IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality


Black Friday 2019
  • 11 Nov 2019
Black Friday Survey 2019
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead November can only mean one thing – Black Friday is imminent! With just 19 days to go before Friday 29th November, our annual survey is here to predict this year’s trends and spending habits. Top Takeaways This year, our survey indicates a rise in the people planning to bag a bargain. In fact, 57.86% of those surveyed plan to take part this year – the highest response since 2016, and a sharp rise from 48% last year. For the first time since we started our survey five years ago, we asked the people who said they weren’t going to participate why they gave that answer. Interestingly, of the people who said no, 59.79% of those said that they might change their mind, which aligns with Mintel’s reflections from last year; Mintel claim that 58% of Black Friday buyers delayed making a purchase until they had seen the promotions, suggesting that perhaps the figure of those taking part might be even higher this year. So, how are they going to shop? Our survey predicts that online is set to be the biggest winner, with 70.65% of people saying they plan to shop digitally. As Black Friday is a normal working day, this is perhaps not that surprising, as people turn to online shopping for convenience, no matter whether consumers are sat at their desk, on the bus or even whilst still in bed. However, whilst it might seem that high street shoppers are a considerably lower figure this year, standing at 3.26%, a much more promising 26.09% of people plan to combine both online stores and the high street. Perhaps this is where people might be converted to make a last-minute purchase. What are people going to buy? Year on year, technology is the most popular trend, with some big discounts to be found both online and on the high street. Our survey suggests that 2019 will no exception, with technology purchases set to be the most sought-after at 46.74%. However, that being said, 44.57% of people said that they’re on the lookout for technology, clothes and homewares; 2018 saw people making more purchases but spending less, suggesting that perhaps smaller ticket items found in fashion retail and homewares could fare a little better. The Latest Shopping Trend? Shrewd Shoppers Our survey also indicated that shoppers appear to be getting more savvy; 80.44% of people say that they don’t get carried away on Black Friday purchases – a 5.44% increase from last year. Similarly, 78.26% say they haven’t returned a Black Friday purchase, again suggesting that much research has gone on beforehand.   Are your stores ready for peak trading? Click here to download our peak trading checklist.…
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Desktop Support
  • 4 Nov 2019
Desktop Support: Don’t Get Mad, Get Even (Better IT Help!)
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead We’ve all been there. You’ve got five minutes before an important meeting, but the printer refuses to print your notes out, your laptop seems to think that right now is the best time to reboot and everything seems to be running verrrryyyyy slowwwwlyyyyy. You could angrily hit your keyboard (Note from Editor – not advised), cursing that the universe is out to get you – or you could just ring our IT experts who specialise in desktop support to get everything back on track. via GIPHY When it comes to using technology, it can often be the difference between a good day or a terrible day. Whatever IT issues your head office teams face, no problem is too big or too small for our desktop support team, keeping your business running smoothly – and stopping people from pulling their hair out. Here’s our top three reasons why we’re the team to sort your head office headaches. #1 Get Issues Sorted ASAP When things go wrong in IT, they simply can’t wait. Getting problems rectified immediately can be the difference between a business continuing uninterrupted and things grinding to a costly (and customer-angering) halt. Not to mention the problem caused to the reputation of your business if your IT systems are not functioning effectively. Having outsourced desktop support means that someone is on hand to start problem solving straight away. Your business doesn’t need to spend time and effort trying to figure out what has gone wrong, what might have caused it and what the next step is; all that needs to happen is for you to get immediate help, when you need it. #2 Free Up Your Teams Maintaining a close eye on finances is always important and desktop support can help significantly with this. Often the IT issues that head office teams face are relatively simple and by outsourcing these problems to a third party means that your internal IT teams are freed up to focus on projects or strategy, rather than time-consuming, smaller matters. Our desktop support team work as an extension of your internal IT department, meaning that they can continue with their work, safe in the knowledge that the day-to-day tech problems are being handled swiftly and efficiently. #3 Access to Dedicated and Passionate Experts When you’re in an IT panic, it really helps to know that you’re in touch with people who are experts at what they’re doing. It’s doubly helpful when the same people have the passion and dedication needed to support whatever situation presents itself. Adrian Tillett, Desktop Support Manager at Retail Assist, explains: “Our desktop support team is a made up of highly talented individuals with a passion for a supportive team ethos and applying an excellent standard of collaboration to everything we do. We seek out opportunities to better the service for our customers and we have formed many strong relationships to help deliver service excellence to the many different clients that we support. “Retail…
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Are Your Systems Ready For Peak Trading
  • 28 Oct 2019
It’s That Time of Year Again… But Are Your Systems Ready for Peak Trading?
