Retailers need a network fit for a multichannel environment

The in-store network is fast becoming the life line for retailers that need to reach their customers through multiple channels and devices. There has never been a better time for the store to rediscover its strengths as the flagship for the retail brand as, regardless of which channel a consumer decides to shop via, the store remains a key destination at any stage in the shopping journey.

In particular, the millennial generation (generation Z) take a different approach to shopping, one that centres round the store. Before making a purchase it has become common practise for this group of consumers to visit the store for the purpose of browsing, taking pictures of products to send to friends, log onto the Internet through tablets and kiosks and update their Facebook pages with latest locations – all before deciding what, when and which channel to make a purchase.

While eCommerce provides convenience, consumers actually gain more enjoyment from the physical shopping environment. However, at present it lacks lustre in comparison to product availability and the capability to evaluate prices online. To counteract customer disappointment, new technologies have recently been deployed to bridge this gap and entice tech-savvy consumers back in-store.

The emergence of these new interactive technologies are also delivering value added services within the store environment. These include payments on the spot, scanning of product tags using a mobile for detailed information and connection to the online channel.

However, it’s a double edge sword as generation Z have high expectations once in store. Some retailers have worked hard over many years to satisfy these demands, but  the bar has risen: retailers need, if they can, to identify every customer as they arrive and provide each of them with a personal experience, regardless of the reason behind their visit.

This is where the store network comes into play. Retailers cannot forget the technology behind the scenes that enables all this functionality – the retail network. It is the crux of in-store operations and will continue to be so, as the in-store environment evolves into an interactive hub, where consumers can look, touch, feel, test products and engage with sales staff armed with devices delivering in-depth knowledge far beyond the capabilities of a lone sales assistant.

Is sunny weather generating a bright shopping forecast?

The UK skies have been filled with a strange, yellow globe during the past fortnight – after months of rain, the sun is finally shining! With temperatures increasing and the official start of British Summer Time bringing lighter evenings, lifted spirits are having a positive impact on High Street traffic.

Latest figures from retail intelligence company Springboard revealed that during the week ending March 16th 2014, UK High Street traffic increased by 8.2% on the same period the previous year, with retail parks enjoying a 3.3% increase as well.

So why does the sunshine cause a spike in sales? Firstly, consumers are much more likely to go out and about if the weather is pleasant. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the change in season marks a shift in buying patterns. Instead of stocking up on woolly hats and hot water bottles, spring’s arrival prompts people to invest in new outfits, garden furniture and barbeque equipment in anticipation of the summer heat.

Many retailers are already seeing a surge in certain product sales due to changing conditions; Karen Millen noted strong dress sales for the week ending 16th March, for example. The hospitality industry has also seen a welcome boost from impromptu trips for coffee, drinks and dinner in the sunshine.

Even if consumers aren’t setting out to buy anything in particular, some retailers believe that weather-induced happiness prompts impulse purchases. This can often be the case if the first weekend of the month, after most people have been paid, coincides with a sunny spell.

With temperatures and sunshine levels set to increase over the coming weeks, there is a huge opportunity for retailers to capitalise on the latest wave of consumer enthusiasm. Their secret to success will be marketing the right products and creating a seamless customer experience in-store, maximising sales by ensuring product availability and a joined-up service.

Click and collect – the saviour of the high street?

Click and collect is breathing a new lease of life back into the high street. According to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, the increase in mCommerce has been supported by services such as click and collect or reserve, which have become prominent in the shopping cycle.

According to the index, making a purchase or reserving online for collection in-store now accounts for 25% of cross-channel sales. Retailers with both an online and high street presence reaped the rewards in December, with a recorded month-on-month growth of 16%.  With 91 billion spent online in 2013, and £11 million alone in December, click and collect is an opportune way for high street retailers to have a piece of the pie.

On the high street, specialist retailers including; Argos, Dixons and Halfords have prospered from the growth of online, by better linking their web and in store operations, proving that an integrated approach is the way forward. Nearly 50% of sales at Argos are now online, with its check and reserve service having proved popular with customers.

