IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

  • 12 Feb 2008

Data to put you in the driving seat

Alan Morris

By Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist

Any retailer with serious ambitions in multi-channel distribution should build a seamless process for communicating business-critical data on a daily basis, argues Alan Morris. This data exchange, of which polling is the main element, draws in sales information from across the business and is one of its best barometers of trading performance.

Multi-channel distribution is increasingly becoming the de facto route to retail business expansion. In addition to developing an online presence, extending an own-fascia store estate and buying new brands, retailers increasingly look to build trading relationships with partner organisations.

For both new and expanding businesses, franchises and concessions are a welcome means of creating a larger commercial footprint in the UK and overseas markets. They represent the advantage of multi-channel expansion under the control of the brand owner but without the need to physically manage a wider customer interface.

The downside is that a multi-channel business and multiple partnerships bring with them complexity, not least in the capture of sales data. This data, whether generated by in-house outlets or third-parties, needs to be delivered quickly, regularly and reliably to Head Office. This performance snapshot from all channels represents true business visibility.

That said, there is nothing new about the need to transfer data to and from central systems to selling nodes. It’s just that, as the scope of business commonly extends to encompass both self-managed and partner outlets, so the importance of this data transfer has increased.

In the past, it sufficed to create simple scripts to pass data up and downstream. Today’s more complex trading models demand more than point-to-point file transfers and need to cope with a multiplicity of incompatible data formats from the EPoS, stock, merchandising and other systems operated by partner retailers.

Whilst it’s rare for retailers not to have any form of polling solution, this is likely to look after the main stores relationship only. Reporting from other channels, if served at all, tends to be of the ‘glue and paper’ variety. Data which is generated by interface programs is often slow to be produced, of poor quality and has limited value in reflecting true business performance.

In an ideal world, retailers would develop one consistent and secure polling solution that covers all channels, processes all file formats and gives each channel’s data the same importance. To minimise risk and cost, this also need to be a model that can be easily replicated as new channels come on stream.

It goes without saying that the process must be reliable and the data timely and accurate. What is clear is that those retailers who have sales data delivered to their desks first thing every morning from each and every channel, (hopefully with close to 100% polling success), are making better-informed decisions about merchandising strategy and stock replenishment across their entire business.

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