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead The leaves are falling, it’s definitely ‘wear a jacket’ weather and people are already moaning about seeing festive fare in the shops. Yes, it’s October, but is there ever a bad time to hear a Christmas song? I think not. (As a dedicated Christmas-lover, I’ve been known to play the odd festive tune in the summer. Haters, don’t @ me.) However, whilst some people might argue that Christmas starts earlier every year, there’s one thing you can never start too early – getting your systems ready for peak trading. Whether your busy trading period is Black Friday, the run up to Christmas or perhaps the post-Christmas sales, the prospect that all of your retail tech is in top condition is paramount for a thriving, positive in-store customer experience. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry – we’ve got your back. Here’s our peak trading checklist so you can check off what’s naughty or nice before Santa even gets to town. Want to hear how our award-winning Help Desk can support your stores over the festive season? Click here or get in touch at…
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Retail Insights - Retail Connections Little Earthquakes Event
  • 21 Oct 2019
“Retail’s Never Boring!” Our Round-Up of the Retail Insights from ‘Little Earthquakes’ Retail Connections’ Event
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead It’s fair to say that there’s a lot going on in retail at the moment; Brexit uncertainty, shifts in customer behaviour, squashed margins, a plethora of new digital channels and a growing public conscience and responsibility surrounding sustainability are all presenting issues in our industry. Held at the One Aldwych Hotel, London, the Little Earthquakes event brought together both retailers and suppliers to discuss the current challenges that the industry is facing and to hear from three key brands to hear the different ways that they’re navigating these stormy retail seas. Chairing the evening was Retail Connections’ Chairman and Head of Innovation, Chris Field. He started: “What’s the truth? Let’s spend this evening between the optimism and pessimism of retail. What’s in front of you right now? At least retail’s never boring!” John Lewis – Focusing On Services and Staff First up to share his retail insights was Simon Russell, Director of Operations Development, John Lewis. Simon explained: “At John Lewis, we’re focusing on the services around the products. We’ve been around for 153 years and it’s fair to say now that our customers have bought a lot of stuff! But now there’s new emerging competition. How do you differentiate? And, once they’ve bought items, how do you keep them coming back?” “We need to be WAC – what Amazon can’t. If you want to buy ‘stuff’, there’s bags of competition. Wrapping services around our products with the trust that our brand has is key; customers don’t want to buy ‘things’, they want to buy solutions. “For example, if a customer wants to buy a ceiling light, that’s only half the problem: the other half is fitting it. We’ve trained our delivery drivers to offer this service. Another is with Waitrose; we know that our customers are often out of the house but need to get their food shopping delivered, so we’re trialling a service where customers can get a smart lock fitted so that our drivers have access and will put your shopping away if you’re out.” Simon explained that John Lewis’ personal styling service has seen a huge uptake in customer engagement – up 42% up from last year. The service is completely free for customers, with no obligation to buy. But it’s not just services that John Lewis are focusing on. Simon continued: “We truly believe that investing in our staff is a big differentiator and makes a huge difference to our business and to the customer experience. We want our front-line staff to feel empowered to solve problems.” Simon gave the example that in the mattress department, for example, those staff members are not only trained in the different mattress varieties, but are often sent to the factories to see the processes and different types being made, so as better to explain the reasoning behind prices or benefits of various models or fabrics used, etc. “It’s been a huge learning curve for us to leverage our staff, but to succeed,…
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The Top Halloween Retail Trends of 2019
  • 14 Oct 2019
All Treats, No Tricks! The Top Halloween Retail Trends of 2019
