IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


Retail MOT - Retail Assist
  • 15 Apr 2019

Have You Had Your Retail MOT? How To Health Check Your Retail Systems

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive It was all so different in retail days of yore. Keeping things functional required little more than ensuring sufficient till roll was available and that the change drawer was well supplied. However, flash forward to 2019 and maintaining a functioning, efficient and healthy retail system now involves the sort of expertise, time and money that would have stunned our retail predecessors. One of the main issues facing any retailer is recognising exactly how they are going to ensure IT systems are well managed. Customer expectations continue to rise – as does competition – and a retail system that is not in optimum health can have major consequences. Dedicating the time, capacity and staff to the undertaking can be challenging, but certainly not insurmountable. Built on our 20 years of experience, here are Retail Assist’s top health checks for retail systems. Engine: Keep Things Ticking Over Sales are the main driving force in any business and ensuring that there are no glitches to cease or stall trading is paramount. Any issues with retail systems should always receive immediate and thorough attention – something that Retail Assist acknowledge with a 24/7 flexible, multi-lingual retail Help Desk service. As there is one single point of contact, retailers can quickly connect with our Call Analysts and see their issues managed right through to the point of resolution. The specialist support offered means that retail employees with no knowledge of how retail systems operate can flag a problem and have it swiftly dealt with, resulting in no time being wasted. Brakes: In-Store Monitoring When there are devices used in-store, it’s prudent to employ a central device management system, such as AirWatch; this remotely monitors devices in a store environment and monitors the health of those devices. However, it also has the ability to ‘put the brakes on’ by locking the device remotely in the case of theft and to also put in place security measures to monitor which devices are connected to the network and control what sites those devices are accessing. Steering: Check that Your Systems are Headed in the Right Direction With modern retail demanding that brands expand over new digital channels, retailers may find they aren’t in a position to fully maximise all selling opportunities. If legacy systems are holding you back or you’re not sure how to implement new channels into your current digital offering, installing a PIM solution can help to steer your business in the right direction. A PIM offers a single, central point of data entry, where product information is optimised and managed through workflow processes, before being published to whichever selling channel is provided. Retail Assist’s software, OMIO PIM, delivers an end-to-end solution that comes with ready-built connectors and integrations to all digital marketplaces. Mirrors: Proactive Reflection Just as retailers continually strive to offer better levels of service, Retail Assist are also continuously improving and looking at new processes and procedures. This involves pro-active monitoring of all retail systems in order…
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What Can The High Street Learn From Independent Retailers? Bird & Blend Tea Co.
  • 8 Apr 2019

What Can the High Street Learn from Independent Retailers? We launch our new video series

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Lights, camera, action – this week sees the launch of our latest video series! Filming on location, we talk to the independent retail disruptors and what the high street can learn from them. In our first video, we speak to Krisi Smith, co-founder and Creative Director of Bird & Blend Tea Co. As expert tea blenders, their store space provides a mixture of retail and hospitality opportunities; having grown from a bedroom in Krisi’s mum’s house in Nottingham, Bird & Blend has now evolved to include seven stores across the UK with a global online presence, too.   Watch the video here: Click here to watch the video on YouTube Krisi explains: “We’re very much an omnichannel business. As we’ve grown over the years, it’s been quite a challenge to make sure the service levels are delivered consistently across all our channels.” Setting them apart from their competition, Bird & Blend is innovative in the way it engages with its customers, especially through their use of store events. Inviting customers into store, Krisi and her team have organised yoga classes, cocktail nights, Valentine’s Day meet and greets, tea blending workshops and prohibition style drinks events. But with so many innovative customer experiences, how do Bird & Blend maintain personality and a customer-centric focus whilst also expanding their store estate? “It’s really important to us that everyone gets the same customer journey,” says Krisi. “We do a lot of training around that with our teams to make sure that everyone gives the same intro to the brand, with the same recommendations and the same experience, but that our team members also have enough freedom to bring their own personalities into the spaces that they work in.” With a quarterly tea range as well as familiar favourites, Krisi develops their products by taking inspiration from food trends, fashion, travel and also customer suggestions from social media. “We’re really experienced based in-store,” says Krisi. “The most exciting zone in all of our stores is the tea wall where customers can get down different teas to sample.” Customers are always encouraged to engage their senses, with team members encouraging customers to smell and taste the teas, offering personal recommendations on how best they prefer to serve them. Watch Krisi’s video to see more insights into how Bird & Blend approach their store strategy and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel here to stay up-to-date with our latest video releases.…
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SDI Best Service Desk Customer Experience 2019
  • 1 Apr 2019