More than ever, consumers want to shop at their own convenience. Browsing online teamed with collection in-store offers just this, enabling consumers to view a wider range of products teamed with collection at a store, day and time of their choice.

In store, mPoS is linking back to the online channel, allowing customers to browse a retailer’s full range of products once in-store whether they are catalogued to that store or not – preventing customers making a wasted journey if a desired product is not in stock. Options include order for store delivery at a later date or home delivery, providing the ultimate cross-channel service and most importantly for the retailer, securing a sale that could have otherwise been lost.

It’s clear that online and in-store services working in tandem is breeding success for retailers and therefore the best route for the high street. Retailers that adopt this joined up approach will be the ones to prosper in 2014.

Mobile retail – great for staff, even better for customers

Why should so much in-store retail be tethered to the till? For example, the payments that are taken, offering customers the opportunity to become part of the brand community, or the query of stock location. All of these activities and more have traditionally taken place at a fixed device within the store and of course, at the end of a customer’s journey.

By 2016, Forrester predicts that 0.8% of retail sales will occur via mCommerce and 9.1% of retail sales will occur via eCommerce. Forrester estimates that nearly 40% of retailers have implemented mPOS or have a pilot program in place today, and 79% plan to integrate mPOS by 2015.

The race to do so, should not simply be about innovative technology and mPOS. It is about finding a mobile solution to fit the needs of your business and offering complete mobility in the store to include, mobile access to information and re-thinking the role of the sales associates.

Many retailers are struggling to drive incremental growth, and some don’t have enough capital to fund all of the initiatives they want to pursue. Meanwhile, customer behaviours are changing profoundly, particularly due to the ways that technology is now being used as part of the shopping process. Consumer adoption of mobile is growing at an exponential rate and this must be capitalised on.

Leading retailers today must plan for enabling intelligent brand ambassadors. Store staff must have access to brand content, customer and product information at a higher level than the customer can gain access to themselves, which may be harder than you think, due to the customer being able to obtain this information from their peers, the brand website and their own account information.  Note, these brand ambassadors are also sitting in customer service, with the same needs as their store colleagues.

The need for store mobility in-store is now important for a number of reasons, with customer expectation being high on the list. Making sure your customer is happy and receiving value in the store will build upon brand loyalty and subsequently, sales.

Product personalisation to play a big part in the development of retail technology

The need of the consumer is constantly changing. As technology evolves, and the high street rushes to offer the latest innovations, the expectations of the customer have never been greater. Offering a flawless shopping experience has never been more essential for today’s retailer in their fight for survival.

Long behind us are the days when simply choosing from what’s on offer is deemed acceptable to the customer, instead they now expect a more personal experience than ever before, with a product offering that fits exactly to their needs. And although this may sound daunting, retailers certainly have the tools at their disposal to ensure this is the case. Product personalisation could be the perfect way to please today’s demanding customer, and technology will play a major part in making this work.

3D printing is a technological tool that is really starting to come of age, offering product personalisation in areas such as greeting cards, diaries, mouse mats, phone covers etc. It has really evolved over the last few years, to a point where professionally printed personalised products are now available at a similar price to un-personalised ones. The technology itself might not be new, but it is yet to be fully harnessed by the retail industry.

There is nothing more frustrating to a customer than failing to find the exact product they are after, and the concept behind 3D printing should be considered as a means to tackle the issue. Imagine entering a store, visiting a kiosk and altering a product to suit your needs – it’s an idea that would certainly place a retailer is a pretty good position on the high street. It’s been so difficult for traditional stores to compete with the popularity of online retail recently, and offering such a service could even the field.

For retailers looking at ways to provide a quicker, more convenient and a personalised store experience, 3D printing delivers just this.

Mobile is taking over retail as we know it

The use of mobile technology and applications in retail has exploded in 2013, which looks set to continue as an upward trend in 2014, the catalyst being that retailers can now use mobile devices in various ways to interact directly with customers to improve customer service and experience.

