Craig SummersCraig SummersFebruary 20, 2019
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8min414

Embracing technology is a prerequisite for success in the modern retail environment.

There are many ways in which retailers can deliver a new in-store experience – and while some retailers will undoubtedly look to emulate the human touch free Amazon Go model, for many others human interaction is the primary and fundamental component of a positive bricks and mortar experience. From hiking boots to party shoes, it is still the shared experience of the store associate and customer that will remain an essential component of the in-store engagement for many.

Each retailer will need to understand the optimal model for its customer base, offering the best mix of touch free interaction and empowered store associate. With cloud-based mPOS, there is no technology barrier to delivering a new and positive retail experience – the challenge is to envisage the right customer model. The checkout of the future must be whatever the customer wants it to be, at any time. Released from the shackles of legacy technology, retailers now have enormous opportunities to rethink and reconsider the in-store experience and reimagine the customer journey.

Getting the basics right

The checkout is the point of sale – but it is not a standalone function; it needs to be embedded within the overall service proposition. Customers don’t want to wait in line; nor are they willing to undertake multiple separate transactions to fulfil in-store needs. They want one, simple and frictionless transaction that covers an in-store purchase, a click & collect order, a product return, even ordering another item that is not in store but can be sent from another location either to that store or to the customer’s preferred address.

An effective and efficient checkout process also needs to automatically and effectively handle coupons, apply the correct promotional pricing, capture loyalty information, and so on. But it will also be integrated directly with core operational systems to provide store associates with real-time inventory information and customer history.

The question for retailers is how and where to deliver that point of sale. Should be it the fast, touch-free approach enabled by kiosks or self-service? Or should it be provided by a store associate? And if the latter, how and where within the store should that interaction occur?

Man vs Machine

Clearly for many retailers, an Amazon Go approach appeals. It maximises technology to minimise costly store associates and provides customers with a fast, frictionless experience: the checkout is achieved simply by walking out of the store with automatically scanned items and payment taken from the pre-authorised account.

This is not, of course, a model that has generic appeal – aside from the fact that it is massively unprofitable today and unachievable for the majority of organisations. Forget tagging technology and customer identification solutions, right now many retailers can’t even provide their Store Associates with a single view of available inventory!

But there are undoubtedly aspects of this frictionless experience that should be embedded within every retail model – and a core component of this process will be the checkout. Whether a customer is looking for speed or experience – or both – the checkout is key.

Retailers have spent over a decade optimising the ‘buy button’ online, and the checkout is effectively that ‘buy button’ moment in store. The challenge for retailers is to create a checkout in store that effectively masks the growing complexity of the retail model from both the customer and store associate. Mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) is an obvious solution, providing Store Associates with the ability to close the deal with customers anywhere in store, yet, just 42% of retailers have mPOS in place.

Retail as a service

Retailers have been massively constrained by the incredibly outdated legacy solutions deployed in-store. Hard wired, monolithic systems based on fixed telephone lines for payment, these solutions are both over specified and under delivering. The latest generation of cloud-based technology supports deployments anywhere – in-store, on traditional Windows terminals, or on mobile iOS and Android devices, delivers real-time access to global network availability and ensures that high-speed checkout is available even if the network connection is disrupted.

A store associate armed with a mobile device that provides real time access to inventory across the organisation and ensures the aisle is always endless – and the ability to order those products – can embark upon a meaningful customer dialogue anywhere within the store.

Critically, with a mobile solution that seamlessly supports the checkout process whenever the customer is ready and through whatever payment format the customer prefers, the store ‘buy button’ is optimised. Whether a traditional ‘card present’ payment process or a customer’s own mobile payment app, there should be no break in the engagement to achieve the seamless in-store check-out that consumers crave.

Conclusion

It is only now, thanks to the power of the cloud, of the mobile app, of rich POS solution functionality that is seamlessly integrated with other store and enterprise systems, that retailers have the chance to break away from the constraints of their legacy technology and reconsider the entire store concept.

Does the retailer even need a static desk anymore or can all store associates be mobile? Will the customer base respond well to this model or does the retailer have a core demographic that wants a choice of both traditional and new? With confidence in the technology and an ability to deliver diverse customer services within the store, a retailer can begin to rethink the experience, to experiment with new models for customer engagement and truly offer an efficient and personalised service with a bit of ‘wow’ thrown in.


Craig SummersCraig SummersNovember 9, 2018
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5min550

With high street stalwarts dropping like flies, traditional retailers are on the wrong end of a raft of increasingly harsh criticism from both customers and analysts.

Yet in far too many cases it is fear of failure – of making the wrong technology investment or delivering the wrong in-store experience that is at the heart of the problem. Traditional shopping isn’t broken; retailers are simply failing to recognise or deliver the new expectations of today’s consumer.

Retailers cannot hope to compete with the disruptors unless they stop playing inept catch up and instead celebrate the value of the in-store interaction with truly empowered store associates able to deliver something far more engaging and valuable than any online experience.

