IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


NRRKEC Retail Symposium
  • 15 Jul 2019
“Omnichannel is the future of British retail” Our round-up from the NRRKEC Retail Symposium
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead The 4th Annual NRRKEC (National Retail Research Knowledge Exchange Centre) Retail Symposium was held on Thursday 11th July in the Nottingham Conference Centre at Nottingham Trent University.  Whilst the theme for the day was ‘Innovative, Independent Retail’, the symposium featured keynote speakers who have their eyes on the wider retail environment and the effects on the high street that stretch beyond independents. Retail of the Future Bill Grimsey, author of The Grimsey Review and former CEO of Wickes and Iceland, is the Executive Retail Director of the NRRKEC. In his introduction to the day, he said: “Retail of the future won’t be based on conventions of the past.” To illustrate his point, Bill spoke about how his granddaughters had asked for Amazon vouchers for Christmas. The vouchers were given to them on the 25th December and, by the time that Bill had gone to visit them on the 27th December, their presents had not only been ordered, but also delivered. He argued that perhaps ‘retail’ is an old-fashioned term as stores start to move towards experiential spaces – towards entertainment, even. Convenience is Key Susan Hallam, founder of digital agency Hallam, spoke on ‘Being Creative in a Place’, exploring the different ways that retailers can engage with their audience. She explained that 80% of people will still go in-store for an item they want immediately, offering credence to the ‘Google My Business’ tool, where searches can be tailored to be ‘near me’. Coupled with this, another tool for large and independent retailers alike is Google’s In Store Inventory; this is a version of paid ads, where retailers can upload their inventory and, the next time someone searches for a ‘hot pink midi dress’, Google will not only show them the results, but will show the customer where they can buy the actual item, including how many miles away it is from them (and, because it’s Google, they will also give the address and opening hours of that retailer). Adding to her belief that “convenience is the new loyalty”, Susan argued that this tool could be utilised by all sizes of retailers to help drive footfall to stores. The Future is Omni Rounding up the day, Krisi Smith, co-founder of Bird & Blend Tea Co., spoke about the need for retailers to successfully blend the wider online world with the physical. Bird & Blend Tea Co. has an innovative approach to their retail space; offering their customers a cohesive blend of the senses in-store, they also engage with them through holding diverse events in their store space and through many different social channels, including invite-only Facebook groups and product development groups. She said: “I passionately believe that omnichannel is the future of British retail. “It’s more than okay for our staff to spend 30 minutes with someone, for the customer to then leave without a store sale and to then complete the purchase online. Being a true omnichannel brand means being there whenever the customer…
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  • 9 Apr 2018
Why is inspiration so important in retail?
The rise of retail inspiration: the browser-shopper In recent years, many analysts have noted a marked difference in the way we shop, due to the rise of ‘the inspiration stage’ – browsing. Ecommerce has offered consumers a digital shop window from which to browse a brand’s products, and even better, check their availability. Google statistics show a 55% rise in searches using the word “ideas” between 2015-17. Combined with indisputable role that social media plays in our lives – with mobile devices offering an ‘always on’ connection to peers, influencers and brands – inspiration can quickly turn into a purchasing decision. This means that before a customer enters your store, or visits your website, they have already been inspired, and already know why they are there. Immediately fulfil desire As consumers become more informed, and therefore more demanding, the stakes are getting higher. Brands will find themselves less relevant in the eyes of the consumer if they are unable to respond quickly to a fast-moving trend. Instagram Shopping With 500 million people using the platform every day, Instagram Shopping has tapped into a market of social media users who use apps to make their purchasing decisions. No longer are posts used just for inspiration – if made “shoppable” with the new Instagram feature, users don’t even need to leave the app to purchase the item. This is a powerful example of truly frictionless retailing from inspiration to transaction stage. Product availability So, to recap: I want the item, not necessarily the brand. I’m time poor, searching for the exact item at the best price. What will make a brand stand out? According to consultancy PwC, product availability is the most important factor in driving loyalty, for 42% of UK consumers across all retail sectors. This perhaps goes some way to explain the relative successes of the new generation of ‘ASOS retailers’. For example, Boohoo group sales surged 100% to £228.2m in the final quarter of 2017. And at Pretty Little Thing, to which hundreds of products are added daily, sales nearly trebled to 191% y.o.y. As explained in our Product Information Management Whitepaper, the ability to introduce new products at a rapid rate is the new measure of retail success. Download your free PDF here.…
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retail week live blog
  • 12 Mar 2018
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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store of the future
  • 6 Nov 2017
Investing in the store of the future
