IT services and solutions for retail and hospitality

  • 12 Dec 2011

Guest Blog: Retail and Cinema Chain IT Similarities and Differences

Dave WilsonBy Dave Wilson, Head of IT Operations at Vue

Having previously worked within the IT departments of large retail businesses, I can say that there is not a huge difference between the IT discipline there and the one in my current role as Head of IT Operations at a major cinema chain. At Vue cinemas we deal with a product, just as retail businesses do. For us, that product is either a film or a concessions item such as popcorn or pick and mix sweets. Any business that sells products requires the relevant IT systems to facilitate this.


The main difference between retail and cinema is probably the varying trading patterns of the two sectors. However there is some crossover in busy times, for example the school holidays, Christmas and Easter. At Vue, there are peaks and troughs depending on what type of films are out or whether the kids are in school or not. Over a year we may have 38 million visit us. Recently we had 7 million people through the doors over the summer holidays and the half term generated over a million visitors.


Retail is also very seasonal as there are sales on at certain times of the year, for example the traditional January promotions. Retailers and cinema chains both rely upon IT services to support their varying trading patterns. Planning within the IT department happens weeks before a major event as at Vue so that when we come into a half term for example, we hope that the pre-preparation leading up to that period will help to minimise the call upon IT. Similarly, retail IT departments will plan for peak Christmas shopping times.


Weather also plays a definite part in trading patterns – the more rain there is, the better this is for cinema. Whist pleasant, sunshine isn’t really good for cinema, but it is for retailers. When the sun shines people tend to prefer to go out onto the high street rather than sitting in a dark cinema auditorium. When it rains people prefer to stay indoors and turn to the film industry for amusement, therefore high street retailing is the reverse of cinema in that sense.


At Vue, we are currently digitalising our cinema circuit which allows us to react more efficiently to trends in trading patterns. For example if we see that there is an opportunity to show a blockbuster film on more screens on a Saturday evening when it looks like there is going to be high demand from cinemagoers, we could make those changes as late as Saturday afternoon.


By looking at data throughout the trading day, the IT department at Vue can see which films are doing well and which we might like to show on more screens. You can do that with digital but you couldn’t really do that with the 35mm films because physical prints would need to be ordered and moved around. Digitalisation is certainly the future for cinema and is the direction in which the industry is going.


With digitalisation cinema can react a lot quicker than with physical print. In retail, if you run out of stock of an item that has become a bestseller within your business, there’s a risk you won’t be able to get any more of it if you haven’t got your buying cycles right. That’s when opportunities are missed and retailers miss out on potential sales and profit. Whilst there are many synergies between the two sectors, the digitalisation of cinema can provide some advantages over retail.

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