Two strikes and you’re out

The store no longer operates in isolation. Walk down any aisle and you’re likely to see shoppers browsing their smartphone to check they’re getting the best deal, receiving consultative selling from a sales associate with a tablet computer, or paying for goods independently through a self-service checkout. But how efficiently do these technologies work in the bricks-and-mortar environment – and what’s the cost of a poor digital experience to retail stores?

Vodat recently commissioned research among 1,000 consumers for our latest report, Battle of the Bandwidths: Why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks, which reveals that many shoppers are feeling let down by the quality of digital services they receive. We found that more than a three quarters of consumers (78% of men and 76% of women) have encountered problems with slow running store technology in the past 12 months.

But even more alarming for retailers is the knock on impact on customer loyalty. Our research shows that while 30% of shoppers will give a brand the benefit of the doubt after experiencing slow running technology issues in-store, they won’t return if it happens a second time.
So how can retailers create a digital-ready store? Their number one priority should be to invest in a network that is business strength. Many organisations are falling into the trap of investing in software and hardware to bridge the online/offline divide, but failing to support this new technology with a robust network, capable of managing the increasing number of customer and staff devices logging on.

Our research has found that slow running networks are impacting the service shoppers are receiving within the store. Nearly all (95%) of the shoppers we surveyed have experienced network issues that forced them to wait up to 30 minutes for the problem to be resolved.

The strain of more technology being added to the bricks-and-mortar environment is already beginning to show. It is not only a matter of providing enough bandwidth capacity to ensure speed and performance; networks must be able to effectively connect all stores and other sites.

It’s clear that technical problems can dramatically affect consumer experiences. But for many organisations their biggest worry is that they don’t have adequately specialised staff to problem solve, either at a network level, or in-store. They know they need to invest in a resilient network and ensure failover systems are in place, but they want a solution that is crisis ready.

Alongside providing training to empower their staff with all the information they need, retail businesses should consider investing in managed data networks to address this problem. It is important to consider what level of support is on offer in the event of a technical problem.  By using a third party provider, retailers can tap in to their telecommunications experience and technological insight, rather than needing experts in-house. This provides access to support to resolve issues quickly and efficiently, as and when it is needed.

As retailers start experimenting with connectivity, both behind the scenes and to power customer engagement, it is vital they invest in solutions that are future-proof. Taking into account bandwidth capacity and management services will help create a network which is able to scale and flex as businesses and estates grow.

To find out more download our report Battle of the Bandwidths: why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks

Business travellers are getting younger – and demanding more from their hotel experience

When it comes to work travel in 2015, the image of an older man in a suit, placing his briefcase on the counter as he holds out his paper details at the check-in desk couldn’t be further from the truth.

The growth of virtual offices and cloud-based systems has liberated the UK’s workforce from their desks and created a new generation of travelling professionals.

Millennials (those aged 18-34) are now twice as likely to travel for business purposes than those aged over 35 years, according to new research by The Service Apartments Company, which in turn is changing perceptions of hotel standards.

51% of younger business travellers want high-speed WiFi during their stay – with 6 in 10 valuing it higher than good quality food.

Millennials are also more likely to embrace cutting-edge developments, with 46% excited about bring your own device (BYOD) concepts. Some hospitality vendors are already experimenting with such technologies; Starwood Hotels and Resorts in the USA, for instance, allows visitors to bypass check-in and access their room via a smartphone virtual key.

However, examples like Starwood are few and far between, as many hotels are not adapting to new behaviour patterns at the pace of customers demand.

The rise in younger professionals using hospitality services has raised the bar on technology-led experiences. Business Class WiFi should now be offered to visitors as standard in hotels, in all locations.

On the contrary, there is still great variation in the service today’s hotel visitors receive. Patchy internet signal is still a major frustration among Millennials, caused by vendors’ networks not being optimised to provide coverage across the venue. In addition, some hotels struggle to cope with the increasing number of devices connecting to public networks, leading to slow loading times irritating patrons.

Until hotels create a reliable and secure wireless network, it will be impossible for management to contemplate the implementation of next generation BYOD facilities such as mobile check-in. Wowing visitors with bells and whistles is all well and good, but without the right network support backing them up, these systems could easily fall down.

The key for hospitality companies is to get the basics right, give visitors the connectivity they crave, before experimenting with further services. A strong wireless network foundation is essential for customer experience innovation.

