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.

Are fashion e-tailer’s attempts to venture offline Missguided?

It’s a great time for online retail. Hailed as the most convenient means of shopping, ecommerce is in the midst of one of its most successful seasons yet – December alone saw a sales increase by 15.1% compared to the previous year.

However, it seems that this level of success isn’t quite enough for some retailers; in a bid to grow even further, they’re looking offline too. Fashion e-tailer Missguided recently announced plans to open its first store in the UK, and it’s not the only one – the likes of Boohoo and Fabletics have also taken their first steps into bricks-and-mortar.

And who can blame them? News headlines about the death of the high street are fast becoming replaced with success stories. Services such as click-and-collect are providing stores with a new lease of life, with John Lewis being the latest retailer to praise the shopping method’s contribution to its strong festive trading figures. Meanwhile, some are even calling out for store opening hours to be extended, with 64% of retail workers in London supporting longer trading on Sundays.

So yes, heading to the High Street offers great potential for an online retailer. But there some things to factor in if they wish to replicate the great customer experience they create on the web.

Unlike ecommerce, the store has a helping hand in converting sales: staff. Personal service is something that gives bricks-and-mortar an edge over online shopping, so it’s essential that retailers make the most of this opportunity.

Offering great bricks-and-mortar customer service relies on the retailer’s ability to give consumers the same informative experience as their digital platforms provide. Yet, we recently found that 43% of shoppers voiced frustrations with inconsistent answers from staff. In order to address these communication challenges in-store, some leading retailers are equipping staff with tablets. This way they’ll have access to product information and stock availability at the swipe of a finger, making it far more likely that they can address customer queries.

This is especially important at a time when most shoppers enter the store with some level of product knowledge. Recent research from omnichannel retail specialist iVend Retail revealed that 68% of European consumers will research online before visiting a store – and clued up customers expect far more from retailers. These shoppers have already done their research, and just want to touch or try the item before committing to a purchase. In this case, staff members are far more likely to be faced with technical queries regarding the item, rather than general product information. In this case, a tablet device will prove even more valuable to your staff – they can’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of every store product on their own after all.

And not all shoppers restrict their online research to the comfort of their own homes. Instead, many are relying on their mobile devices to have a quick browse in-store, either for more product knowledge or to compare it with those available from other retailers. During the festive period alone, 41% of shoppers ‘showroomed’ when buying gifts in-store.

This shopper desire to use mobile in-store, combined with staff usage of tablets, means more devices devices than ever are connecting to store networks. Retailers that have not invested well enough in their network may be faced with a whole host of issues; slow running technology, intermittent connections and, in the worst case, complete connectivity blackouts. Not only will this be extremely frustrating to those working at the business, but most importantly, customers will be left disappointed too. Then, all the good work that retailers have done to blend their store and online experiences will be completely undone.

The battle for consistency between online and bricks-and-mortar shopping has been raging for years, and retailers like Missguided must tread carefully to ensure their in-person experience lives up to the digital hype. Much attention will have been paid to the marketing, store layout and such like, but it’s the network underpinning their store that will define their ability to deliver what customers want.

 

 

 

Make better communication your store’s New Year’s resolution

There’s no doubt that online retail has had its fair share of flattering headlines this year. Hailed as the speediest, most convenient way to shop, it’s getting harder for bricks-and-mortar to compete.

However, there is something that the store can triumph in – and that’s personal service. While it may be easy to drop a few products into an online basket, the advice and expertise of knowledgeable in-store staff is something that can’t be matched.

Yet, it seems that 2015 may not have been the store’s finest hour. Our own research showed that there’s still much work to do to perfect the in-store experience:

  • 37% of shoppers hate receiving inconsistent answers from staff
  • 30% of consumers have abandoned a purchase because staff couldn’t answer their question
  • 5 minutes is the maximum time customers will wait for a query to be answered before leaving the store

That leaves retailers with a very short window of time to wow the shopper. If they don’t do just that, they risk losing a once loyal customer – one who will no doubt share their negative experience with family and friends.

However, with a New Year comes a new chance to change bad habits. So why not make 2016 the year to perfect your in-store service? It all starts with giving your staff the tools to succeed:

Invest in training

60% of customers believe knowledgeable staff deliver better customer service. Yet, with changing layouts, new products and time-sensitive offers to contend with, it’s no wonder that your workforce may be left confused. Communication is key here; ensure each member of staff is briefed at the start of their shift, alerting them to anything that may have changed since they were last there.