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead What’s scary, sweet and worth a lot of money? Halloween might have traditionally derived from ancient Celtic harvest festivals, but it could prove scary for retailers that choose to ignore its full potential. Here are the top Halloween retail trends of 2019. Haunt Couture: America Halloween Retail Trends The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual Halloween survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, explored the American trends set to take this year by storm. Shoppers say they will spend an average of $86.27 each this Halloween (a figure which is down just slightly from $86.79 in 2018). So how does that translate into spending? The breakdown of each category is suggested as $31.05 on costumes, $26.03 for decorations, $25.37 on sweets and $3.82 on greetings cards, showing a shift away from the perception that Halloween is merely celebrated as a food and drink event, allowing more scope for retailers to cash in. But how are consumers looking to participate? 69% plan to celebrate by handing out sweets, with 49% planning on decorating their homes, 44% will carve a pumpkin, 32% will throw or attend a party, 29% will take their children trick-or-treating, 22% will visit a haunted house and 47% are planning on dressing in costume. And it’s not just the humans – 17% of people plan to dress their pet in costume too, with the most popular pet costumes including pumpkins, hotdogs and superheroes. Whilst 35% of those surveyed cited online search as their top source of costume inspiration, the most popular adult costumes don’t really deviate from the most traditional: 8.9% said they planned on going as a witch, with 3.6% dressing as vampires and 3.1% as superheroes. Historically, the UK has a tendency to mirror the USA’s retail trends, so it’s interesting to see the rise of 18-24 year olds planning on taking part this year; although Halloween might be associated more with children going trick-or-treating, there’s a rise of young adults participating, with 66% of 18-24-year-olds in 2009 to 73% in 2019. Is this something that we’ll see mirrored on our side of the pond this year? Spooky Figures? UK Halloween Retail Trends In 2018, Halloween proved a real treat for retailers; although traditionally more of an American holiday than one celebrated on our side of the Atlantic, 51.5% of UK consumers spent on the occasion. Emily Salter, Retail Analyst for GlobalData, who conducted the survey, said: “More consumers bought clothing and costumes, driven by 16-34 year olds participating in Halloween events where dressing up is encouraged. Additionally, clothing retailers including ASOS and Topshop launched Halloween discounts across their websites on the day of the event, using the occasion as an excuse to drive sales across the board.” And it’s not just online opportunities for brands to take part; with Halloween now the third biggest retail event (behind Christmas and Easter), it means that bricks-and-mortar retailers have an opportunity to engage with their customer base. Ojay McDonald, Chief Executive at the…
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Why Omnichannel is Essential for Modern Retailing
  • 7 Oct 2019
Take a Chance Omni! Why Omnichannel is Essential for Modern Retailing
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead Recently, it seems that you can’t open a newspaper without hearing about the ‘death of the high street’ and how the rise of online shopping is bringing about its demise. Whilst there might be some pertinent arguments surrounding this issue, one thing is clear: in today’s society, customers have evolved to shop exactly how – and when – they want to. Whether that’s shopping online or in-store, convenience is king and retailers that fail to support this will find themselves struggling in this challenging retail climate. This is why omnichannel retailing is so vital to retailers. It’s important to recognise its central work and the very reason why it operates: making the shopping experience for a customer absolutely seamless. Whatever device they may be using to access online purchases, whichever physical location they may be visiting at the time – or even both options at once – all channels must be intrinsically interlinked.  The major advantages of achieving this position of seamless interaction are the positives it brings to the customer experience. Providing access not just to the products themselves, but all the other information such as materials, sizes, dimensions and reviews – at whatever time of day or selling channel – is vital. When these can be supplied across multiple platforms, the customer can be fully engaged.  How Do Omnichannel Customers Shop? Increasing the engagement which customers have involves knowledge and awareness of their shopping habits and actions. Omnichannel customers will fit into many different brackets: there will be those who see items in physical locations, consider them, then complete the purchase on an online platform, as well as those who reverse that process. Some may investigate making an online purchase whilst in-store, if they consider this more convenient or availability of things like sizes or colour is greater. Others will simply use one platform and one platform only. Omnichannel retailing ensures that all of these habits can not only be catered for but encouraged and allowed to thrive; crucially, it is also the only way to ensure that this happens.  What Do Retailers Need to Support an Omnichannel Process? Firstly, keeping the product information relevant and up-to-date is critical. If a product changes the design it uses or if different materials are used, getting this across quickly and efficiently to consumers should be a priority. Using software such as a PIM solution will help to minimise inaccuracies as PIM uses a single point of data entry, so that any changes can be implemented immediately across every platform, without the need for this to be manually handled with the chance of error this may bring.   While the customer journey may embrace all of these stages, it will come to a halt if an item is found to be ‘out of stock’ or ‘unavailable’. Loyalty will be lost as they look elsewhere and other retailers will be able to step in and poach the unsatisfied customer. Using an omnichannel supply chain solution, such as…
