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Mixed Reality Debuts At London Fashion Week - Retail Assist
  • 15 Feb

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

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

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

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

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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Retail Project Management Services
  • 13 Aug

Retail Project Management Services

Watch: Karen Millen Video If you have business transformation or technology projects upcoming, bringing in an expert can help. Our programme managers can support projects of any scale, for as long as required, with a fully managed approach. Taking the pressure off your internal teams, Retail Assist delivers end-to-end Project Management Services, whilst you focus on business as usual. As well as coordinating your own internal teams, Retail Assist’s strong industry relationships support quality 3rd party management. We’ve been working with leading global brands, such as Karen Millen, to deliver Retail Project Management to migrate their IT infrastructure from a server to a cloud-based solution. Watch our Retail Project Management Services video featuring our customer Karen Millen: Watch our Retail Project Management Services video here. Lily Lalehparvar, Project Manager – IT & Business Development at Karen Millen explains, “Retail Assist’s knowledge of our systems and end-user environment meant that they understood the importance of IT running seamlessly, in order to deliver a great customer experience that’s expected in all Karen Millen stores and online. “Retail Assist understood the need to have the ability to flex during peak trading. As we have grown as a global brand, our existing shared infrastructure just wasn’t scaling for us. The project was vital as a platform for future growth and improved performance, especially during peak trading periods as we experience a high traffic of shoppers and we can’t afford any downtime. “We required project completion before peak trading. Throughout our peak periods, the uplift in capacity allowed Karen Millen to perform well. Our service levels and systems availability were maintained without any disruption.” Retail Assist has recently moved Karen Millen’s shared iSeries infrastructure over to their own solution based at Bluechip. Retail Assist was initially tasked with finding 6 different options to solve existing infrastructure independence and capacity issues Karen Millen faced with their old shared server. Retail Assist helped advise on the preferred solution, manage the networking and configuration of the software as well as managing the entire data transition process to Bluechip. Retail Assist managed the entire process to work around and be live for a sale and peak trading target, which was successfully completed. Whether it’s hardware, software, or stores related, our project management team has technical expertise in a range of retail and hospitality projects, including: New store openings Payment solutions upgrades Ecommerce web platform upgrades Hardware rebuild and rollout Tablet configuration and rollout Large scale data migration Server upgrades and more. Click here to find out more about our Retail Project Management Services. Or email marketing@retail-assist.co.uk with your request for more information.…
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Chatbots
  • 9 Jul

Chatbots – a personal shopper for every customer

Guest blog by Retail Assist’s Marketing Officer, Andrea Williams.  Imagine being able to offer every consumer a personal shopper, to guide them through the purchasing process, help influence their decisions and offer a very personal level of customer service, from which a transaction will take place, all in one conversation, on one app. That’s where chatbots come in. Chatbots work right into this medium and provide a multitude of communications, services and transactions through a conversational interface powered by artificial intelligence. They are used as a means for influencing both choice and demand by making the customers’ search experience and buying process as simple possible. Nowadays if it’s not on demand – it’s irrelevant. If we have to search and scroll for it, it’s monotonous. Millennials especially, expect instant gratification and real-time communications and therefore marketing is evolving to accommodate this, through bot-powered commerce. There’s no need to besiege consumers into downloading a novelty app that they’ll never use again, why not communicate with them from where they spend the most of their time? Usage of messaging apps is on the rise, having overtaken the use of social media, meaning there is the opportunity for a new channel of communication. Unlike traditional forms of direct marketing, the consumer has control, they decide to follow the brands they like, but they also have the ability to unsubscribe, unfollow and even block. This makes contact strategies via messaging apps far less disruptive and therefore have much higher opening rates than traditional mediums, which consequently creates automatic brand engagement. When considering the immense growth of fast fashion, consumers are incredibly spoilt for choice, making purchase decisions lengthy and not overly worth it. This is where chatbots come in, as recommendation engines are used to make purchases informed by finding out exactly what the consumer wants and giving it to them. From a sales perspective, a chatbot can use the conversation to cross and up-sell products, nurturing the buying process. Some retailers, such as H&M and Sephora are even offering chatbots with styling tips that will find your outfit for you and the accessories that will match. Not only is the purchasing experience itself personalised but so is the relationship. For starters the consumer makes first contact, they already follow you, they already see your content, and they are engaged before your bot even replies. This creates a level of trust and thanks to the emotional intelligence and natural language processing the bot uses, a level of brand intimacy is developed throughout the customer journey, allowing a brand loyal relationship to flourish By 2020, 8 in 10 businesses will operate a chatbot and therefore businesses need to differentiate their offering through making the conversation more natural and enabling bots to handle more macro-decisions than just every day service FAQs. Consumers value human interaction, and with technology moving much faster than the average consumer, soon we won’t have any idea whether we’re talking to a human or a bot, as Google showed recently at I/O…
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IT retail systems
  • 26 Mar

