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

Morrisons invests in its staff – but in the right way?

Savvy retailers will already know just how important its staff are to their success. As the faces to their name, it’s essential that the happiness of the workforce is prioritised.

Morrisons is certainly attempting to do this with its latest move, which will see the supermarket chain invest a huge £30 million into facilities for its staff. Not only will this include a décor revamp, but employees will be treated to perks like subsidised coffee.

However, the change that is likely to result in the most enthusiasm from its workers is to wages. Employee benefits and pay is a hot topic right now, as retailers prepare the implement the new National Living Wage in April. And Morrisons is staying ahead of the curve on this one, promising its 90,000 staff a 20% pay rise to £8.20 an hour, more than the expected £7.20.

This is sure to boost staff morale– much needed considering Morrisons has been suffering falling sales for quite some time now. But are the changes actually going to help staff do their jobs any better?

Being the ones who work in the stores every day, store associates are the only ones who can really know what needs improving. Yet, they’re often the ones who retailers listen to the least. For example, new research from Miura Systems claims that UK retail businesses are losing millions of pounds in sales by not listening to staff who’ve spotted a vital need to improve store technology.

Today’s shopper is tech-reliant, so it’s no surprise that this is a major factor in how they rate a store experience. Whether it be a speedy checkout service, or the ability to browse the web as they navigate the shop, consumers expect technology to run seamlessly – and it’s often the staff they’ll blame if it doesn’t.

So, even with a free cup of coffee in hand, it’s unlikely that Morrisons staff will feel very motivated if shop floor processes aren’t optimised.

Miura also revealed that 72% of retail employees think customers are more demanding than ever before, even asking them questions when they’re serving others. With this mind, retailers should be doing all they can to help employees in high-pressure situations. Arming them with tablets so they can check product information and stock availability quickly, perhaps, or placing interactive kiosks in-store to allow shoppers to serve themselves easily when a staff member is unavailable.

A further 80% of retail staff said shoppers put pressure on them to hurry when there is a queue. In busy trading periods this can’t always be avoided, but it can certainly be improved. A speedy payment process is absolutely essential here; as the final stage in their journey, this is the memory most shoppers will take away when they leave. Therefore, retailers must in the most cutting-edge payments technology to keep queues flowing – such as contactless and mobile.

Of course, this is no discredit to what businesses like Morrisons are doing. Rewarding staff with treats is a great way to show appreciation for all their hard work, and happy store associates tend to be more productive. However, this work will do little good to the performance of their business if they’re not armed with the right tools to keep customers happy too.

15 stories that defined retail in 2015

It hardly seems like five minutes since the January sales were underway, yet already we’ve reached the end of the year – and what a year it’s been!

Following on from our 6 stories that redefined retail in the first six months of 2015, here are 15 unpredictable tales that have shaken the industry across the entire year.

In no particular order…

  1. House of Fraser undergoes a customer-centric restructure

It’s already been predicted that 2016 will be the year in which omnichannel evolution results in infrastructural change, and House of Fraser is leading the way. In July, the department store chain announced a customer-centric revamp of its business model, in which its CRM, product and multichannel functions work together around shopper needs.

  1. Amazon goes Prime-tastic in the UK

If Black Friday and Cyber Monday weren’t enough, Amazon launched its own flash sale – Prime Day – in the summer. The inaugural event was hailed a global success, generating a 93% increase in Year-on-Year sales.

Read our blog: Amazon’s Prime Day highlights the gap between online and in-store promotions

  1. Argos ups its delivery game

Fulfilment has been a hotly contest battleground throughout 2015, and Argos put its stake in the ground during October with the launch of a UK same day delivery service, 7 days a week.

This went hand-in-hand with a reinvigorated click-and-collect offering, promising in store collection in less than 60 seconds.

  1. Marks & Spencer puts the Spark back into its loyalty scheme

It’s been a turbulent couple of years for Marks & Spencer, but its revamped loyalty scheme – released in October – may engender greater customer advocacy, by incentivising shoppers for non-transactional activities.

Read our blog: Has Marks & Spencer sparked a smarter way to increase loyalty?

  1. Littlewoods waves goodbye to its catalogue

For many consumers, the Littlewoods catalogue has been a retail institution throughout their lives. However, after 80 years – and earlier promises that it would remain a trading channel – the retailer decided to scrap its catalogue and focus on its online offering.

