IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


Nelson Blackley - "The High Street is Returning to its Roots"
  • 9 Sep 2019
“The high street isn’t a thing of the past – it’s simply returning to its roots”
Guest Blog by Nelson Blackley, Retail Research Associate at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University Much of the recent commentary around how to revive the UK High Street has centred on a requirement for it to provide a mix of retail (both national and independent stores), food and beverage, entertainment, community hubs, healthcare and other service provision, as well as homes. In other words, shopping spaces need to provide a social function, as well as delivering commercial or transactional benefits. These views are strongly supported by the fact that some of the towns and cities that have successfully reversed the national decline of our High Streets over the past few years have done so by developing community-based and socially-driven models. Great examples such as “Bishy Road” in York or Graham Soult’s work with Chester-le-Street’s town centre and the success of Belper have seen the local retail landscape thrive in otherwise challenging times. However, this concept is nothing new. This social function of shopping has been around for much longer than many might imagine, compared with ‘transactional retail’ which is less than a century old. Retail markets have existed since ancient times with archaeological evidence for trade, probably involving barter systems, dating back more than 10,000 years. In the UK, public trading spaces in the centre of towns and cities only really evolved during the 17th century, with a wide range of products on sales from a range of merchants and so providing an ‘experience’ or sense of discovery for the shopper. The rise of the middle class in Victorian England during the 19th Century created an even more favourable attitude to shopping and consumption, and High Streets became the places to see and be seen – places for recreational shopping and promenading. In the second half of the 20th Century, with a post war boom in car ownership, the ‘traditional’ British High Street came under pressure from new large, out-of-town retail parks and then, towards the very end of the 20th Century, ‘bricks and mortar retailers’ wherever they were located, faced the new competitive threat of online retailers operating in a global marketplace – arguably the ultimate ‘transactional’ retail model. As a result, physical spaces where people shop have now had to evolve – often with smaller retail units, including independent and pop-up stores – many providing local produce and more social spaces, offering food and beverages, as well as leisure, entertainment and community facilities. The UK retail sector faces huge societal, economic and technological change, but evidence suggests that the social role played by shopping will increase in importance once again and those towns and cities which reflect this in their retail offering will not only survive but thrive. So, despite many suggesting that shopping in physical stores is a thing of the past and that the UK high street will soon disappear, neither is true – shopping is simply returning to its social roots.   You can read more of Nelson’s retail reflections in his blog, ‘Retail Views…
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Gen Y Gen X Gen Y Gen X User Experience 2
  • 2 Sep 2019
Gen Y (Millennial) Versus Gen X: What Are Their User Experience Expectations?
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead For the purpose of this blog, we define Gen Y (Millennial) as those between the ages of 25-39 and Gen X as ages 40-54. Whether it’s going the extra mile or simply providing a warm welcome, everyone has different expectations of what constitutes ‘good’ customer experience. However, what most people would agree on, is that at a basic level, customer experience should give people exactly what they want and how they want it. Yet sometimes this is easier said than done; retailers can never assume they know what their customer wants and whilst most retailers will have a target audience in mind, there is no ‘one size fits all policy’ when it comes to delivering excellent customer service. Whilst some businesses will inevitably centre their approach on appealing to one particular generation exclusively, it is entirely possible to take an approach that ensures both Gen X and Gen Y can be catered for, without risking losing the attentions of one particular generational audience. Generation X (age 40-54) It could be easy to make hasty assumptions about those born between 1965 – 1979; whilst do they have a slight lead in the stats as the generation with the highest household income, they are also the most likely to describe their finances as challenging, with 35% describing their situation as “tight” or “struggling” (Mintel). Whilst Generation Y might be in a similar situation regarding finances, they may just have a different outlook regarding money, savings and the desire for experiences or items now rather than having savings in the bank. According to the Office for National Statistics, 53% of 22-29 year olds are living with no savings at all: this has increased by 12% when compared to the same age group 10 years ago. This need for thriftiness is reflected in Gen X’s retail habits; Gen X like loyalty schemes, with one study finding more than 88% of Gen X respondents saying they use them to save money. Whilst finances do impact their spending choices, Gen Xers also face time pressures that can impact their lifestyle. 28% of Generation X say they don’t have time to relax, with 20% also saying that time spent with their partner or family suffers. Other misconceptions surrounding Gen X is that they aren’t as tech-literate as their Millennial counterparts, yet the reality is that 89% of Gen X own smartphones (around the same percentage as Millennials) and, as a generation, they access Facebook just as regularly as younger generations, with just a couple of percent difference. So far, so similar. But there are differences in inter-generational social usage; for channels such as YouTube or Instagram, the amount of times the sites are accessed is much lower than when compared to younger generations. It’s unlikely that this is because Gen X don’t ‘understand’ the technology but is perhaps more of a reflection of the reasoning behind the usage. It could be suggested that whilst Millennials and Gen Z look to these…