Stock Replenishment: Speed To Sell

Replenishment Systems Most consumers have visited a store, or browsed online, and found an item they wished to purchase out of stock. For the customer, this is frustrating and an annoyance, especially when special effort has been made to visit a specific location for an intended purchase. From a retailer point of view however, items being ‘out of stock’ can be a significant problem. Erosion of confidence In an age of unlimited consumer choice, retailers that frequently experience stock issues are quickly subject to a major erosion of confidence in the eyes of the customer. This means we now live in the age of limited brand loyalty. Whereas in the past, a consumer may have returned at a later date to obtain an item, now they will simply go elsewhere, noting in the process that the first brand tried was unreliable. Future sales have been lost too: they demand, and they need it now. The internet has of course made visiting multiple locations easier than ever, with purchases from alternative suppliers being made via a simple click of a button. This problem can easily be remedied by utilising dynamic, real-time IT retail systems to keep your stores and websites up to date with latest stock information. Supply chain issues A major problem with slow stock replenishment can be the issues it causes within the wider supply chain. The domino-type effect on which supply chains operate can mean that stock being short in one area, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, can have serious ramifications. IT retail systems that automatically identify when stock is low and order based on intelligent algorithms (auto replenishment systems) are a simple, effective solution. Great Expectations The expectations of customers have radically changed. Delivery times play a major part in this: same day and next day delivery are standard for many retailers, with consumers becoming accustomed to this level of convenience. The inevitable result is that expectations have risen, and standards of service are required to be higher than ever. Stock levels play a large part in this, not just in terms of having items available but in terms of the speed in which they can be with the consumer, via even distribution across the many locations (stores, web, concessions, franchises) a retailer may have. If one location has a large amount of stock, whilst another doesn’t, this could cause problems in terms of achieving a rapid delivery time. If expectations are not met, consumers will be swift to move towards a brand that they perceive will do so. Retail IT Solutions There are many IT retail systems available to ensure that stock shortages do not occur. Auto Replenishment Systems can help with the movement of stock between locations, via user defined algorithms and auto-monitoring of variables and trends. Allocation systems also offer optimised ‘speed to sell’ due to faster stock processing in the warehouse. Pre-allocation removes the need for an initial put-away process during intake, thanks to flagged pre-allocated stock being visible within a…
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RFID omnichannel
  • 19 Mar