The technology and capabilities are ever expanding. From mobile PoS in store – connecting the in-store and online offering, to subtle up-sell messages sent via push-alerts, digital mobile coupons and gift vouchers, free WiFi in-store accessible via customers own mobile devices to applications that deliver rich product data and functionality.

What all of these mobile technologies have in common is that they enhance the customer service while delivering convenience, but most importantly, they provide the retailer with a means of tracking the customer journey and individual behaviour patterns, enabling retailers marketing outreach to be even more specific and targeted.

It is also helping to bridge those gaps in sales channel integration that even the cleverest of multichannel solutions have not been able to do up until this point, with the likes of Mobile PoS and free customer WiFi in store, linking the shop and online channels. Until now, online has operated as a standalone component, often with separate sales targets but mobile has changed this, enabling all channels to integrate.

Using mobile in retail will significantly contribute to an increase in sales over time, with customers that would have previously left a store empty handed due to lack of in-store stock, being able to complete an order then and there online via the mobile PoS or their own smart-phone device, for store or home delivery.

But, to achieve a successful mobile proposition, retailers first need to invest in a network that supports all of this technology. It’s also important to invest in training staff to understand the benefits of cross-selling, perhaps providing incentives for cross-channel sales that will ultimately increase profit margins.

Retail technology highlights of 2013

2013 has seen new developments in technology, including virtual reality applications for changing rooms both in-store and online, as well as the development of technologies such as click and collect, mobile PoS, RFID and QR codes and clever visual merchandising, all of which have become embedded into many retailers’ every day operations.

Smart retailers will continue to invest in services that better connect the online and in-store journey, while delivering richer product information and ultimately personalisation.

Electronic labelling has become more widely adopted, in particular by high end fashion retailers such as Burberry, which is using RFID tags to personalise clothing. Customers can access a wealth of rich product data from RFID tags embedded into garments in-store with their mobile devices, when logged into Burberry.com, revealing the story of its creation by way of videos and product info.

Although, the real star of the show in 2013 is customer facing mobile PoS, with retailers such as Warehouse, Coast, Oasis and Reiss using the technology in multiple ways, from product information and stock availability, to wall mounted visual displays. Most importantly has been connection to the online channel, enabling customers to place an order then and there, whether a desired product is in stock or not – delivering the ultimate customer convenience and completion of a sale.

Other convenience based services that have become widely adopted this year include click and collect, which consumers have come to expect as a given delivery option. With contactless payments beginning to pick up momentum – delivering ease and speed when making payments under £20 – which are perfect for fast food environments. These and other convenience driven services will continue to grow in popularity in 2014.

However, the focus is still very much on multi and omni-channel, the facilitator for which is cloud based technologies that support a holistic view of stock – single product availability across channels – using services such as online connection in store via an iPad or click and collect. In short, one offering across all channels.

Could an online offering in store revive the high street?

It’s now very clear that integrating the convenience of online services with the in store experience is a winning combination and could well be the answer to a high street that is currently under threat. Click & Collect services alone have been shown to contribute to incremental sales, as customers who come to pick up purchased goods then buy more in store. Vodat investigates the online tech that will transform high street shopping…

Free customer WiFi in store

Encouraging customers to interact with the store or brand via the network whilst in store brings with it a plethora of benefits. Retailers can identify customers that shop in store and capture data on customer shopping behaviours across channels. This data can be used to understand how individual customers chose specific channels to browse and others to purchase, looking into details such as how and what they like to buy. As a result, marketing can become more targeted to customer’s wants and needs, driving loyalty and in turn sales.

MPoS in store

Mobile PoS in store enables customers to search the entire product range whether it’s stocked in that store or not, so if the desired merchandise isn’t available in the correct colour or size it can be searched for online via a tablet device and ordered then and there, resulting in a satisfied customer and secured sale.

Click & collect services

Click & collect has become an in demand customer service and as a result widely adopted by retailers. It delivers the ultimate convenience in deciding when and where customers can collect their purchase, as opposed to waiting around for hours on end for the delivery man to arrive or having to make a trip to the local post depot.

Customers like the ease at which they can search for, browse and compare products online, but they like the experience of visiting a store to view and try products before buying. It’s a win-win situation.