Store retail strategy “The high street is dead”, “the department store is dead”. We’re hearing it over and over, and yet stores still form the cornerstone of brand experience, for the majority of successful omnichannel retailers. There’s still a strong customer demand for store experiences – over 70% of all retail purchases touch a store at some point in the journey. The 21st century store: John Lewis Industry stalwart John Lewis unveiled its newest store last week at Oxford Westgate. It’s the 49th in the John Lewis portfolio, an anchor store of the future, and its most experience and service-led to date. Being dubbed the “Store of the 21st Century” by Drapers, the new store centres on providing exceptional experience and service, in order to engage and retain loyal customers. There are five “dwell” spaces throughout the store, to host “customer experience events” for John Lewis shoppers. These range from traditional personal styling sessions, to modern yoga classes capitalising on the athleisure trend. The new “Experience Desk” is perhaps the culmination of this thinking, where shoppers can buy-in to experiences at a concierge style service, to help the customer arrange and organise their day around their product needs. One thing is for sure – John Lewis’ store experience is attempting to give the customer exactly what they want from the brand. Fulfilling the customer promise “Never knowingly undersold” is perhaps the most famous brand promise in British retailing. John Lewis operates under banners of quality and customer reassurance. One of the biggest bugbears for customers is the non-fulfilment of the customer promise. If you promise that an item is in stock, for example, can you ensure that it reaches the customer? This relies on multiple elements – is your stock view in real-time? Is it a central, single view, or do you have ring-fenced stock? Opening up your inventory with a single, centralised view is the best way to ensure you can fulfil the customer promise with accurate stock information. Consumers are also more demanding: if they need a product “now”, they’ll be put off by out-of-stock notifications, or “wait 2-3 weeks for delivery”. Are you using surplus store stock to fulfil online orders? Ship from store can make you more likely to be able to fulfil more orders, whilst also increasing full price sell through. What will the store of the future look like? What we don’t believe is that the store of the future should become a glorified click-and-collect desk. The store is still the manifestation of your brand in its physical products. So, how to get it right? Make sure they are in the right place, at the right time, in the correct quantities, and sold by store associates with the best levels of product information is key. John Lewis might have based its new store around experiences as well as its products, but their value lies in the encouragement of brand loyalty, bigger baskets, and future purchases.…
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IT Help Desk
  • 18 Sep 2017
The Evolution of IT Support
IT Support: from early beginnings to critical importance Through the decades the notion of IT support has changed radically. From the well-known and much parodied ‘try turning it off and on again’ cliché of years gone by to the troubleshooting systems and proactive support we see in use today, the industry has altered greatly. 1980s Following Microsoft being founded in 1975, the 1980s saw computers and the technology that powered them reaching the masses. No longer reserved for the domain of scientists and high-tech businesses, desktop computers began to seep into the fabric of society. With this move came the need for IT technicians to support them. The problems they were called on to solve centred around keeping computers connected to mainframes and installation. 1990s With computers becoming standard technology in offices across the country during the 1990s, internet connections soon followed within the same decade. This rapid adoption, which saw individuals as well as companies relying for the first time on machines and methods of working that were entirely new to them, meant that the need for IT support expanded too. Where a business may have made do with a single member of staff handling technical issues, they suddenly found themselves overwhelmed.  As a result, outsourcing IT support was introduced, and people found themselves describing IT problems over the phone. Email and live chat became a way of communicating problems that started to become more common as the internet continued to increase in popularity with the dotcom bubble. 2000s As computers embedded themselves firmly in day-to-day life, so the nature of IT support changed in the 2000s. With reduced barriers to entry, new technology companies were formed, cloud storage became widespread, and apps entered the marketplace for the first time. Once again, demand for IT support staff expanded, as the ease in which small companies and individuals could launch websites, apps and other digital facilities continued to grow. During this period, remote desktop support became more prominent. This allowed IT support teams to access computers remotely and perform diagnostics checks, making the process of eliminating problems smoother and quicker for the user. The Future With cloud migration becoming increasingly popular, the trend to outsource managed services is set to continue its growth. Managed service providers bring the capability to streamline and devote attention directly to a business; a departure from the way in which IT support has operated in the past. Whilst problems were previously fixed as and when they occurred with billing for the work done, now proactive support is available as a fixed-cost model with shared services to benefit from. Under a subscription model, work is undertaken on a proactive basis with a contractual agreement looking to provide a constructive and forward-thinking attitude to IT support. A demand for 24×7 IT support will continue to be of critical importance as businesses operate online, with customers accessing their services in different time zones across the world, and expecting excellent customer service around the clock.  Increasingly high standards with…
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IT outsourcing in retail
  • 11 Sep 2017
Why outsource IT in retail?