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How technology can improve the hospitality customer experience
  • 30 Sep 2019
Eat In or Tech Away? How Technology Can Improve the Hospitality Customer Experience
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead It’s hard to imagine a hospitality experience before technology. At this point in the 21st Century, the thought of a hospitality business not having a social media presence seems absurd, with EPOS systems now ubiquitous, online ordering systems commonplace, electric order screens being utilised in restaurant kitchens, iPads being used to deliver customer receipts, or even robots used to deliver food (as was the case for Alibaba’s restaurant, Freshippo). Whilst there are many aspects of hospitality that can only be benefited from a warm welcome and a friendly face, what new developments in retail technology solutions can further improve the hospitality customer experience? And what are the emerging trends in the hospitality sector? Recognition Technology Prevalent in other aspects of life, the ability to recognise images, faces and fingerprints is perfect for the hospitality industry. Access to hotel and guest accommodation, for example, can be granted based on recognition of biometric data, whilst orders can be made based on images and purchases conducted instantly. There can also be considerable security benefits as well as a streamlining of the management processes that occur in any hospitality business. Tablets and mobile technology It’s one of the most common retail industry technology solutions of the past decade and now the idea of using a mobile or tablet to conduct a transaction is so installed in the minds of customers. However, the impact it can bring to the hospitality industry is perhaps still to be exploited; key cards for hotels could be issued via mobile phones, guest check-ins done via tablets and room service orders conducted using in-room devices are just three areas which can be more widespread and utilised. Restaurant, café and bar menus could be studied at tables via tablets, with orders being placed via the same method. However, like all methods of technology, ensuring that the correct structure is in place to support in-store IT equipment is paramount to maintaining a consistent and seamless hospitality customer experience. Our award-winning IT Help Desk already provides support to key hospitality businesses, such as Vue and Pizza Hut Restaurants, to safeguard their systems and to enable our hospitality customers the opportunity to grow and expand. Augmented and Virtual Reality Although Virtual Reality is certainly nothing new, it could potentially influence how hospitality businesses market and promote themselves to potential customers. By allowing the user to fully explore a virtual environment by placing themselves in it, it is the ideal tool to use to show people what they are booking; rooms can be looked at, areas fully explored, and customer satisfaction improved as they discover exactly how environments will be before they arrive. Augmented reality differs slightly in that it doesn’t require such complex technology and can therefore be more accessible to a wider range of people. Customers can use their smartphone or tablet to create ‘information overlays’: for instance, pointing their device at something and seeing something extra, displayed on their screen. Uses in the hospitality world could…
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Independent IT Infrastructure
  • 23 Sep 2019
Gaining Independent IT Infrastructure: When It’s Time to Grow Up and Move Out
Written by Alex Broxson, Head of Marketing We understand that the retail climate continues to evolve and with that brings many challenges. As consumer expectations continue to grow, retailers need to keep pace with the demand and, in some cases, be the driver of that change. So how are retailers ensuring that they are in the best position to be agile, have independence and move at pace whilst still being efficient? Although we constantly hear about “the death of the high street”, this isn’t true. Rather than a revolution, the high street as we currently know it is simply going through a period of evolution. But this adjustment shouldn’t be causing mass panic: instead, it’s about adapting and seeing how retailers evolve to survive.  