  1. HMV rises from the ashes

If you’d been asked two years ago to predict which retailer would be the biggest physical retailer of music in the UK in 2015, the administration-bound HMV would have been a rank outsider.

However, a renewed customer-focus strategy, better processes for dealing with peak trading promotions than its rivals, and a resurgence in the appeal of vinyl have all contributed to HMV’s fortunes flourishing once more.

  1. Lush inhales the sweet smell of success

Cosmetics brand Lush deposed insurance firm First Direct as the UK’s best brand for customer experience in 2015, according to KPMG Nunwood rankings. KMPG remarked that the brand’s imparting of product knowledge has been essential to its success, with several other top 10 retailers combining content and commerce to enhance the customer experience.

  1. Wet weather dampens summer sales

The UK experienced its worst retail sales since November 2008 in August this year, with unseasonably damp weather contributing to poor performance on the high street. Online sales did increase during the summer, but at some of the slowest rates on record.

  1. John Lewis starts charging for click-and-collect

Given that most of the retail industry is incentivising customers to collect in store with a free despatch service, an eyebrow or two was raised when John Lewis decided to start charging for click-and-collect orders under £30.

The retailer reasoned that fewer than 1 in 5 shoppers currently make click-and-collect purchases under £30, and it needs a more sustainable model for managing store-based fulfilment costs.

  1. River Island lets customers click and not collect

Continuing the click-and-collect theme, River Island evolved its offering in a different direction during November, pioneering a ‘click and don’t collect’ theme in partnership with Shutl.

The service uses Shutl’s on demand delivery platform to re-route in-store collection orders for home delivery, in order to give customers greater control over their last mile experience.

  1. John Lewis breaks the internet…but Sainsbury’s wins the Christmas ad war

When John Lewis released its Man on the Moon festive advert in November it was viewed so many times that YouTube’s counter froze for several hours. However, the department store chain was trumped by Sainsbury’s, which was voted best Christmas ad by Opinium Research for its tale of Mog the Cat.

  1. Black Friday falls flat on the High Street

The scrums in the aisles that were synonymous with Black Friday 2014 were not repeated this year, as the post-thanksgiving promotion was heavily weighted online. Retail footfall in stores and shopping centres was down 4.05% on Black Friday itself, while ecommerce saw a huge spike in activity that continued right through to Cyber Monday.

  1. The Kurt Geiger shoe fits another foot

They say a change is as good as rest, but when Kurt Geiger was acquired by private equity group Cinven in December, it marked the shoe designer’s third owner in just four years.

Cinven acquired Kurt Geiger for £245million. The company is known for longer-term investments – five years or more – so this could be the start of a new, consistent chapter for the brand.

  1. Customers get cross about connectivity

Poor in-store communications were revealed as a significant cost to customer relationships in a Vodat study published in August. Our survey found that a third of consumers have abandoned a purchase because they couldn’t get the information they needed prior to purchase, while 4 in 10 have left a store and sought the item elsewhere.

Download our report: why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network

  1. Despite tribulations, retailers end 2015 cautiously confident

It’s not been an easy journey for the retail industry over the past 12 months, but many are hopeful of a strong showing in 2016.

Improving economic sentiment and steady Christmas sales point to positive growth in the New Year, with major cultural events such as the Rio Olympic Games and European Football Championships set to keep shoppers happy – and spending – into the summer months.


How can retailers keep customers in store and engaged?

With recent figures confirming that retail footfall rose 1.6% year-on-year in January, its best performance since December 2011, how do retailers keep customers in store once they have taken the time to step inside?

Figures released by the BRC show that shopping centre footfall grew by an impressive 2.4% in the month of January, with shoppers coming in their droves to avoid the rain and no doubt cheer themselves up with a bit of shopping.

Whilst this is good news, retailers can’t rely solely on the weather to boost sales. They need to find ways to entice shoppers to make a purchase once in store, delivering an unforgettable experience that they will want to have again and again.

Whilst the promise of free WiFi and the use of mobile PoS is an enabler to get staff interacting more with customers – improving customer service and increasing sales, can such offers deliver the same impact across all sectors and retailers with varying target audiences?

It was recently uncovered at NRF that 18 – 35 year olds, known as the ‘millennial generation’ are not as impressed with the stereotypical in store service, as some may think.  What this generation crave is for retailers to be both inventive and joined up with their offering, with the expectation for store staff to be helpful and knowledgeable.