What a night! Retail Assist Celebrates Success at the SDI Awards

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive One win, two trophies and a big night to celebrate! This year, Retail Assist entered the IT Service & Support Awards, hosted by SDI, and we are extremely proud to announce that we not only won Best Service Desk CX (Customer Experience), but were also finalists for Best Small Enterprise Managed Services Provider 2019. Whilst the night itself was an excellent evening celebrating success within the service desk industry, it had been a robust process consisting of an extensive written application, a presentation and Q&A session with the category judges, then followed by a site visit, complete with another presentation and site tour. However, we relished the opportunity to wax lyrical about our philosophy surrounding customer service and to celebrate the excellent work that our Helpdesk Call Analysts achieve every day. We explained the ways in which we engage our team to define and build a service desk culture focused on customer excellence whilst delivering exceptional business value, including many examples of where our analysts have gone above and beyond to deliver unique customer service. However, it wasn’t all presentations and written applications… Another particularly fun part of the process was filming our Helpdesk video. So, without further ado, we present ‘The RA Show’!  Click here to watch the video on YouTube Held on Tuesday 26th March 2019, the SDI’s annual awards identify the excellence of outstanding service desk teams and individuals from across the globe. Having won Best Managed Service Desk in 2016, Retail Assist was keen to re-enter following a host of innovations to its service desk provision. Delivering the award for Best Service Desk CX 2019, Tim Ingham, one of the category judges, said: “Customer experience is something that’s really close to my heart and I think it has the ability to have a really big impact on the way we deliver support. As a judge, it’s really nice to see the kind of programmes in place that will deliver an impact for customers on the local, national and international stage. But, there can only be one winner and that is Retail Assist!” Along with this, we were delighted to also be a finalist for ‘Best Small Enterprise Managed Service Provider 2019’, which recognises the wealth of services offered across our Managed Services. Dan Smith, Retail Assist’s CEO, said: “We are extremely proud to have won the Best Service Desk CX award and to be a finalist for Best Small Enterprise Managed Service Provider, gaining both national and international recognition for our work. We pride ourselves on delivering excellence to our customers who include many leading retail and hospitality brands. This is a wonderful achievement that celebrates our team and gives them the recognition their hard work and dedication deserves.” Thank you to everyone at the SDI for their support and help over the last few months; we had a brilliant night and a fantastic conference. And well done again to the whole Retail Assist team!…
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Influencer Marketing Retail Assist
  • 25 Mar 2019