Implement tablets

21% of shoppers want sales associates to be given point of sale technology. And, it’s a request that will make life a lot easier for your staff. Allowing them to walk the floor with a tablet in hand, ensures they will always be ready for that tricky customer question. They’ll be able to check things such as product information and stock availability at the touch of a button, before finalising the purchase with a speedy payment.

Empower customers

22% of consumers would like to see more digital information points in store. There are a number of reasons why your staff might be unavailable for customer queries – whether the queue is too long or they’re locating an order, for example. The point is, sometimes a shortage of sales associates to give a helping hand is out of your control. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that shoppers can help themselves if need be. In-store kiosks are idea, as it presents shoppers with an alternative information source when a staff member isn’t free.

Competing with the fast-growing world of ecommerce is no easy job for stores, certainly if they don’t have the right toolkit to support them. And, of course, implementing the above suggestions will help get 2016 off to a promising start – but without a reliable WiFi connection, your New Year’s resolution for a better store experience will soon be broken.

For more information about successful in-store communication, read our report – ‘Why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network.’

Is retail ready for the mobile-obsessed shopper’s rise to power?

123: that’s the number of times the average 17-25 year-old checks their iPhone every single day. To put this into context, that’s 30 times more than 26-35 year-olds, and a whopping 86 times more than those aged 55+, according to the latest Kantar data.

This information is not surprising – we all know the younger generations are glued to their phones most of the time – but it does beg the question as to whether retailers are listening to such statistics?

Right now, it doesn’t matter too much on the whole, because older shoppers are those with the greatest disposable income. Last year, the average 30-49 year-old could enjoy up to £1,400 to spend on goods and services each month, compared to around £100 for the 18-30s.

However, today’s tech-obsessed shoppers are tomorrow’s young professionals, and today’s young professionals are tomorrow’s high flyers. And when their disposable income starts to grow, they’re going to be just as (if not even more) affiliated to their mobile device.

To capture this audience when they reach their most profitable, retailers need to be creating a mobile-first strategy today, which puts in place the foundations for effectively reaching customers via this ever-growing channel.

Some companies already are; Walmart recently announced the launch of an SMS service, which sends shoppers verbal directions through their smartphone to the item they’re trying to find. They can then text the word ‘chat’ to receive one-to-one customer service.

Others are beginning to incorporate mobile into their outbound marketing strategy. Just this week, Pizza Hut launched a number of ‘smart restaurants’ in mainland China, which uses iBeacon technology to beam coupons, special offers and competitions to patrons’ devices.

But there is one absolutely fundamental component to any mobile-based retail and hospitality strategy, and that’s the network. To connect with customers, customers first must be able to connect – and this means having a robust, secure public Wi-Fi connection.

Free Wi-Fi is still not a universal concept in UK retail, so a huge step forward must be taken by the industry if we want to truly engage with shoppers across the devices that have come to dominate their lives.

Until consumers are able to get online in-store in a frictionless manner, retailers are missing an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with them. This needs to be addressed as a priority, before Millennials grow up to become the country’s biggest spending group, or the chance to drive mobile revenue could slip through companies’ fingers.

Argos is smart to start trading-up customers’ old tech

I wonder how many unused gadgets the average person has lying around their home? The pace of technological change is such that I suspect most households have at least one previous generation smartphone or tablet in a drawer somewhere.

In fact, the UK as a whole has about £1 billion worth of retired tech tucked away, according to electronic equipment recycle firm, Wrap. And Argos has become the first retailer smart enough to capitalise on this opportunity, by teaming up with Wrap and inviting consumers to trade in out-of-date digital items at their stores.

This seems like a win-win scheme; shoppers get Argos vouchers in return, which they can use to get the latest generation gadget, and they don’t have to dispose of the item themselves; the retailer gets additional custom and some positive publicity; Wrap gets lots more lovely devices to reuse or recycle, reducing the electronics industry’s contribution to UK landfill.

It’s surprising that a scheme like this hasn’t been piloted before – at least, not on the scale of what Argos is planning – but I guess this must be down to the financial, logistical and promotional investment needed to make it a success. However, those who haven’t boldly gone down this route may not realise how clever Argos is being, aligning itself with a technology recycling scheme.

Argos has undergone a major strategic overhaul over the last 12-18 months to reposition itself as a digital-first company (including the launch of a digital concept store on London’s Old Street), and this latest move brings customers into its tech-savvy community.