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Omnichannel Customers
  • 27 Aug 2019
Retail Definitions: the Omnichannel Customer
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead Decades ago, retail was somewhat simpler: there were certain trading hours and shops on the high street opened at those times to trade to their, probably locally-based, customers. Flash forward to 2019 and it’s all very different; whilst retailers don’t have to be everywhere, they need to ensure that they are wherever their customers are. Put simply, if old-fashioned retailing saw the customer come to the retailer, now retailers must be seen to go to the customer. In a world of convenience, the retailer must be ready to support the customer in any way that the customer wants to interact with them. Here lies the basics of omnichannel retailing; retailers must have thorough digital provision across social media, the web, email marketing campaigns and targeted ads whilst also linking this with their store estate. And it’s not just the customer that benefits from this level of convenience: research by the Harvard Business Review suggests that omnichannel customers spent an average of 4% more on every shopping occasion in the store and 10% more online than single-channel customers. In order to be successful, omnichannel retailing must be a seamless experience for customers across various platforms. However, another aspect for consideration is exactly how users operate as they go between the platforms and channels, as understanding this provides opportunities for retailers to engage them further in the sales process. So, who are omnichannel customers and how do they shop? What type of omnichannel customers are there? Well, there’s no quick answer to that question! The beauty of omnichannel retailing lies in the many variations and permutations of opportunities for the customer to interact with the consumer. With this in mind, the omnichannel customer’s journey could begin in several ways. One simple option is for the customer to find what they want through the retailer’s website. Whether this is being shopped via a computer or mobile device, they will ultimately be led there by a search engine, a personal recommendation (perhaps via social media) or simply their own past experience with the brand; from this point, they can be drawn into other purchases and taken towards other items via ‘complete the look’ or ‘customers also bought’ sections. Another option is perhaps more reactionary; after viewing a product on an influencer’s account, the customer might see an item they love, then follow this up via a link embedded within a social post, which takes them to the already-downloaded app; alternatively, they could make a note of the style and visit the retailer’s website – or, indeed, visit their physical store to try it on first – to complete the purchase. However, another omnichannel journey might have even more brand touch-points. The customer could see something in-store but leave before making a purchase; they might then spot the same item in an email campaign, click on the link to follow it to the website but deciding, again, to leave the sale, before noticing it via targeted ads some days…
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Get to Know the Team: Client Services
  • 19 Aug 2019
Get to Know the Team: Client Services
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead In our new blog series, we speak to different heads of departments to find out more about the teams within Retail Assist. This month, we speak to Frances Thomas, Head of Client Services, to get to know more about their department and what role the team plays. Frances says: “In Client Services, we are responsible for managing the relationship with the clients and ensuring the service is delivered to the highest standard. We act as the conduit between our Managed Services and Solutions clients, and Retail Assist. The aspect that is integral to our role is relationship management and we achieve this through regular client contact, including monthly service reviews. At Retail Assist, we pride ourselves on the positive and long-standing relationships that we build with our clients. It can sometimes be a balancing act and managing everyone’s expectations can be occasionally be challenging. As the “face” of Retail Assist, we rely on the wider Retail Assist team members to deliver the service and we work closely with the teams to resolve any issues to achieve a positive resolution for our customers. Team work is key to our success and we are proud to represent all the hard work that the wider team delivers. On the Client Services team, we have Jane, Jahmel and Danielle; as Account Managers, they are responsible for several client accounts each. Josh and Martin are Service Delivery Managers and are based at their clients’ sites. It’s been a busy year, with more clients, team members and growth, but we’re a team that’s moving from strength to strength.” Want to hear more about how our Client Services team support our clients? Click here or drop us a line on info@retail-assist.co.uk.…
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Retail Assist Apprentices
  • 12 Aug 2019
Apprehensive About Your Next Career Step? Consider a Retail Assist Apprenticeship!