The Rise and Rise of Influencer Marketing

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive, and Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Imagine being at a party. Your friend walks in wearing an amazing dress and you instantly love it; she looks so happy in it, the colour really suits her skin tone and, as she’s a similar size to you, you can already picture what it would look like on you. You ask her where it’s from, track it down either online or in-store and make the purchase, as an equally happy customer. Influencer marketing is certainly nothing new; there are generations of people who have been inspired by their peer group and who have been lead to making a purchase because they’ve seen someone else wear it or review it. However, with social media now ubiquitous, a brand’s potential reach is exponential and modern consumers can view products whether they’re actively shopping or not. In this way, Instagram is a powerful tool for retailers; whether it’s through increasing brand awareness, sharing reviews or even user-generated photo content, influencer collaborations or paid content. Brands can reach audiences that might have previously been difficult to target. In fact, word of mouth sales generate more than twice the sales of paid advertising and 81% of consumers make purchase decisions based on friends’ social media posts. Coupled with this, conversions are four to 10 times higher from offers shared by trusted advocates than brands. Our customer, ASOS, uses this strategy to great success. Instead, ASOS work with microbloggers (influencers with followers of several thousands or even hundreds, rather than Insta-famous influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers) to create ASOS Insiders. Here, the micro-influencers take photos of themselves wearing ASOS clothes and post the item’s unique code into the photo caption so that their followers can simply copy and paste it straight into ASOS’ website or app, leading straight to the item. In an interview with Drapers, James Apsley-Thompson, PR manager at fashion retailer I Saw It First, said: “Instagram opens up a direct conversation with our customer. We can immediately find out what she is shopping for, the trends she wants to invest in and the celebrity styles she’s lusting after. This constant dialogue is invaluable for fast fashion retailers in particular, as we can quickly adapt our product offering for commercial success.” Being able to react quickly is invaluable. Social media is a 24/7 tool and with users able to access it whenever they want to use it, it’s vital for brands to be able to respond quickly. Whilst involving social media influencers and micro-bloggers in campaigns has clear rates of return, retailers should also prepare to react quickly to getting their products recognised. If a key influencer has posted a positive review about a particular garment, updating that item’s SEO so that it is optimised effectively is vital to improve visibility and, therefore, the chances of it being found. Utilising PIM software is a great way to do this, enabling modern retailers to harness the power of influencer marketing and…
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  • 18 Mar 2019

“I’m very lucky to work with such fab people!” We talk to our new Learning and Development Manager, Charlotte Lappin

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Tell us a bit about your background. My degree is actually in theatre but it’s perfect for learning and development! The course was involved in all aspects, but I especially enjoyed directing. There are many parts of being a director that apply to my current role at Retail Assist, as it requires you to make plans and bring people from different departments together. After university and a short stint as a Mad Scientist children’s educational entertainer, I worked at a call centre: first as a Dedicated Operator and then as Training Quality Co-Ordinator. After here, I moved to the University of Nottingham where I worked at the students’ union, liaising with both staff and students. Although I loved my time there, I craved a new challenge and wanted more development. When I saw the role at Retail Assist, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to knit together various parts of my skillset and experience. What does your role as Learning and Development Manager entail? My role is brand new and constantly evolving. Whilst it’s currently focused on training and developing colleagues on the Help Desk, it’s moving to broader aspects of the company. I’m naturally a people helper and I’m excited to look at the opportunities to develop our people in a wider sense. What does your average day look like? It’s safe to say that there is no average day! I love the variety of my role; it can range from delivering coaching sessions for our Client Lead Analysts, to creating different training programmes for internal teams, to developing our apprenticeship scheme. I’ve also got some exciting plans for some new company-wide initiatives. Watch this space! What’s your approach to learning and development? I believe that working should be collaborative, inclusive and empowering. This is the focal point of how I work and I keep those elements at the heart of everything I do. With that, I also believe in bringing together experts to ensure we have the right content in the right way. What’s the favourite thing about your job? I’d always wanted to lead my own team; the opportunity to develop my own people and to build those relationships was something I was looking for in a new role, so I’m delighted to have this here at Retail Assist. I know I’m biased, but my team are amazing – I’m very lucky to work with such fab people! What do you enjoy most about working at Retail Assist? I’ve always been a people person and in every job I’ve ever had, the thing I’ve enjoyed most has been the colleagues I’ve worked with. It’s safe to say that this is the same at Retail Assist! I love working with people who have a positive focus and I feel like we’ve already learnt so much from each other. It’s a really great team environment and it’s a lovely atmosphere to work in. I’ve also been impressed with how much internal…
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  • 11 Mar 2019

St Patrick’s Day: Will the Luck of the Irish Turn its Hand to UK Retail?