However, retailers need to consider their entire target audience, not just this one group. One thing all customers have in common is the desire for a better shopping experience, but individual needs differ, so achieving a balance of innovative technology and in store services that cater for all needs is imperative.

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.

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.



How are you communicating with your customers?

Social media has become a hub for customers to rate, slate and share feedback on service, purchased items and brands, as well as find out about the latest trends and must have items. But how can retailers use the channel to their advantage in the face of conflicting advice from so-called experts?

In any relationship, communication is key and the same can be said for retailers and their customers. It’s impossible to get it right all of the time, but if a customer is able to speak to a human being when they have a query or complaint and the problem is quickly resolved it’s likely that you will gain their loyalty and repeat business.

Customer data in the way of feedback, thoughts and demands is some of the most valuable information available to any retailer, so why not listen to and analyse it for actionable insight? The data available across social media platforms, if collated, can be used as business intelligence to add value to operations and ultimately deliver against and exceed customer expectations. Unstructured it may be, but its value is incalculable.

What are your customers saying? Good or bad, it can be used to make changes for the better, i.e. has a customer received a bad experience (online or in store) and is there an emerging pattern? If so, identify it and make sure that something is done about it and most importantly, notify the customer as to your actions so they know they’re valued.

As well as using social media to listen to customers it should also be used to deliver the latest updates, such as promotions, sales, competitions – everybody loves a bargain and social media is the perfect platform to promote this type of information and get everybody else talking about it. Pinterest and Facebook are great mediums for retailers to visually share updates of events and new seasonal ranges, whilst communicating the core brand messages.

It’s never been more important for retailers to engage, listen, learn and respond to what their customers are saying and social media offers a platform for retailers to be able to facilitate this. Customers continue to shape the future of retail and it’s never been more important to listen to them!

Maximising Christmas sales in store

As a customer, you can understand the frustration when you quickly pop to the shops on your lunch break to make a last minute Christmas purchase, tackling the hordes of people on the street to then be faced with long queues in store, or even worse, find that the merchandise is out of stock! Before you know it your time is up and it’s back to the office, sometimes empty handed.

So, why is it that after a year of planning that retailers aren’t any better prepared for the Christmas rush, ensuring that they are well stocked and that enough staff are available on the shop floor and on hand to help, armed with the knowledge and capability to cater to your needs?

Retailers need to utilise the customer and transactional data that they receive daily. Capturing and analysing this sales data would enable them to identify key trends in customer shopping habits, such as products in demand, so they can better prepare for the replenishment of goods that fly of the shelves. Special requirements for the sourcing and logistics of products in demand should also be agreed prior to Christmas, so when specific stock is low it can be quickly replenished to avoid customer disappointment.

On the shop floor, sales staff should be armed with mobile devices with access to product information so they can answer customer queries and provide additional information, also with capabilities to interrogate systems to check stock across the retail estate and if need be complete a transaction on the spot to prevent long queues at the till. This is also a great way for staff to interact with customers and upsell complementary merchandise.

It’s impossible to predict the exact future of customer demands and requirements, but ensuring that the shop environment and staff are well prepared for the Christmas rush will certainly result in increased sales, and ultimately a satisfied and repeat customer!

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!

Personalise the customer service with captivating technology in store

Customer service in store will always be the defining factor when it comes to customers choosing to shop in store as opposed to online, but how can retailers take this a step further than the shop assistant asking if they can be of service, delivering a truly unforgettable experience?

Other than consumers loyal to particular brands, the delivery of this season’s new stock simply isn’t enough to encourage new customers in store anymore.

The way that people shop is evolving and the store’s role with it; in the era of the smart phone, the store is emerging as an interactive hub. Retailers must change with customers’ buying habits and enable them to interact with via their smart phone.

Coast, Oasis and Warehouse have recently installed WiFi networks to support their iPad MPoS system roll-out. The iPads all entirely different roles, from transactional MPoS for speed of service and queue busting, to improved customer information and wall mounted iPads in the changing rooms for interactive marketing – displaying image and video content on seasonal ranges, specific products and special offers.

Customers in store can also use the WiFi to access the internet on their own personal devices, although the Coast, Oasis and Warehouse networks are restricted to the retailer’s iPads for security purposes.

To support these types of new and emerging technology innovation, companies need robust and reliable network communications, ideally, delivered on only one network for visibility of critical business data.

The devices themselves need to be secure and used effectively for mobile PoS, online connection in store, stock checks and to display visual content, all of which contribute to improving the customer experience.