RFID Retail Revolution

The Rise of RFID in Retail: blog from Benedict Schofield, Marketing Officer at Retail Assist. RFID Retail Revolution RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) already plays a significant role in retail, we’ve all seen a store associate remove an RFID security tag from an item of clothing at the point of sale, but there is potential for a lot more than just loss prevention using this technology. The price of RFID tags has dropped significantly in recent years, opening the doors for big retail brands to experiment integrating its use with their omnichannel supply chains. RFID in the Omnichannel Supply Chain An immediate benefit to many retailers has been access to superior stock accuracy; this is thanks to the ease in which stock taking can take place. Centrally located RFID readers, such as the one we saw at RBTE last year can now do an entire stock take without the need for store associates to individually scan every bar code. Stocktaking could then be performed much more frequently since the process is significantly sped up, thus visibility of stock in the supply chain is as accurate as possible. This quickly resolved an issue that was starting to arise, where retailers were inflating their in-store stock by 10-20% in anticipation of omnichannel orders. Now with greater accuracy, those retailers don’t need such a large buffer to prevent out-of-stocks, increasing profitability and reducing the possibility of markdowns. Creating a Better Customer Experience River Island found that they could go from doing 1-2 full stock takes a year to doing them weekly; their level of stock accuracy has risen from approximately 70% to 98% (Raconteur). The store associates are now able to spend much less time in the stock room and spend more time on improving the customer experience. RFID readers are able to detect when a RFID tag is moving. The technology allows a retailer to see if a product has been interacted with, perhaps by being picked up, this could then prompt a nearby screen to display relevant product information, enriching the experience of the customer. The Upcoming Data Analytics Revolution With RFID comes an enormous potential for data collection. Retailers will soon be able to track the journey of their products within their stores, seeing when products leave the shelves, enter the changing rooms, and are returned to the shelf could be invaluable information. Although raising questions of ethics, retailers would even be able to see when a customer returns to their store if they are wearing that item of clothing. This combined with other upcoming technology such as smart cameras, could make for a very powerful tool. It’s Not Just Fashion Retail RFID is making advancements across the whole retail sector; RFID tags are small enough to be stuck to consumable items such as soft drinks and other food items. This opens the door to speeding up the checkout process significantly. Now an entire basket of items can be scanned at once, without the need for a store associate or customer…
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tablet management software
  • 19 Feb

Is Automation Inevitable?

Across all industries, the issue of automation is hotly discussed, debated and analysed. The retail sector, no stranger to innovation, is one of many that are adapting to the notion that automation could indeed be inevitable. Adoption of new technologies Shoppers have eagerly embraced the inclusion of tablets in stores, and have been quick to recognise the advantages of digital technology within their shopping journey. Different retailers use tablets in different ways, but a common factor is their assistance in digitising the offline shopping experience, allowing customers to gain product and stock information more easily. Alongside this, retailers are finding that bringing tablets into use supports their employees. Checking stock levels, undertaking returns and making orders can all be completed by staff on the shop floor, who can take themselves to the customer, providing more opportunities to sell. Employees are able to undertake a variety of tasks from emails to creating visual merchandising looks, meaning that productivity levels can also be enhanced by using an IT retail system on the tablet. Benefits to customer experience The impact of automation provides huge potential for increasing the quality of customer experience. Introducing tablets to retail store environments brings digital benefits to the customer. A common trait amongst Generation Z, impatient information-seeking consumers can also avoid the feeling of ‘wasted time’ that waiting for a store associate can bring. Automating the ordering process in-store fulfils their demand for a fast-paced response. Allowing consumers to be able to conduct their own transactions via automated approaches to checkouts is also seen as largely positive, giving them the feeling that they are in control and lowering queuing time. This is appealing to many shoppers, especially digital native Gen Z, who have grown up with automated approaches to various aspects of their lives. Supply chain software, whilst unseen by shoppers, is also impacted significantly by automation. Supply chain software which uses an auto replenishment system for inventory optimisation, using AI and intelligent algorithms to replenish stock, is becoming increasingly popular amongst successful, forward-thinking retailers. Ensuring that shelves are full with the right product, and items are not ‘out of stock’ is incredibly important to fulfilling omnichannel customer demand.  Changes in roles: a help, not a threat With automation will come a variety of changes, not least of which are around the way in which employees work.   A versatile approach to IT retail systems could mean that store associates are more engaged with omnichannel, as automation brings the need for them to perform and have knowledge of a wider variety of practices such as ship-from store and online ordering. It goes without saying that automated approaches to IT retail systems must be monitored, to ensure the technology functions as it should. Perhaps the most interesting potential development will centre around how bricks-and-mortar retailing must adapt as a result of automation, as new ways of engaging customers are experimented with.…
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