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive, and Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Saint Patrick might be the patron saint of Ireland, but his name and feast day has come to be synonymous with celebrations. However, whilst many people around the UK will take part in St Patrick’s Day events on the 17th March, in America it’s a billion dollar industry; in fact, predicted spending for 2019 is expected to exceed $5.61bn. If the UK has followed American retail trends in the past, is St Patrick’s Day set to become a key UK trading event of the future? According to NRF, 55% of Americans plan to celebrate this year, with the biggest spends unsurprisingly going on food and beverages. Yet consumers are also looking to spend their pretty green on decorations and apparel, with 77% of men and 84% of women planning to wear green on the day. Interestingly, the breakdown in this percentage indicates that 87% of 18-24 year olds and 82% of 24-34 year olds plan on wearing green, perhaps providing an unexpected link between the saint’s day and the rise of Halloween, as Gen Z and their millennial counterparts tap into the ‘dressing up’ element of the revelries. NRF’s annual St Patrick’s Day research also highlighted retailers such as Aldi who are targeting shoppers with products such as green or beer-flavoured cheese and other grocery chains embracing the holiday’s feature colour with displays of Granny Smith apples. However, it’s not just the supermarket sector. A quick google of “St Patrick’s Day Clothes” leads to some UK retailers, such as River Island, linking to a selection of their green clothes and accessories whilst other global brands are taking it one step further. Adidas recently announced their St Patrick’s Day collection: a limited edition run of their Handball Spezial trainers which has three different Irish-themed colourways and “a clover sign-off to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day”. Perhaps this is yet another example of the globalisation of retail, as certain location-specific trends start to spread to other localities. So is St Patrick’s Day a growing trend? NRF certainly thinks so. A decade ago, only half of consumers under the age of 35 planned to celebrate, whereas now it has grown to over 70 percent. And, if the rising popularity of Halloween is anything to go by, with Mintel now praising it as the third biggest retail event of the year after Christmas and Easter, it suggests that St Patrick’s Day looks set take the UK retail and hospitality sector by storm.   Retail Assist provides IT support to the retail and hospitality sector, which is crucial for peak trading periods. Want to hear how we can reduce your IT costs by 30% whilst also reducing system downtime? Click here or email marketing@retail-assist.co.uk.…
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National Apprenticeship Week 2019
  • 4 Mar 2019

You’re hired! Retail Assist Celebrates National Apprenticeship Week 2019

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Lord Sugar might be famous for saying “You’re fired!” in order to find his perfect apprentice, however at Retail Assist, we take pride in nurturing ours. This week (4th – 8th March) is National Apprenticeship Week 2019; here, we explain about our scheme and celebrate the hard work of all of our apprentices. Retail Assist is fortunate to have six brilliant apprentices who are currently working as Apprentice Call Analysts on our award-winning Help Desk. They receive full training, internally and externally, to work as part of a team to deliver the highest standard of support for our prestigious global client base from across the retail and hospitality sectors. Rae Hayward, Head of People, says: “Our apprenticeship scheme is the perfect opportunity for school and college leavers to develop their skills whilst also gaining a qualification in customer service. “As part of the scheme, our apprentices get time in the office to combine and develop their work experiences with essay-based learning. With their work and drive, we can help to shape and develop our apprentices into the ideal Retail Assist Call Analyst.” James Jeffs, Apprentice Call Analyst agrees: “The apprenticeship at Retail Assist appealed to me because it meant I was earning whilst learning, whilst also gaining experience working within an award-winning company.” But it’s not just the apprentices that stand to gain from their time with us – the feeling is very much mutual. Rae explains: “With Retail Assist’s on-going growth and progress, it’s also a fantastic prospect for us to welcome younger people with varied life experiences and backgrounds to join our diverse and dynamic team. Our apprentices are all really enthusiastic and keen, and we have enjoyed seeing them thrive within our work environment.” Callum Kitson, Apprentice Call Analyst, feels that he has benefitted from this experience of a working environment. He says: “I enjoy working alongside great colleagues and I also like that we support well-known clients. The apprenticeship scheme has helped me to gain new skills; I have learnt how to speak to customers confidently over the phone and I’ve also learnt how to work well in an office environment, which is something that will help me with my future career options.” So, if people are interested in joining, what should they know? Rae says: “Having apprentices gives us an opportunity to welcome applications from our local community whilst also giving another option to school and college leavers. We’re not looking for any specific qualifications, but we are looking for applicants to be able to use a computer, show common sense, the ability to be a team player and the willingness to succeed.” Finally, what advice would Callum give to anyone thinking about joining the scheme? “It’s definitely a good route,” says Callum. “Progress within a company as you learn and earn money whilst you’re learning – who wouldn’t want that?” For more information and to apply for the scheme, click here to visit the government’s apprenticeship website or…
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Nelson Blackley
  • 27 Feb 2019

