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IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

Technology

Driving the In-Store Digital Experience
  • 25 Nov 2019
Unlock the Future of Retail: Driving the In-Store Digital Experience
Guest blog by Jake Marshall, Content Executive, Mercaux It’s hard to imagine reading about the future of retail without seeing the word ‘digital’. Much of the commentary on the store of the future is centred around digital transformation — the idea that retailers need to ‘adapt or die’ as they face increasing pressures from e-commerce. It’s clear that the future of in-store retail is digital. But what does this actually mean? As part of Mercaux’s store of the future report, we surveyed senior executives working in retail to find out more. So, what exactly should we expect from the digital store of the future? Customer Centricity Unsurprisingly, 87% of retailers believe that customer expectations will become more important when defining the store experience in the future. In a digital age of social media, e-commerce and instant gratification, customer expectations are ever increasing. Whether consumers demand an efficient service to fit in with their busy lifestyles, or they are looking for a personalised, curated retail experience, technology is key. 85% of customers expect click and collect today, while cutting-edge technologies like interactive screens and augmented reality are a future expectation for 76% and 84% of customers. By putting the customer first, retailers benefit from increased customer lifetime value and brand loyalty. Yet only a fifth of retailers report that they are capable of reacting to shifting customer expectations quickly. Many need to invest in basic tech functionalities – like click and collect – before they can move on to experimenting with more advanced in-store technology such as augmented reality or touchscreen mirrors. Empowered Employees Earlier this year, Retail Assist conducted a survey between Gen X, Y and Z, and found that the vast majority of people are using smartphones as an extension of their everyday lives: with this in mind, it’s needless to say that shopping habits have evolved to follow suit. Stores are continuously competing for their shoppers’ attention against smartphones, which offer a distracting stream of inspiration and rich content. So, when 40% of retailers say that their employees don’t have enough product information to effectively make a sale, how can store staff keep pace with the endless amount of information available online? The challenge lies in empowering sales associates with product information and content like branded digital lookbooks, marketing videos and social media content that they can use to inspire shoppers and tell a story about the brand. This challenge presents an opportunity to increase dwell time, build the customer relationship and help store staff to feel more empowered, to take ownership and to therefore achieve greater job satisfaction. Consistent Experiences The role of the store is shifting. 80% of retailers said that the most important purpose for the store today is a place for people to purchase products. When you look forward five years, however, the same number of retailers expect the main purpose of stores to shift towards being experience and discovery centres. The modern shopper is channel agnostic. With this comes a need to create…
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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 info@retail-assist.co.uk.…
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RetailEXPO 2019 Round Up
  • 7 May 2019
“Millions of opportunities to get it wrong and lots of complexity to get right!” Our Retail Expo 2019 Round-Up
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Conferences, stands, thousands of visitors and, of course, the obligatory appearance from Pepper the Robot – it can only be RetailEXPO! Held at the Olympia London over two days, RetailEXPO unites Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE), Retail Design Expo (RDE) and Retail Digital Signage Expo (RDSE) to represent all things in the world of retail and ecommerce. And this year, ‘customer experience’ were the words on everyone’s lips. With the Tech Zone, Design Zone and Digital Signage Zone, many aspects of the retail environment were represented. Click here to watch the video on YouTube We spotted two brilliant applications to combine online and in-store shopping experiences. Near Street uses a retailer’s high street inventory to drive traffic, ushering people to locate products in their locality. As an effective way of getting people to visit their local high street, it’s currently in use in shops as far as Orkney. Similarly, Mercaux’s app uses tablets to help sales associates to make outfit recommendations, offers automated alternatives and styling suggestions, aiding the sales associate to increase a brand’s offering, all whilst standing next to the customer. In another way, CloudCasting uses mirror displays to show digital content. Their smart mirrors have a digital screen hidden behind the mirror, as retailers can update communications that are reflected out to display adverts or promotions to customers. The interrogation of the customer experience and what modern retailers must offer was reflected in the conference, too. Andy Murray, Asda’s Chief Customer Officer, took to the main stage to discuss their approach to customer improvement, especially when working with the scale and legacy that Asda holds. He explained that there are “millions of opportunities to get it (the customer experience) wrong and lots of complexity to work through to get it right”. After starting his role in February 2016, Andy and his team took their approach back to basics by asking: what is the real customer value proposition? For Asda, that meant helping busy customers save money and live better and to move away from distinct customer stereotypes that had been shown in historical Asda TV adverts. For Andy, his view of a customer is very simple. He said: “Anyone who puts food in their mouths and eats is my customer!” For more of our retail technology reflections, subscribe to our YouTube channel here.…
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RetailEXPO 2019 - Retail Assist
  • 29 Apr 2019
We’re off to RetailEXPO 2019! See you there?
