+100%-

IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

Guest blog

Doughnut miss this! Retail Assist & Doughnotts
  • 23 Apr 2019

Doughnut miss this! Our video mini-series continues with Doughnotts

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Frosted, glazed, jam or chocolate: however you enjoy yours, we know a store that’s got the perfect one for you. We continue our video mini-series, as we look at what larger retailers and hospitality vendors can learn from their independent counterparts, talking to Wade Smith, Director of Doughnotts. Along with his business partner and Co-Director, Megan Scaddan, Wade started Doughnotts in 2015. From humble origins in a family kitchen and starting with just £10 and a wok, the pair grew the brand from a doughnut delivery service to their first doughnut bar in Nottingham. And we’re not just talking any old doughnut; with themes, seasonal products and treat-laden doughnut rings, their products look as good as they taste. With further stores now in Derby and Leicester, and new stores planned to open in Nottingham and Lincoln this year, the duo have had to change and adapt their retail strategy to fit customer demand. Watch the video here: Click here to watch the video on YouTube So what can larger retailers learn from Doughnotts? Wade argues that retailers should listen to their customers, be ready to adapt and to keep it simple. Wade explained: “The concept of our stores has changed three times now. So (the first store in Nottingham) was a takeaway, then we opened a sit-in place in Derby, then when we opened Leicester, we thought ‘right, we need to go back to a takeaway.’” “However, we are changing our concept of in-store again. With the new store that’s opening in Nottingham, there’s going to be an in-store bakery so that you’re going to be able to come in and see a baker making doughnuts there and then.” Doughnotts also has a loyal social media following with an impressive 50,500 Instagram followers. But rather than over-complicating things, when it comes to a social media strategy, Wade also prefers a straight-forward approach. He explained: “So for growing Instagram, we were basically just posting every day. It was talking back to customers and sharing customers’ photos. We have a very, very Instagram-able product: Instagram was made for this!” If you’d like to see more videos in our high street retailer mini-series, subscribe to our YouTube channel here.…
Read more
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.…
Read more
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’.…
Read more
Is Mt Machine Learning about Retail?
  • 13 Feb 2019

Talking Shop: The Place of Voice Recognition Technology in Retail Part Two

Guest blog by Alan Morris. Alan is the co-founder and brand ambassador of Retail Assist. The retail sector knows better than most the effects of disruptive technology – and the consequences of ignoring it. Retailers are seeing what they always believed to be the case challenged, improved or replaced: it’s now all about what customers want, when they want it and how they want to receive it that counts. All of this started with the first online sale: Sting’s album ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ in 1994. From this point onward, customers started to realise that if you want to buy something, you don’t necessarily have to go to it – it can very easily come to you. The internet provided the platform for e-commerce and this changed the way that we shop forever. So, what impact will readily available, easy to use, accurate, reliable voice recognition technology have for retailers? A report by OC&C Strategy Consultants (February 2018) claims that the value of voice shopping in the UK now stands at £0.2bn, or 0.1% of total online spend, but it is expected to rocket in the next five years to £3.5bn. The report states that just as the prevalence of smart phones drove the m-commerce market, voice commerce is set to grow as a result of rising smart speaker sales, which have boomed since 2014 when Amazon launched its first product to market. Around 10% of UK households already own a smart speaker but this is projected to increase to 50% by 2022 as voice recognition technology becomes increasingly widespread.  I am told that every conversation about voice recognition technology must include a reference to Amazon; as an Amazon Prime customer, I can order and pay for kitchen rolls, bin bags and make other replenishment purchases by asking Alexa to order it for me. It’s quick, efficient and means that I can shop whilst cooking my breakfast – something that Alexa also helps me with by counting down the time it takes for my egg to boil. But it’s not just staple product sales that can be made using a digital assistant. In 2018, Retail Assist’s client ASOS launched ‘Enki’, their AI shopping guide, which allows customers via Google Assistant to interact directly with the brand to get style advice and to make purchases. Customers can send Enki photos of clothing items they like and the technology will search for similar products, then present them as a range from which selections and purchases can be made. ASOS admit that Enki is still learning and they are asking customers for feedback on the good and the bad of the experience, as well as providing any dream-big ideas for Enki’s future direction. This is an excellent example of collaborative development; retailers asking their customers what they want to make their shopping experience better. So, when will our digital assistant, using all of the data it has available, be able to identify which outfit we should buy for an upcoming social event in our…
Read more
Is Mt Machine Learning about Retail?
  • 11 Feb 2019