All of this technology is underpinned by the in store network. For which a professional and scalable WiFi solution is required, capable of managing multiple devices, rich functionality and spikes in data traffic, whilst keeping private data separate from guest access for obvious security purposes – however both should be managed on the one network to reduce the complexity and cost of running multiple networks.

Why retailers, hotels and restaurants should invest in a professional WiFi network

The need for a strong WiFi network in retail and hospitality businesses to support technology such as iPads, visual merchandising, digital music and personal WiFi for customers has reached a tipping point.

Since 2012 there has been an increasing demand for WiFi from retailers, restaurants and hotels. Whilst we are still seeing some businesses trying to provide WiFi on the cheap, most now see the value in installing a robust, business class solution which gives greater management of the WiFi network from head office and delivers security of sensitive business data.

As more-and-more new technologies that rely on the network continue to emerge, the management becomes ever more complicated and businesses need to be mindful that it’s important to keep public and private data separate for security purposes.

With a mobile phone only an arm’s length away for close to 50% of the population, what better method is there for retailers, restaurants and hotels to communicate with their customers?

Customers now use mobiles and tablets to access websites, research products and services, make purchases and reservations, as well as downloading vouchers for redemption in person and accessing free WiFi networks in stores, hotels, cafes and restaurants. Businesses can also send direct marketing in the form of push alerts, enticing customers with the latest offers and promotions.

Personal customer access to the internet cannot run off the same part of the network in which customer transactions take place, however, running two or three separate networks is costly and complicated. This is when the need for a business class solution is highlighted – one that is capable of managing all of this functionality securely and cost effectively on one network.

If your business is currently relying on a basic broadband service, it may well need to consider a professional and robust business network in the near future, as consumer demand continues to grow for services that run off the WiFi network.

Contemplating the considered consumer

With a growing plethora of ways to research products, price, gain feedback and buy merchandise, teamed with tight purse strings, consumers have never been so considered when it comes to making purchases.  So how can retailers go about delivering a winning offering?

Vodat International outlines a recipe for success when it comes to the considered consumer:

Social media

Social media is and will continue to play a huge role in influencing consumers buying habits. With satisfied and unsatisfied customers taking to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share thoughts, feedback and pictures. It can contribute to creating a buzz and demand for a product, but on the flip side can sometimes have the opposite effect and create a negative perception in a consumers mind – preventing a potential purchase.

Retailers should use social media to listen to and learn from customers and be responsive to their feedback, demonstrating a joined up service and attentive customer care. If queries are dealt with quickly and efficiently, consumers are far more likely to continue shopping with that retailer and spread the good word.

Connected channels and availability of products

With customers expecting to be able to shop when, where and how they chose, it’s important that sales channels are integrated for a seamless experience, which ever channel a customer choses to shop via. This should extend to consistency of pricing and promotions across channels, so consumers aren’t pushed to search online for the best deals.

Retail systems should be linked into all inventory locations across the retail estate – both in the warehouse and throughout the stores – so sales assistants are able to interrogate systems and identify if a desired product is in stock elsewhere, if not within that store. This way, a purchase can be completed then and there, without a product present, resulting in a guaranteed sale, consistency of availability and happy customer.

Customer service

Staff need to be armed with knowledge and access to technology that enables them to be helpful and deliver against customer demands. When they are unable to answer a question surrounding stock and its availability this often causes frustration for the both the customer and sales assistant.

Mobile PoS connected to a retailer’s network enables an abundance of functionality that a lone sales assistant isn’t capable of delivering, from product data in the form of information and videos, transactions on the spot, connection to the online channel, visibility of stock across the retail estate and much more – enabling a sleeker and all-round more pleasurable experience.

Supply chain

Finally, an agile supply chain is required to manage the transportation of stock across the retail estate and directly to customers, so the availability of products is consistent across all channels.

Every person through the door is a potential opportunity, but retailers must offer a service that delivers consistency and convenience across the board to maximise sales and create an environment that consumers can rely on and trust, without having to over-consider every purchase made.