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead This summer, we are delighted to announce further developments in our apprenticeship scheme. After our first cohort of apprentices graduated from our course, we are now looking to employ three apprentices per quarter to see 12 apprenticeship roles created throughout the calendar year. Rae Hayward, Head of People, said: “Exam results might be just around the corner, but going to college or university doesn’t always have to be the route that you have to take in order to further your education. Our apprenticeship scheme not only pays above the average apprenticeship wage, but our intake also receives regular support whilst gaining an industry-recognised qualification. We believe in nurturing people to grow their knowledge and skillset within a fast-paced working environment.” The 18-month course sees our apprentices receive on the job training, whilst their studies will gain them a City and Guilds Customer Service Practitioner Level 2 qualification. Our team are fun, friendly and committed to delivering the best possible service to some of the leading global retail and hospitality brands such as ASOS, Harvey Nichols, Oasis, Ted Baker, Vue and Pizza Hut, and our company has seen substantial growth over the 20 years that we’ve been trading. With our range of company benefits, quarterly development reviews and permanent contract opportunities, there’s never been a better time to earn while you learn. Chantice Sullivan, one of our newly graduated Help Desk Call Analysts, gave an insight into her working day. She explained that her role can see her resolving customer issues, whether that’s through answering emails and telephone calls from clients. Click here to watch the video on YouTube Chantice said: “Every day is very different! I wouldn’t say I have a usual day in the office.” Matthew Proudlove, Chief Operating Officer, added: “At Retail Assist, we’re committed to the development of our people and are proud of the progress many of our team members have made. Many of our Help Desk Call Analysts have progressed to roles within project management and client service management, so we see our apprentice recruitment as the first step in an exciting IT career.” If you’d like to know more about the Retail Assist apprenticeship scheme, visit our apprenticeships webpage here or click here to get in touch.…
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A Day in the Life at Our Nottingham Office
  • 5 Aug 2019
Sneak Peek: A Day in the Life at Our Nottingham Office!
So, what is it like here at Retail Assist? Ever wondered what we get up to behind the scenes to promote our services and solutions, and deliver them too? Well, we thought we’d give you a bit of insight into our marketing team and other central office functions. Lydia Violeta, our Marketing Assistant and YouTube lifestyle blogger, showed a sneak peek into her placement with us. Filming a day in her working life, it included checking the Retail Assist social media pages, checking the latest retail news, writing posts and creating imagery for our social channels and also contributing to the marketing team meetings. Lydia also interviewed various other Retail Assist colleagues to gain an insight into their days. However, she quickly found that there’s often not any one average day for us here in our Nottingham Head Office… Click here to watch the video on YouTube Chantice Sullivan, Help Desk Call Analyst, explained that her role can see her resolving customer issues, whether that’s through answering emails and telephone calls from clients. She said: “Every day you’ve got to do your best for the customers.” Whereas Joe Throup, Commercial Executive, might have a very different role, he agreed that his day depends on the wider business picture and that there is no average. On any day, Joe could be working on looking at contracts for new customers, contract renewals for existing clients, supplier contracts and, as Joe says, “anything that requires terms and conditions”. Jahmel Russell, Client Account Manager, also has variety in his role but, as he explains, he tries to build a pattern to his month. As a member of the Client Services team, Jahmel looks after 8 different customers. Each month, he splits his job into different weeks of a month; the first week he tries to spend in the office doing service reviews, sending out reports in the second and third week, with the final week of the month ensuring that all actions have been met from the first week’s meetings. Fancy joining our dynamic, award-winning team? Get in touch with us here.…
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Top tips for maintaining hardware in a heatwave
  • 29 Jul 2019
It’s Getting Hot in Here! Top tips for maintaining hardware in a heatwave
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead The sound of ice cream vans. The smell of sun cream. The wafts of barbecues. As temperature rises across the country, we all find different ways of celebrating the good weather whilst keeping ourselves cool in the meantime. However, not everyone enjoys the heat and hardware is no exception: we often take for granted that it’ll continue to function no matter the weather. Yet in doing so, we risk hardware overheating, systems potentially failing and customers becoming annoyed – as well as becoming overheated themselves! However, there are a number of preventative methods that can be undertaken to reduce the impact the temperature has and keep things operating as they should do.   Stay cool It may seem obvious, but being aware of how hot certain items can get is important, especially if they are situated in areas heavily impacted by temperature, such as in heavily windowed stores or crowded spaces. Simple things like using fans to keep hardware cool and making sure ventilation systems are clear and operating can make a significant difference. Clear it out! Throughout trading hours, tills can easily become messy, holding a mixture of items from the shop floor, items from deliveries or even items belonging to members of staff. It’s really important that any excess clutter such as boxes, bags or clothing are removed so that air can circulate around hardware more easily. Keep it clean Making sure all hardware is dust free is always important, and should be undertaken regularly, but it’s especially important to do in high temperatures where it can cause overheating to occur more quickly than at other times. Getting areas professionally cleaned should be considered; experts will know exactly how to efficiently and safely remove built up dust without damaging the hardware in any way. The potential for power surges With hot weather comes the risk of unpredictable storms, which can cause power surges and result in destruction or damage to equipment. Ensuring that all hardware is not plugged into the same socket, that surge protectors are installed and used, and that any other power protection devices are functioning can offer the best resistance to any potential issue.   Disconnect when possible The more pieces of hardware that can be disconnected for periods when not being used – such as overnight – the better. This not only helps reduce the risk of overheating, but is important should a power cut occur.  As reconnection takes place, there can often be complications that can damage equipment; something that can easily be avoided by unplugging.   Struggling to know what to wear to the office in a heatwave? Click here to watch our top picks of the best heat-friendly womenswear from our customers.…
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  • 22 Jul 2019
FAQs: Why are Retail Technical Services Essential to Online Businesses?