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.

Sales staff – the key to customer satisfaction

Wherever you chose to shop, eat or purchase something, you expect a certain level of service to be delivered along with it. New technologies are certainly changing the way that we shop, but they are simply an enabler of service – with good staff required at the helm of the business to manage the technology, service and ultimately, the customer experience.

New technologies across the retail estate can help to deliver a quicker, more effective and informative service, but what it can’t do is deliver the cherry on top – a warm greeting and helpful assistant on hand to help with your shopping needs. From sourcing a particular colour or size product to upselling accompanying accessories.

When technology fails to deliver against expectations it’s the staff that are at the forefront and have the power to resolve a situation, delivering the best alternative possible so the retailer/ brand reputation isn’t damaged.

The SMG Customer Satisfaction Index* revealed that staff assistance has the biggest impact on customer experience, with in-store staff behaviour having a direct impact on customer satisfaction.  Customers who receive good service are likely to spend up to 40% more than those who don’t, with the average non-assisted sale amounting to £21.73 and assisted averaging at £33.41. Without taking into consideration the amount lost due to customers walking out on a potential purchase.

Even in the midst of an online boom, the majority of people still choose to shop in store, which comes down to a physical interaction with the product and shop assistant, delivering a customer service that cannot be imitated online. Online channels will continue to grow, but it’s highly unlikely that the store environment will simply die out.

Even so, change is needed and the natural evolution of the store will see it become an interactive hub that acts as a showroom for consumers to view, touch and try out merchandise before deciding to buy from their preferred channel.

Engaging technology in store is the future, but retailers mustn’t forget its purpose, which is to empower staff with knowledge and motivate them to provide a truly personalised service through access to rich product and customer data, enabling them to answer queries and fulfil customer needs.

*Service Management Group (SMG), a customer insight agency, collected feedback on purchasing behaviour from 359,000 consumers, resulting in the SMG Customer Satisfaction Index, gauging the customer journey across the UK.

Managing the multi-tenanted pub

Pubs  used to function as a single unit business, typically owned and managed by a local that held the tenancy agreement. With this set up there was never any need to report sales data back to head office. Control of inventory was as simple as submitting an order to the brewery once a week – with the usual locals drinking their favoured tipple, it was easy to predict which drinks needed to be restocked on a regular basis.

Fast forward to the modern day pub, and you have a complicated network of multi-tenanted sites, all of which need to report transactional data back to head office to calculate the success of each tavern, with not only drink sales and replenishment to consider but in many cases food and supplies for a restaurant too.

On top of this, consumer expectations have risen, with top notch customer service expected, along with value added services such as free WiFi – long gone are the days when a mere fruit machine and pool table are acceptable entertainment for the night.

It’s certainly time that these multi-faceted businesses catch up with the times, along with their hotelier counterparts, and look to automate the transfer of critical business data with a business network that can handle the transaction of private data (payments transactions), as well as deliver a public network capable of delivering free WiFi, digital music and gaming (via the internet). Leaving the tenants free to concentrate on what’s important – the core business!

Hotels should capitalise on broadband services

The hotel industry could learn a thing or two from the retail industry, for which broadband technology is now a well-established fixture. The hotel industry is all about customer service and given that customer expectations are greater than ever, broadband services are critical to delivering complementary services and driving sales.

Primarily used to cut the cost of telephone calls, broadband networks in retail are now seen as the backbone for managing the store environment in a more dynamic way. Not only better connecting the retail estate, but delivering value added services.

On the private network, staff across the retail estate are connected in real-time, payments are highly secure and PCI compliant and the management of sales and merchandising data from the stores is used to analyse performance – with multiple stores and head office all connected via the network.

Operationally, broadband can also be used for e-learning, IP video and loyalty schemes.

On the public side, the network can support a host of engaging services, such as, media displays, MPoS, connection to online via a tablet and free WiFi services.

Free WiFi is now also expected in hotels and most importantly customers want good connection when using their laptops or tablets devices – especially when it’s for work purposes. The overall network service needs to be seamless and stress free so customers aren’t left waiting around to make a transaction because of bad connection.

Public networks can be used to deliver promotional content on media screens, better promoting hotel services such as Spa treatments and additional sporting activities.

It’s a win, win situation for both parties, with customers getting the most out of their experience and hotels capitalising on their facilities while delivering a more seamless service.