Online retail is here to stay, but will it ever overtake offline sales?

Guest blog by Nelson Blackley, Retail Research Associate at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University The recent, mixed, Christmas trading results from UK retailers with large numbers of physical stores has led many commentators to link this underperformance directly with the increase in online shopping. However, this is unfair and far too simplistic. The origins of many of the current challenges faced by retail pre-date the retail revolution caused by the launch of Apple’s first iPhone in 2007, including under investment in digital technologies and unrealistic rent increases. Whilst reliable internet access, combined with technological development and the universal availability of smartphones (for many, mobile phones are now simply an extension of us as consumers) has had a huge impact in most people’s lives, the growth of online retail in the UK has followed a fairly steady trajectory. Since 2007, online retail has increased from around 5% until, at the end of 2018, online accounted for just 20% of total UK retail sales. However, this total varies across different retail sectors, and by individual retailers, with only around 7% of UK grocery sales being online compared to almost 30% of fashion being ordered online, along with higher online sales penetration levels in music, video, games. We are at the intersection of major technological, economic and societal change. However, online retail has not yet completely replaced physical stores, nor, in my opinion, is it ever likely to do so. Many shoppers use mobile devices to access product information or place orders whilst in-store (and are often encouraged to do so). Shoppers may also go online to find locations and opening times of physical stores or order online and then collect in-store. A much more complex and dynamic relationship has now developed between the two. Gone are the days where shopping is an ‘either/or’ option for bricks-and-mortar and online; the osmosis between the two is cohesive, with successful retailers offering a unified omnichannel experience. I would also argue that this separate measurement of either online and offline retail sales is itself now obsolete (and probably also inaccurate given the high levels of returns in online fashion) as no hard dividing line between online and offline (physical shopping) occasions or experiences should exist. Online retail and physical stores will both play a major part as UK retail continues to change and evolve, and retail will undoubtedly remain a key sector in the UK economy; however, it will do so through a range of different channels and places. It’s now all just retail, not a binary choice between online or offline, and all that matters to consumers is that they get the product they want, at the price they want, when they want it and where they want it. You can read more of Nelson’s retail reflections in his blog, ‘Retail Views and News’.…
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How to Avoid the February Sales Slump - Retail Assist
  • 18 Feb 2019

