience and optimised experienced.…
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  • 17 Jan

NRF 2018 Vlog Day 2

Retail Assist NRF 2018 Hello again from New York! Rhianne Poole from Retail Assist’s Marketing team brings you more highlights from Retail’s Big Show in the second of our NRF18 videos. In our video we see demos from L’Oréal and Fingopay, as well as catching up with Retail Analyst Andrew Busby and hearing his highlights from NRF 2018. Press play below to watch the video, or watch it on YouTube here. (You can catch up with our Day 1 round-up here). AR (Augmented reality) Augmented reality and digital mirrors have been around for a while in the retail space, but we were pleased to see more realistic and relevant user case scenarios in the beauty/cosmetics industry. Used with cosmetic brands, the technology improves the convenience of trying different make up looks, and provides post-engagement to increase conversion. The value of this technology to the customer was much more evident than in previous years. Frictionless payments By 2020, it is expected that more than $5.6 trillion in payments will be secured by biometric technology. Fingopay, developed by Sthaler, is the world’s earliest customer identification technology powered by Vein ID biometrics. Seamless payments remove the number of touchpoints in the transaction journey, and Fingopay is a great example of this. Fingopay not only offers greater convenience for the customer though frictionless checkout, but also provides benefits for the retailer. By integrating with the retailer’s loyalty proposition, engagement with the brand and repeat transactions are encouraged. Retail Reflections We also caught up with Andrew Busby, who gave his insights into the top trends this year at NRF18. We share perspectives on the empowerment of the store and its teams. The place of the store in the retail customer journey must be prioritised: 98% of Gen Z still want to shop there. Experiential Retail is key for their demographic. To sum up the sentiment of the conference, sessions and Expo itself – Retail will be nothing without AI. You can check out Retail Reflections’ NRF18 content on their website here.…
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  • 16 Jan

NRF 2018 Vlog Day 1

Retail Assist NRF 2018 Hello from New York! Rhianne Poole from Retail Assist’s Marketing team brings you highlights from the Show in the first of our NRF18 videos. The key trend we identified from Day 1 of NRF 2018 is the advancements in AI, turning the power of data into realistic, use-case scenarios. Watch our technology insights from NRF Expo 2018 in the below video or over on YouTube here. Here are our 3 tech highlights from NRF 2018 Day 1. AI for product visual search: Slyce Visual search was brought onto the retail scene last year by ASOS, to enable the customer to take a photo of a product in real life, on a catwalk, or from a magazine – whenever inspiration or a customer need occurs. Slyce is taking this to the next level, partnering with retailers such as American Eagle, Tommy Hilfiger’s UK and US app, and Urban Outfitters. Working with another AI disruptor, Find Mine (used by Adidas), Slyce offers slick integration with a chat bot to provide the instantaneous social commerce favoured by Gen Z. Slyce’s customers have reported a 20% increase in average order value thanks to the technology’s ability to successfully identify product in an engaging way, or offer similar items to close a sale. AI and conversational commerce: IBM Watson now reacts to emotion in real time during conversational commerce. The demo seen in our vlog above is applied to an online scenario, but also works paired through voice. AI is playing a role in the following: • Supply chain – for efficiency • Operational – for merchandising • Consumer – to interact in a retail context (voice, natural language, emojis). The consumer is the main focus for Watson Commerce. Watson’s Chatbot demonstrates conversational commerce and learns to undertake emotion, changing the content to meet consumer needs. In the demo, the user has asked to see a range of sweaters. She asks the chat bot “Add that to my cart”. But what is “that”? Watson is able to identify which item the user might desire based on the fact that she clicked into the item detail, and by inferring positive sentiments from her language use. Rather than a typical Siri based “all questions, less answers”, Watson has learned to pre-empt and suggest to improve the customer experience. This links to Google Home/Alexa, whereby asking “where is my order” can bring up previous order history and delivery details. And the buzzword process for cognitive? Understand, reason, learn, interact. You heard it here first! Digitisation of the store through smarter product looks You may have seen recently that Retail Assist has partnered with Mercaux. The in-store technology company enables retailers to transform their in-store shopping experience by bringing the benefits of digital into physical stores. Mercaux, which supports the likes of United Colors of Benetton, L.K. Bennett and French Connection, offers a mobile platform that unifies a retailer’s online and in-store sales experience and empowers store associates to deliver an exceptional omnichannel customer journey.…
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