Talking Shop: The Place of Voice Recognition Technology in Retail Part One

Guest blog by Alan Morris. Alan is the co-founder and brand ambassador of Retail Assist. It’s somewhat ironic that I’m writing a blog about voice recognition technology, at the beginning of 2019, using a computer keyboard that’s an adaption of the original typewriter built in 1873. The QWERTY keyboard has been the input device of choice for millions of computer users across the world for nearly 50 years and it remains central to human-computer interaction today. But, whilst it has a past, does the keyboard have a future in relation to how we use technology in our everyday lives? If you consider that the average person can speak 150 words in a minute but in the same time frame can only type 40 words, you realise that speech is a human’s best form of communication. How many times have you thought that some things are “easier to say, than to write”? Given this, you’d be forgiven for questioning why computers weren’t designed to respond to the spoken word from the get-go: surely, that would have been more intuitive? Well, technologists have been trying to get computers to recognise and respond to the human voice since 1952. One of the very first examples was ‘Audrey’, who could distinguish ten numbers between 0 and 9 and, whilst at the time this was acknowledged as significantly advanced, compared to the human brain it was somewhat lacking. The problem for the early pioneers was that the technology was very computer resource hungry – which meant costly – so widespread adoption was unlikely. As time moved on, so did the technology. In 1962 IBM launched ‘Shoebox’ which could recognise a vocabulary of 16 English words and by 1976 ‘Harpy’ later increased the word count to 1011. Continued advancement saw the introduction of faster microprocessors, which meant the opportunities for voice recognition grew. By 1997, ‘Dragon Dictate’ allowed users to speak at 100 words per minute – two thirds the normal human speed. Impressive, yes, but it took 45 minutes to train the program and it cost about $695. In 2010, Google launched personalised recognition on Android devices which would record different users’ voice queries to develop an enhanced speech model. It consisted of 230 billion English words. One year later, Apple introduced the world to its voice-activated digital assistant, Siri. Not only intelligent, Siri was funny too, if asked the right questions or given the correct commands. So, over a 66-year period, voice recognition technology moved from being able to distinguish between the ten numbers to providing us with a voice activated digital assistant that listens to our speech and takes specific actions based upon our commands. Some predict that by the end of 2021, more than 1.6 million people will use voice-activated digital assistants on a regular basis. But if it is ever to become a ‘can’t live without technology’ we are going to have to accept that this technology has to offer more than just timing the boiling of an egg, playing our…
Read more
Bill Joss Q&A
  • 31 Dec 2018

Retail Reflections: “The biggest challenges for tech functions haven’t changed much in 40 years!” Retail Assist’s Chairman, Bill Joss, shares his insights

Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings, faced both forwards and backwards, and so had the ability to look into the past and the future. As we approach 2019 and all the new beginnings it will bring, we speak to Retail Assist’s Chairman, Bill Joss, to reflect on 40 years of working within the technology sector and to also look forward with his insights into retail and technology trends of the future. Bill, you have 40 years of experience within the technology industry. How have consumers evolved within this time? The main evolution in how the average retail consumer shops can be split into two segments. The first focuses on shopping behaviours as this now includes consumers with higher levels of computer literacy – something that would have been unheard of 25 years ago – joined with a higher ability to access and analyse information online; along with this change in how we operate is linked to increased expectations on the choice of items and sourcing via mobile technology. The second segment is comprised of the expectation of service; this includes the demand for fast responses to enquiries, the requirement for a smooth ordering process, immediate – if not free – delivery, plus an easy and fast returns and refund process. With all those changes in how consumers interact with the retail landscape, what do you perceive to be the biggest developments in retail technology so far? For me, the biggest developments in retail technology includes CRM-enabled omnichannel retail systems supported by faster IT solutions, with more accessible customer data and, increasingly, AI-powered analytics. Other important developments are unquestionably handheld apps and mobile technology payment systems. So, with 2019 soon upon us, let’s look forward. What changes in technology do you see making the greatest impact on the retail sector? Without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest impact has come from online, accessible websites, a social transition to handheld mobile technology and a growing deployment of AI. For retailers, the increasing proliferation of retail specific tools, such as a WSSI, stock management systems and PIM supporting online systems, will accelerate the switch from physical shop premises and ensure precision in a progressively challenging retail landscape. What predictions do you make on the future of technology? The immediate future is about increasingly intelligent self-learning systems and AI-enabled tools that collect customer data within CRM systems and facilitate individual or consumer-specific offers and promotions. What are the biggest challenges that the tech industry is facing right now? To be honest, the biggest challenges for technology functions haven’t changed much in 40 years! Broadly speaking, functional issues with application development and the delays associated with it can all slow progress and efficiency. However, with the growth in modern retailers’ omnichannel offerings meaning a demand on many data sources, the duplication of poorly qualified data can have a huge impact on retail businesses. What do you predict will be the tech mantra for 2019? It’s got to…
Read more
Nelson Blackley
  • 26 Nov 2018

‘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…
Read more
  • 5 Nov 2018

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…
Read more
Is Mt Machine Learning about Retail?
  • 31 Oct 2018

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…
Read more
Is Mt Machine Learning about Retail?
  • 29 Oct 2018

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

Guest blog by Alan Morris. Alan is the co-founder and brand ambassador of Retail Assist. Even if you don’t take an interest in machine learning, it doesn’t mean that it won’t take one in you. We are all someone’s customers, and our digital footprint is being increasingly tracked and used by retailers who want to profile us. They want to know our interests, observations, comments, likes and dislikes so they can produce for us a tailor-made customer experience. The reason being? To encourage us to spend more money: this is the future of retail.   Machine learning will be the key that unlocks retail’s big data and enables this to happen. It will provide insights so comprehensive and accurate that retailers will know exactly what their customers want to buy, and how and when they want to buy it. This will give retailers a new data driven confidence. Going forward, these insights will be automatically actioned, and the results will improve the supply chain process to a level that the buying, merchandising and logistics teams never thought possible. If you are cynical, remember that the history of innovation is the story of ideas that seemed dumb at the time. Considering how retailers currently perform data analytics will help position machine learning. Retailers use spreadsheets, planning and forecasting applications, and Business Intelligence (BI) tools, to generate insights to improve trading performance. These solutions forecast what should happen and playback what has happened. They are strong when it comes to broadcasting good, bad and indifferent performance, but they fall short of explaining why some things work and some things don’t. This insight comes from how the people that use the technology interpret the information they are presented with, and the validity of their opinion is based upon their experience and understanding of retail. The problem for humans when analysing data is the more you learn, the more you realise what you don’t know. You begin acknowledging that to understand something totally, you must sometimes break away and look at things differently; then, once you have looked at things differently, you need to look at them differently again. The best insights are those that are achieved when you completely understand the relationships between all the variables in play that can affect the scenario you are considering. Traditionally, retailers analyse data by looking for recognised patterns such as ‘what was bought with what?’, ‘which products sold best?’, and ‘how do sales compare to this time last year?’. However, they don’t fully help you to understand the different relationships that exist within the data, so they can’t fully appreciate the importance these may have when it comes to making informed decisions. This requires working through thousands of computations, testing different theories based upon how to improve performance. This arduous process is how you learn and build the experience so that the insights you give are meaningful.   Some have suggested that there is a lack of data in retail businesses. I know from personal experience that there…
Read more
site maintained by we are coda