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Shakespeare famously asked ‘What’s in a name?’ and we reckon he might have been onto something. RetailEXPO, previously known as Retail Business Technology Expo – or RBTE – might have undergone a name change, but it’s the same innovation-centred expo that previous visitors will know and love. This year, we’ll be walking the floor to give you an insight to the Expo. As one of Europe’s leading events for retail technology, RetailEXPO unifies three of the UK’s retail shows: Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE), Retail Design Expo (RDE) and Retail Digital Signage Expo (RDSE). Split over two days (1st and 2nd May 2019) at the Olympia, London, it promises to be a showcase for all things retail and we’re excited to see what the new format will deliver. With three different zones – the tech zone, design zone and digital signage zone – and with keynote speakers, the expo promises to deliver the best of UK retail technology. Alex Broxson, Head of Marketing, and Anna Murphy, Communications Executive, will be on hand to deliver the top highlights, right from the show floor. Here’s a taster of our recap from last year’s event: Click here to watch the video on YouTube Also heading to RetailEXPO and want to meet up? Get in touch here or drop us a line at marketing@retail-assist.co.uk. Can’t make it? No worries – subscribe to our YouTube channel here to stay up-to-date with the latest UK retail developments.…
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Retail MOT - Retail Assist
  • 15 Apr 2019
Have You Had Your Retail MOT? How To Health Check Your Retail Systems
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive It was all so different in retail days of yore. Keeping things functional required little more than ensuring sufficient till roll was available and that the change drawer was well supplied. However, flash forward to 2019 and maintaining a functioning, efficient and healthy retail system now involves the sort of expertise, time and money that would have stunned our retail predecessors. One of the main issues facing any retailer is recognising exactly how they are going to ensure IT systems are well managed. Customer expectations continue to rise – as does competition – and a retail system that is not in optimum health can have major consequences. Dedicating the time, capacity and staff to the undertaking can be challenging, but certainly not insurmountable. Built on our 20 years of experience, here are Retail Assist’s top health checks for retail systems. Engine: Keep Things Ticking Over Sales are the main driving force in any business and ensuring that there are no glitches to cease or stall trading is paramount. Any issues with retail systems should always receive immediate and thorough attention – something that Retail Assist acknowledge with a 24/7 flexible, multi-lingual retail Help Desk service. As there is one single point of contact, retailers can quickly connect with our Call Analysts and see their issues managed right through to the point of resolution. The specialist support offered means that retail employees with no knowledge of how retail systems operate can flag a problem and have it swiftly dealt with, resulting in no time being wasted. Brakes: In-Store Monitoring When there are devices used in-store, it’s prudent to employ a central device management system, such as AirWatch; this remotely monitors devices in a store environment and monitors the health of those devices. However, it also has the ability to ‘put the brakes on’ by locking the device remotely in the case of theft and to also put in place security measures to monitor which devices are connected to the network and control what sites those devices are accessing. Steering: Check that Your Systems are Headed in the Right Direction With modern retail demanding that brands expand over new digital channels, retailers may find they aren’t in a position to fully maximise all selling opportunities. If legacy systems are holding you back or you’re not sure how to implement new channels into your current digital offering, installing a PIM solution can help to steer your business in the right direction. A PIM offers a single, central point of data entry, where product information is optimised and managed through workflow processes, before being published to whichever selling channel is provided. Retail Assist’s software, OMIO PIM, delivers an end-to-end solution that comes with ready-built connectors and integrations to all digital marketplaces. Mirrors: Proactive Reflection Just as retailers continually strive to offer better levels of service, Retail Assist are also continuously improving and looking at new processes and procedures. This involves pro-active monitoring of all retail systems in order…
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Mixed Reality Debuts At London Fashion Week - Retail Assist