Reasons to outsource IT in retail The most popular reasons to consider IT Outsourcing? As discussed in the IT Outsourcing Study Europe 15/16, cost reduction is the most important driver for organisations planning to increase the level of IT Outsourcing within their organisation (64%), followed by focus on core business (57%), improvement of service quality (47%) and access to resources (45%). In retail, the benefits are much more focussed on the retailers’ day to day operations, and future strategy. Empowering the CIO role beyond day-to-day IT Retail IT Directors and CIOs are retail’s most indispensable multi-taskers; required to focus on their consumers’ wants and needs, their organisation’s core competencies, and most importantly – which innovations must be implemented to keep customers coming back for more. When retailers measure the tactical benefits of using an outsourced IT partner, they should not ignore the value that comes from being able to release the CIO to focus on strategic business growth. For an IT Director, outsourcing not only relieves them of non-essential duties, but also provides time to focus on critical technology developments which might otherwise have been neglected. It releases him or her from the daily management of services to managing a few key individuals within an IT Outsourcing partnership. CIOs and IT Directors should look upon this as the chance to improve their credibility as a business enabler and adopt a new field of vision. When Retail Assist transitioned Coast, Oasis, Karen Millen and Warehouse’s IT department to allow its IT Director to focus on business growth strategy, outsourcing was achieved with no job losses, and saved 30% of their IT costs. You can download the case study here. Making IT more efficient to fulfil growing consumer demand Today’s omnichannel supply chain retailing operations – buying and merchandising, product information management, allocation and replenishment,  fulfilment and delivery – are more important than they have ever been. Consumers today are accustomed to buying anywhere, anytime, anyplace, expecting to view where items are in stock, expecting faultless and consistent delivery, and setting the bar higher with each experience. IT processes are the engine that powers these mechanics. So, as more is asked of retailers, naturally they should expect more of their IT department. But is the in-house team fit for purpose, and is the resource scalable with business growth? Many retailers outsource to manage key functions such as a Help Desk for store-based and office-based staff, a Data Centre environment where hardware and systems are hosted by a third-party, the development of new technology, and project management of new IT infrastructures and systems. If the outsourced provider is well-selected, expert understanding and hands-on experience of retail can also be provided. So, why dedicate costly in-house resources to these areas when an expert can offer a consistent service with focussed and skilled resources, scalable to flex and grow as required, and offering more cost-effectiveness by sharing the service across a number of retailers? Our customer Best Food Logistics, has chosen selective IT Outsourcing to…
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back to school 2017
  • 4 Sep 2017
Back to School: lessons to learn for retailers
With the arrival of September and the cooler weather, it’s officially that time of year: back to school 2017. As a prime time for reflection and forward-planning as peak trading approaches, here are 5 back to school lessons retailers can learn from the last year. Your stores are a valuable asset, when used in the right way No more “death of the high street” as retailers continue to reap the benefits of Ship from Store strategy. If you’re not using the stock within your stores to fulfil orders from the website, or orders from other stores, you could be missing out on a huge number of sales. For example, just because your new season bestseller is out of stock online, it doesn’t mean that the order can’t be fulfilled from a store with surplus stock. In this way, there are benefits for the retailer and customer alike. Stores have taken on prime importance as “virtual distribution hubs” within retailers’ omnichannel strategy. One of our customers reported 20-30% increased web sales after implementing ship from store.                  Single view of stock in real time As a proviso for point 1, having a single view of stock is critical for successful omnichannel trading. An increased number of concessions, faster introduction of new products, and greater international presence has provided big successes for retailers in the past year. But consolidating all of this retail data, including a real-time view of the product, is a must have in order to provide the most seamless experience, wherever the customer is shopping. Getting price right is more important than ever Selling internationally can be hard, and in the wake of Brexit, all retailers experienced the effects of the devaluation of the pound. A year and a half later, we’re still feeling it. However, as ASOS’ Nick Robertson said, “Get your prices right, and the rest follows”. As retailers such as ASOS have shown by continuing to report growing profits, providing a price point that is competitive, whilst pleasing the customer, is achievable, by implementing techniques such as zonal pricing to adjust prices in different territories. You can find out more about the benefits of our price management solution on our dedicated webpage. Empower your store associates Thanks to big data and the smartphone boom, customers have more and more information at their fingertips, meaning they’ll be disappointed to find store associates who can’t provide them with the answers they need, and fast. “Is this available in my size/a different store/a different colour?” – we have all been there. Store associates need to be able to provide second-accurate information, as well as a result – can the customer have the item delivered from another store to their home, for example. Our multifunctional tablet inventory solution has replaced bulky, single-function HHTs to empower store associates to fulfil customer demand more easily. Watch the video to find out more. Your customers will continue to demand more As retailers buckle up for the run-up to peak trading, now is not the…
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retail technology blog
  • 12 Jun 2017
How to target Gen Z?