So, what are customers looking for from a retail brand? The answer all depends on your target market. One common feeling is true: consumers still love retail and shopping! So how do retailers add to that experience? Well, experience is the key word here: customers want an experience. They want additional experiences in stores, whether that be getting their nails and eyebrows done, such as Primark beauty boutique, or watching a film whilst in the same retail outlet as Selfridges. Additionally, perhaps it’s that the in-store technology needs to be just as efficient as the experience you get on your own device. However, whatever the experience – whether digital or physical – one thing is for sure: the overall brand experience must be consistent. So whatever the approach may be, the support which underpins a brand’s trading must be efficient and geared towards the target customer base. This to ensure that systems do not fail and provide a seamless experience, however the customer chooses to shop. Often when brands are part of a larger group, they are tied into group policies and systems which are not always focused towards that individual client base’s needs and wants. They don’t always have the agility and flexibility to change with the customer requirements. For example, can you easily turn on additional hosting space for your brand to trade effectively on Black Friday? Or are you fixed into a group policy which becomes incredibly expensive to turn up the hosting for the entire brand group, when one brand in particular could be your star performer at that particular trading moment? Brands might belong to a larger retail family but, from a customer’s perspective, consistency isn’t needed across a larger retail structure; instead, the consistency must be across that individual brand in order for customers to engage positively. We are continually creating ways and support structures to give brands their independence, agility and the flexibility to trade in the best possible way for their target market demands. Having independent and focused IT services and support is enabling our clients to achieve future growth, and drive efficiencies across their business. We have simplified their technology architecture, so they no longer require group shared services. The brands we support benefit from their own…
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Gen X vs Y vs Z Shopping Habits
  • 16 Sep 2019
Gen X VS Gen Y VS Gen Z: Our New Shopping Habits Survey
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Lead For the purpose of this blog and infographic, Gen Z refers to those aged 17-24, Gen Y 25-38 and Gen X 39-58. A lot can happen in three years. Whether it’s a new relationship, a proposal, a marriage, a new house or a new arrival, our lives and circumstances are continuously evolving. In June 2016, we surveyed members of Gen X, Y and Z to ask them about their shopping habits and, in particular, how Gen Z’s approach might dictate the shopping culture of the future. With the youngest of those surveyed then being 14 years old, much will have changed in their lives over these last three years and the ways in which they spend their money. So, with 630 survey respondents and over three years later, what’s changed? Analysis With so many news stories proclaiming the death of the high street, there’s been a lot of doom in the retail news. However, our survey found that, encouragingly, Generation Z still strongly favour the high street, with 43% saying it was their favourite mode of purchasing. Gen X was split evenly between online and the high street, with 40.68% apiece, whilst Gen Y were more in favour of online. However, with this particular group entering further on into their careers, this could be down to convenience rather than preference of experience. There was also a large rise across multichannel shoppers. Those who might, for example, buy online but return in-store has risen across all generations, highlighting the need for a strong omnichannel offering from retailers. Ensuring that products are always in stock is integral to keeping this experience fluid, allowing all generations to seamlessly move between all selling channels. Implementing an efficient retail stock management system is a way for retailers to meet these expectations. Interestingly, all three generations agreed on several other matters, saying that delivery was often their biggest barrier to making a purchase online, that their preferred method of payment was paying by card and that all three generations like to make shopping part of their day out, also involving going for coffee or having lunch out. However, it was Generation Z, at 84.46% that overwhelmingly chose to spend their time in this way, highlighting the importance for retailers to embrace hospitality opportunities within store environments. Finally, both Gen Y and Z said that they would make a purchase due to a social media recommendation, with 67.19% and 69.52% respectively. Whilst this figure may have slightly reduced for Gen Z and slightly increased for Gen Y, the numbers are still incredibly high for both age groups. Retailers must be in a position to capitalise on this, ensuring that they use software such as a PIM to respond quickly to adapt their online content and also to ensure consistent messaging across all channels. For more industry insights and research, subscribe to our blog here.…
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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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