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead As the pressure on store estates builds and margins are squeezed, rather than cutting your IT budget, now is the time to be investing in it for optimum trading power. Still not convinced? We’ve put together our top retail technical services FAQs. Q: Help! How do I maximise system uptime? A: Any disruption to trade has an impact on profitability and progress, as well as creating poor customer experience for those who value reliability and consistency. The way to combat this is to ensure that all updates and changes are targeted towards times where trading is quietest, and that functionality is optimum at the points it is most needed. Taking an approach that holds this idea at its core ensures that customers are much less likely to come into contact or be impacted by any technical issues. Q: What happens if there’s an issue at Head Office? A: Alongside the issues that customers may face, which need to be tackled as quickly as possible, lie the potential internal issues. IT support can help with this, acting as a central focus point where all technical issues can be logged and responded to. This may be anything from issues with emails and logins, to systems not responding as they should do. Retail Assist also offer the ability to take on the role an internal IT team could, meaning that savings on recruitment time and expenses can be made. Q: How important is it to maintain the latest versions of software?   A: In a word, very! A large part of ensuring any retail system functions as it should is maintaining it with the latest versions of software or updates available. As this is an ongoing task that requires constant monitoring and awareness, it’s very easy to let things pass by. Updates may be missed or might cause confusion and disruption if they are not anticipated. Security issues might also be encountered. Using retail technical services makes sure that this won’t happen and that anything that needs to be done is handled in an expert and efficient manner. Q: Do we have to wait for something to ‘go wrong’ before changing our technology? A: The need to react to any issues swiftly can be reduced by taking a proactive approach to technology. Retail technical services take on a policy that is not simply reactive, constantly looking for ways in which things can be improved and developed before issues occur. A policy of continuous improvement is implemented with regular review of processes and procedures that have so far been used. This allows for comprehension of what has worked and what hasn’t – and where potential issues may lie. As these potential issues are identified before they even manifest themselves, the retailer and the customer can continue unscathed, with business trading as usual. Q: Why should my retail business employ the use of retail technical services? A: Retail technical services’ ultimate advantage is their specialism and skills. The ability to…
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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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Fix Your Issues, Fast! Meet Our IT Managed Services Superheroes | Retail Assist
  • 8 Jul 2019
Fix Your Issues, Fast! Meet Our IT Managed Services Superheroes
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive   Technology is a wonderful thing. However, it’s certainly not wonderful when your working day is disrupted due to an IT issue. Whether it’s a broken till, a laptop that’s somehow not working properly or a store returns device that is being ‘a bit funny’, you don’t want your productivity to be stalled by something out of your control. So, next time you encounter an IT issue, don’t send out the bat signal – here’s who you should call! With the help of Retail Assist, retailers can free themselves from the worries that surround technical issues and focus their attention on other aspects of their business. Meet our IT Managed Services Support superheroes… Storm: Help Desk Support Just like Storm, our Help Desk Support analysts are knowledgeable, empathetic and quick to react. Retail Assist is proud of its award-winning Help Desk team who give retailers and hospitality operators a single point of contact, meaning that our customers’ retail and hospitality brands can continue with business as usual, with minimum disruption. Our IT Help Desk Support, as well as Operations Support, functions like an extension of any business. The costs and hassle of employing staff directly is removed and a proactive approach ensures that problems are identified and adapted to in advance, as often as possible. As it is a single point of contact, confusion between suppliers is avoided and problems are managed right through to the point of resolution. Perhaps the most important aspect of the IT Help Desk Support is that it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and in a variety of languages, meaning problems and issues don’t have to wait for standard office operating hours. Although, unlike Storm, we’re afraid that they can’t control the weather… Iron Man: Technical Services Team Intelligent, tech-savvy and creatively minded: no, we’re not talking about Tony Stark, but our Technical Services team! Alongside the IT Help Desk Support and Operations Support that Retail Assist provides, our Technical Services department are geniuses when it comes to all things technical. Server Management and Installation covers all aspects of dealing with servers, from offering advice and recommendations as to what is most suitable for a retailer, to monitoring them whilst active, as well as preventing or solving any problems. In a similar manner, the Network Management and Design services offered by Retail Assist make sure that communication lines are monitored and trouble free. This becomes especially important when viewed in the context of retail supply chains; any disruption in communication could lead to loss of revenue and customer satisfaction very swiftly. Retail Assist also handles all aspects of Wi-Fi Management, including what usage is occurring, content being shared, and how data lines are performing, making them impressive IT all-rounders that Jarvis would be proud of. Black Panther: Retail Systems Support Agile, quick, responsive and approachable, our Retail Systems Support team share a lot in common with Black Panther (although sadly not…
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