Who are Gen Z? The demographic after Millennials, Gen Z are born between the mid-1990s to early 2000s, meaning that the current cohort range from teens to young adults in their early twenties. There have been a number of labels attached: digital natives, glued to their devices, social over physical, and lacking in brand loyalty… It’s easy to paint a somewhat undesirable picture of the newest generation to come into spending power, but don’t underestimate their influence. The youth of today definitely flexed their political muscle in the recent General Election, in what the Guardian has dubbed a “youthquake” of increased turnout. They have a strong voice, and want to use it. And their worth? A cool £16.5bn, as reported by Mintel last year. By 2020, Generation Z will account for 40% of all consumers. (And you thought you’d only just figured out Millennials). So, how to tap into this market and capture their attention? Getting the message across The average Gen Z-er has the attention span of about eight seconds. They have grown up at a time when they’re presented with media and messaging from all angles, and have therefore adapted to quickly scanning and devouring large amounts of information. This means that video messaging is more and more convenient to serve their needs. Nearly all of Gen Z use YouTube, and half of them can’t live without it. In a time when email subscription is being challenged by new data laws, and unsubscribing has reached a record level, brands are consistently fighting for success in this channels. Most (90%) consumers have taken themselves off retailer mailing lists in the last year, and 24% of those surveyed said they had unsubscribed from a retailer because the messages they received were irrelevant – and 15% said retailers never sent them relevant offers or updates. Gen Z is also pushing transparency and honesty over the perfectly preened post. 77% of teens today prefer ads that show real people in real life situations, and expect brands to depict people like them — who look like them and share their beliefs — in their creative messaging. The battle for newness This point relates to your product as much as the content and communications. If you’re checking your phone relentlessly throughout the day, you’re expecting to see something different. That’s why Gen Z demand more new content than any other demographic. ASOS, for example, is one of our customers that is continually refreshing their “New In” pages, with hundreds of new styles added every single week. As well as product and content newness, new technology is also on the agenda. More than half of Generation Z are either already using or interested in voice ordering; more than two-thirds are interested in social media purchasing; and 75% would sign up to subscription fashion services. To sum up, the title of this blog is the key: ensure that the targeting is correct, and the rest should follow. Thinking of targeting Gen Z, but want to ensure…
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retail IT solutions
  • 20 Feb 2017
What’s the benefit of upselling?
Upselling in retail is not a new thing: it’s been around for years as an in-store technique employed by sales assistants to boost sales and increase basket value. As footfall continues to represent a challenge for retailers, they must increase average basket size (upselling) and conversion rate, otherwise shops become an unviable asset. However, with the advent of omnichannel retailing came new ways to upsell – that perhaps aren’t as direct as face to face selling – but are now a standard part of any purchase, whether in store or online. We spoke about this on BBC Radio Nottingham last Friday, in a short interview that you can listen again to here. Interview starts at 2:54:40. Click and collect The benefits to retailers of click and collect are not only improving footfall to stores, but the ability to make even more sales when the customer comes to collect their parcel. Thanks to technological advances in customer profiling, the store assistant could pre-identify the product purchased by the customer, and upsell by recommending complementary items. For example, if they know that the customer has bought a dress, why not recommend matching shoes upon collection, or accessories to “complete the look”? New Look reported that over the festive period, 25% of its click and collect customers made extra purchases in store, increasing the basket value by an average of £27. (There’s a reason most click and collect desks are the back of a store, requiring the customer to walk past all items in the store first before picking up their parcel…) The retailer benefits through increased basket value, and the customer receives a personalised experience that’s likely to impress them. Check out other click and collect benefits in our infographic. Online delivery Upselling online is a standard function, unlike in a store where it’s motivated by a sales assistant (who may or may not have the confidence to try). This might come in the form of “complete the look” options and additional suggestions that complement the current basket, like ASOS. Another key example of customers being upsold to online comes in the form of delivery options. For example, if the threshold for free delivery is £30, and the customer’s current basket value stands at £25, they could be persuaded with a pop-up to spend just £5 more in order to receive free delivery. As long as retailers remain transparent about their delivery costs, it’s the consumer choice to buy more in order to benefit from incentives such as free delivery, or even discounts such as 10% off. Conclusion? Customers of today have a strong discount mentality, and therefore retailers must build their profit margin in. Upselling is one of the most popular techniques for retailers to achieve larger baskets and more full-price sales.…
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maximise stock availability
  • 2 May 2016
Roundtable Discussion II: Personalisation and getting the message right
Here’s the second instalment of our Roundtable discussion, featuring our team’s insights and opinions on personalisation in retail. If you want to know exactly what personalisation is, check out our blog post. In the last Roundtable video, we discussed that striking the correct balance with customers in-store can be a tricky task for retailers, given that a face-to-face personalised experience is fairly new to consumers. In this video, we discuss how personalising online still requires sophistication regarding targeted marketing. What are the opportunities afforded by big data? Do attitudes to sharing information differ between generations (Gen X/ Gen Y/ Gen Z)? And what about the different profiles you might use online (work/domestic)? These topics and more are covered in our short discussion.   You can watch the full video on our YouTube channel here.…
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