Short, but Deadly! How to Avoid the February Sales Slump

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive No sooner has the heady rush of Christmas washed over the retail world than a second wave comes in the form of the January sales. Business is kept brisk by an array of shoppers flocking to spend vouchers, Christmas money and to take advantage of this traditional discounting period. Fast forward to the next month and it’s a stark contrast. February ushers in a more sober retail environment and sales slumps are common as shoppers tighten their budgets. So how do retailers combat this by making the most of this short but challenging month? Target the season Instead of seeing it as a negative month, acknowledging the season and utilising its unique characteristics can produce results. Retailers are fully aware of how customers must feel, so why not capitalise on this knowledge? The New Year mindset in many is one of renewed focus on new ideas, new ways of living and, crucially, of being willing to buy items related to this thinking. Promoting and prioritising items for retail that support this is a good idea; people may well be searching out fitness clothing, but are perhaps less likely to be purchasing clothing for parties and functions for example. Conversely, those who may have participated in Dry January, or who have subsided their extraneous spending until the January pay day, may well be ready to hit the social scene once more! Knowing the target market and how they like to spend their money in minute detail provides key insights no matter what the time of year. Launch a campaign Starting some form of promotional campaign in February can help shoppers make decisions on items they perhaps were putting off until another month. Retargeting campaigns based around contacting who expressed interest in items in the run-up to Christmas, but didn’t actually purchase them, can be part of mail-outs and selective discounting aimed at encouraging customers to fulfil their purchases. There is also scope to base significant campaigns around key dates in February such as Valentine’s Day and the various school half-term holidays, both of which can be used to a retailers advantage. Product countdowns that allow customers to see exactly how much stock there is left of limited items will also draw them in and encourage them to act swiftly. Having a clear customer engagement strategy with specific content marketing will encourage purchasing decisions. Use time and budgets in a different way As sales slow in February, taking advantage of any extra time can be advantageous. Stepping aside from the day-to-day business of a busy retail environment, focus can instead be dedicated to future plans, reflecting on how successful the Christmas and New Year period was and considering what worked and what didn’t. Strategies can be considered for upcoming months and areas such as marketing and its efficiency can be looked at. Considering how the budget might be redirected temporarily can also be helpful. As trading can be slower, taking the usual budget dedicated to the…
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Mixed Reality Debuts At London Fashion Week - Retail Assist
  • 15 Feb 2019

One Well-Dressed MR: Mixed Reality Debuts at London Fashion Week

Written by Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Anyone who’s anyone in fashion will be taking a seat in less than 7 hours, at 180 The Strand to encounter a catwalk experience like no other. Central Saint Martins, the world-renowned design and art college which forms part of the University of Arts London, will be producing a world first: a mixed reality catwalk, powered by 5G. Modelled by Lennon Gallagher, son of Oasis frontman Liam and actor Patsy Kensit, the collection designed by Gerrit Jacob will be based on 1980s gaming and classic fairgrounds. 5G networks claim to offer download speeds of 10 to 20 times faster than what we currently have on 4G now. Its power will offer higher quality videos that enable the use of Mixed Reality, through Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. Lennon Gallagher at London Fashion Week (Evening Standard) What is Mixed Reality? Mixed Reality is a combination of both the physical and digital world, and merges Augmented Reality with Virtual Reality. It is a spectrum of real-world objects dynamically integrating with virtual matter to interact in real time. But how can Mixed Reality be achieved on the catwalk? The Magic Leap One Headset will be available to all those with front row passes. The headset works through superimposing CGI with the user’s view of the catwalk. Not only will the users see the clothes, but will also be able to experience animations and dramatic lighting effects. It has also been reported that viewers will be taunted by smiling tigers and laughing skulls. This is achieved through ‘computer vision’, which makes digital objects contextually aware, meaning they interact with dimensional and structural awareness. The headset also claims to feature ‘spatial audio’, offering sound distance and varying its intensity (a similar experience to surround sound), so users receive an all-immersive experience by appealing to more senses than just plain sight. How will Mixed Reality affect the High Street? These combined technologies allow designers to create a story and showcase their designs in an experiential yet meaningful manner. Naturally, catwalk designs influence the high-end ready-to-wear products, which are eventually adapted and mass made for the high street and, similarly, retailers will need to consider this Mixed Reality process not only for their products, but the experience they are offering in-store. Whilst Mixed Reality is offering a hybrid of technologies and virtual/real world experiences for the catwalk, it is the contextual experience, with clothes being demonstrated in a variety of virtual environments, that will prove to be the most significant to bricks-and-mortar. With the use of VR and AR technologies becoming prosaic to the high street, the combination of both MR and 5G heralds the opportunity for high street innovation like never before.   Read Andréa’s coverage of LFW 2018 here.…
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