  • 15 Feb 2019
One Well-Dressed MR: Mixed Reality Debuts at London Fashion Week
Written by Andréa Williams, Marketing Officer Anyone who’s anyone in fashion will be taking a seat in less than 7 hours, at 180 The Strand to encounter a catwalk experience like no other. Central Saint Martins, the world-renowned design and art college which forms part of the University of Arts London, will be producing a world first: a mixed reality catwalk, powered by 5G. Modelled by Lennon Gallagher, son of Oasis frontman Liam and actor Patsy Kensit, the collection designed by Gerrit Jacob will be based on 1980s gaming and classic fairgrounds. 5G networks claim to offer download speeds of 10 to 20 times faster than what we currently have on 4G now. Its power will offer higher quality videos that enable the use of Mixed Reality, through Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. Lennon Gallagher at London Fashion Week (Evening Standard) What is Mixed Reality? Mixed Reality is a combination of both the physical and digital world, and merges Augmented Reality with Virtual Reality. It is a spectrum of real-world objects dynamically integrating with virtual matter to interact in real time. But how can Mixed Reality be achieved on the catwalk? The Magic Leap One Headset will be available to all those with front row passes. The headset works through superimposing CGI with the user’s view of the catwalk. Not only will the users see the clothes, but will also be able to experience animations and dramatic lighting effects. It has also been reported that viewers will be taunted by smiling tigers and laughing skulls. This is achieved through ‘computer vision’, which makes digital objects contextually aware, meaning they interact with dimensional and structural awareness. The headset also claims to feature ‘spatial audio’, offering sound distance and varying its intensity (a similar experience to surround sound), so users receive an all-immersive experience by appealing to more senses than just plain sight. How will Mixed Reality affect the High Street? These combined technologies allow designers to create a story and showcase their designs in an experiential yet meaningful manner. Naturally, catwalk designs influence the high-end ready-to-wear products, which are eventually adapted and mass made for the high street and, similarly, retailers will need to consider this Mixed Reality process not only for their products, but the experience they are offering in-store. Whilst Mixed Reality is offering a hybrid of technologies and virtual/real world experiences for the catwalk, it is the contextual experience, with clothes being demonstrated in a variety of virtual environments, that will prove to be the most significant to bricks-and-mortar. With the use of VR and AR technologies becoming prosaic to the high street, the combination of both MR and 5G heralds the opportunity for high street innovation like never before.   Read Andréa’s coverage of LFW 2018 here.…
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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…
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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…
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Inventory Management
  • 19 Nov 2018
Stock Right Now! Why inventory management is vital for retailers
Written by Anna Murphy, Communications Executive Maintaining an accurate and successful supply chain is critical to any retail operation, and inventory management is a big part of the success. Ensuring that sufficient stock is ordered – and that the right items are in stock and the products on sale are correct – is all part of a successful retail business. Why is inventory management important? Having the correct items, in the right places, at the best prices possible, can be the difference between a functioning retail business and a flourishing one. Those who get inventory management right give themselves a natural advantage over their rivals. If stock is not in sufficient supply, customers will soon look elsewhere; excess stock leads to wastage, with retailers feeling a need for clearance sales and costly storage solutions. While purchasing stock plays a large part in inventory management, many other factors must be considered. How much can be stored? What are the transportation costs? How can potential shortages can be handled? Getting things wrong can very quickly lead to a loss of any customer loyalty that has been carefully built up, as well as potentially souring any profitable relationships with suppliers or distributers. What can be done to help with inventory management? There are ways of simplifying inventory management, rendering it as easy as possible. Retail Assist offers various solutions, which include the following: Stock Management Software Taking advantage of recent advances in mobile technology, stock management software can allow