Lost cause

As long-established family favourites vanish from the high street it appears the pure play disruptors have won the hearts and minds of customers and the writing is on the wall for old style retail. But is that really the case?

Pure play retailers are essentially tech companies; they live and breathe technology innovation. In contrast, far too many traditional retailers remain inherently scared of technology. They talk agility and responsiveness, but then spend upwards of two years assessing and deploying a solution.

It is this fear of failure, such as creating the wrong in-store atmosphere, that is destroying the high street. The result is a catch up approach to technology investment that is always years behind the competition. What is the point of attempting to emulate pure play competition – but to do it badly?

From price match offers that take 24 hours to confirm to compelling customers to complete time consuming and irrelevant customer surveys during check-out, the high street is littered with examples of ill-considered attempts to copy slick online models in-store. It doesn’t work, especially when the technology deployed is years behind that of the disruptors. It is all wrong and it fundamentally misses the point.

Golden egg

Online retail has not removed customers’ desire to buy in store or interact with sales assistants; what it has done has been to raise customers’ expectations of that experience. It is incredibly simple: people still want to come in store and be served; they want to interact with an enthusiastic and engaged individual, someone who not only knows the products – and can share experiences – but is also able to locate any item anywhere in the supply chain in real time and get that item to the customer quickly, in any location.

They want frictionless returns, a slick journey through click and collect and they want the checkout process to be smooth and quick. But they also want the whole experience to be enjoyable. No one wants to travel into the high street only to receive a bad version of what they can get online at home. They want something different and they want something better.

And that is where high street retailers have a massive advantage over the pure plays – if only they could harness it. Rather than complaining about the pure plays’ low cost infrastructure and lack of real estate overhead, traditional retailers need to stop viewing the high street as the Achilles heel and think of the retail store as the golden egg.

And that means investing in technology that delivers the complete supply chain visibility and mobile point of sale that ensures store associates can be continuously engaged with customers anywhere on the shop floor. It means investing in high quality sales staff.  And it means doing it fast. Not over years.

Attempting to ‘become Amazon’ in two years; or replicate the model of the pure play competitor over the next 18 months is never going to work: the competition is too fast, too slick and too tech savvy. Playing catch up will result in the end of the high street. What is required is a willingness to disrupt the disruptors, to leverage the advantage of a tangible personal experience and quickly exploit relevant technology to deliver an outstanding in-store experience.


Craig SummersCraig SummersSeptember 3, 2018
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5min1070

The summer might have just ended and Christmas may seem a million miles away, but as is customary in the retail world, brands far and wide will be setting up their plans to survive the busiest time of the retail calendar.

However, as the high street continues to evolve – despite claims it is dying – social shopping and e-commerce continue to boom and consumers are more demanding than ever. Let’s face it, peak season is not as we once knew it!

The key peaks

Peak is no longer confined to the high street, nor the months of November and December. The more than pleasant weather, the hype around this year’s World Cup, and other spikes in national activity such as the royal wedding have all played a part in the ups and downs of this year’s retail trends.

All of these factors, coupled with the emerging use of technology in retail, means that brands must now take learnings from the entire year to help them manage any peak, not just the one that happens around Christmas.

An analysis on last year’s festive period will no longer be enough; peaks are now based on culture, lifestyle, weather and even political change. Retailers should have their businesses set up for this throughout the year so they won’t need to worry about how they manage the traditional peak, as it will just be classed as another busy period.

Survival kit

The key retail survival tactic during traditional peak season is often to hire a plethora of Christmas temps to help deal with demand and then let them all go in January. The admin headache and cost implication is a nightmare and most of the staff are not as efficient or knowledgeable as they could be as they have a very quick onboarding period.

Instead, retailers should arm themselves with tools that combine the traditional workforce with the workforce of the future: technology. Gone are the days of clunky, eye-watering updates, which take up time and put systems on hold – retailers don’t have to put up with this anymore.

The best cloud-based tools can be flexed to accommodate busy or quiet periods at any time of the year without having to panic-hire an army of new staff, allowing both man and machine to work together and better manage the resources available.

It also means that retailers don’t have to dread the IT blackout that often occurs when stores and online channels can’t cope with an increase in demand. Simply put, the retailers that are still running on their own physical servers are falling behind, especially when it comes to managing peaks. By adopting the latest cloud technologies, retailers will open up a new found flexibility to seamlessly manage an increase in demand whilst still driving a better Customer Experience all year round, without risking brand damage or impacting revenues.

Surviving the climb

The challenges faced around any peak in demand or sales can spell disaster when not managed correctly. But those retailers that take note of customer behaviour, key trends, and the kinds of demands that are being made throughout the year, will be the ones that handle Christmas peak without a concern. In today’s ever demanding environment it’s no longer just about surviving the peak, it’s about learning from the entire climb.




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