employees to access stock inventories at various locations, at convenient times. As offline in-store inventories are possible, which later connect and synchronise when connections are available, inventory processes can be undertaken on shop floors, in store rooms or wherever stock may be. The need for expensive, static hardware is removed and replaced with functional and easy to use tools that are easy to integrate into existing retail environments, and can be swiftly adapted to by staff members. Click here to watch the video on YouTube Purchase Order Management Systems Ensuring that any purchase orders are made in a centralised and visible way is important and using a Purchase Order Management System ensures that this occurs. Financial commitment information is readily available, as is clear information as to an order’s status, no matter where in the world it may be occurring. All stages of the process can be looked at, which purchase orders have been approved, which have not and which have been sent. Budgets and workflow levels can be set, with transparent audit trails ensuring that awareness is always clear. There are many other elements that aid inventory management, ranging from the ability to accept multi-drop purchase orders to automatic calculations of freight and duty that may be incurred. Warehouse Management Systems For retailers who deal with warehouses of significant size, organising those spaces and making sure they run well is a very important component of inventory management. Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) are contained within a Warehouse Management System (WMS) and can monitor many…
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Omnichannel vs Multichannel
  • 8 Oct 2018
Omnichannel vs Multichannel Solutions
In the world of retail, omnichannel solutions are sometimes placed in the same bracket as a multichannel solution. There is, however, a large difference between the two, with both offering different benefits to the retailer and, ultimately, the consumer. What are omnichannel solutions? Omnichannel retailing essentially aims to give any customer an experience that is fully joined up, connected and integrates all channels, however the customer has chosen to shop. Everything should be seamless. For example, imagine a customer visits a retailer’s website; they go to buy a dress, add it to their online basket, but change their mind and exit the browser before completing the purchase. Later, the brand emails the customer mentioning a discount code, and places subtle, unobtrusive adverts on Facebook, which the customer views on their mobile phone. The customer then changes their mind again, uses their mobile to buy the item via the brand’s app that they have on their mobile and has it delivered to their home address; after delivery, the customer can either keep the item or perhaps might choose to return it to a store of their choice. All options are available, meaning that the sales channels are connected and operate universally. By embracing the fact that customers may well choose to browse in store before considering and purchasing online, omnichannel retailing can give retailers an advantage over their rivals: they are not limited to an ‘either/or’ approach, but instead can integrate their messaging into the consumer’s interaction with the brand, both physical and digital. As mentioned, a good omnichannel approach might also incorporate elements of social media and other relevant targeted communication that is in sync with the way customers wish to engage with a retailer. Essentially, it is intended that all different channels merge into one, to create a single commercial experience for the customer that is immersive and has them at the centre, receiving a service that is perfectly tailored for them. Their actions – and the psychology behind them – will therefore form part of their omnichannel experience.   What are multichannel solutions? Multichannel retailing is all about offering customers the choice and making it as easy as possible for them to exercise that choice and make a purchase. However the customer might wish to look at a product, assess it or purchase it, the process can be undertaken in as smooth a manner as possible. This could involve offering products via different channels, but with a fully branded and recognisable service to ensure that customers know and feel engaged with the retailer. It may be, for example, recognising social media use, and offering the chance to purchase directly from the consumer’s favoured social media channel, rather than simply offering a link that takes them through to a retailer’s online store. Each method of purchase within a multichannel solution is seen as an entirely separate opportunity, with emphasis being placed on the channels and methods that are seen to have the most impact and be the most lucrative.…
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