The recycling scheme is sending out a clear signal: ‘because we’re a company on the cutting edge, we know that you crave the latest technology, and we’re going to help you make that upgrade in an environmentally friendly, financially beneficial fashion’.

Not only does this court custom in general, as the exchange of vouchers will encourage shoppers to make their next technology purchase with Argos, it attracts a specific segment that is interested in electronic gadgets.

These are the early adopters, the boundary pushers; the type of customers likely to embrace in-store technologies such as self-service order points, find them of benefit, and return to the store in future because of them.

So Argos is smart to start trading-up customers’ old tech – because this could well be the scheme that unites digital-first shoppers with their technology-led ambitions.

6 stories that redefined retail in the first 6 months of 2015

It’s hard to believe we’re already in July; where has the first 6 months of the year disappeared to?!

As we pass the halfway point of 2015, let’s look at some of the retail stories we could not have predicted on New Year’s Day, and the trends that are likely to shape the months ahead.

  1. The demise and (sort of) rise of Tesco

2014 wasn’t a great year for Tesco – and 2015 didn’t start well either, with the company announcing the biggest ever loss in its 96-year history in April. However, once incoming CEO Dave Lewis got his feet settled under the table, things started to improve for the supermarket chain, which defied analyst predictions to post lower-than-expected sales falls in June.

  1. Cheaper by the dozen

There’s just no stopping shoppers’ appetite for low-budget bargains; in May, the Local Data Company announced that Aldi and Lidl are now opening at least 5 UK stores each week – growing at twice the rate of the Big Four supermarkets – while Iceland and Farmfoods are also rapidly increasing their retail footprint.

Poundland is proving another unstoppable force, entering into talks with regulators to acquire fellow discount brand, 99p Stores.

  1. Apple Pay hits the UK

July is an important month for the UK payments industry, as Apple Pay hits shop floors and restaurant tables for the first time. Though consumer awareness of mobile wallets remains conservative, the fact that major corporations such as Boots, Costa, New Look and Nando’s have signed up to the service, indicates that the industry expects great things in the long run.

Read our blog: there’s a lot more retail & hospitality needs to get right before taking a bite out of Apple Pay.

  1. The £1 takeover

A pound can’t get you much these days: 1.3 Mars Bars, half a bottle of shampoo… an entire retail chain?!

That’s exactly what private consortium Retail Acquisitions paid for BHS in March, as Sir Phillip Green offloaded the struggling retail chain from his Arcadia Group.

Despite its name, Retail Acquisitions has a lack of experience in the sector, and its early plans include heavy-handed measures such as the potential closure of BHS’ flagship store on London’s Oxford Street. Watch this space.

  1. Retail delivery take-Uber

Uber takes the title of 2015’s most controversial company to date, with disgruntled taxi drivers in France and the USA protesting against the service within the last few days. However, it’s not just the travel sector that Uber wants to change; it has reportedly joined forces with the likes of Tiffany and Hugo Boss to pilot a luxury goods home delivery service for designer shoppers.

Over time, Uber’s aim is to combine retail fulfilment and passenger services, to bring down the cost of transporting goods – definitely one story to keep an eye on.

  1. Honey, I shrunk the high street

They say size doesn’t matter, but everything seems to be getting smaller in 2015. Supermarket chains have turned their attention to the c-store market, while another traditional big box retailer – Ikea – has announced its first UK foray into small format stores.

Even larger retail space is being divided and conquered; Asda has teamed up with Decathlon to launch a ‘store within a store’, while Argos will be rolling out a number of collection points within larger Sainsbury’s supermarkets.

Which stories have defined your retail year to date? Tweet us @Vodat_Int with your views.

 

Apple Pay: there’s a lot more retail and hospitality needs to get right before taking a bite

Like most technology vendors, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the formalisation of Apple Pay’s launch in the UK – and paid particular interest to which retailers and hospitality vendors will be first to launch the service.

Boots, Dune, JD Sports and New Look are early retail adopters, while Costa, KFC, Pret A Manger, Nando’s and Wagamama are all flagship Apple Pay candidates on the hospitality side.

Of course, whilst this has novelty value at the moment, there is still a consumer adoption mountain for Apple Pay’s advocates to climb. For starters, the function is only available to Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users – those devices equipped with NFC technology – so it will take time for earlier technology users to make an upgrade.

Also, the concept of mobile payments is still very young. Don’t forget, it’s only in the last 18-24 months that we’ve seen contactless take off as a convenient transaction method; and that’s using debit cards, a familiar means of paying for goods.

Speaking of contactless, this brings me to another point. The purpose of these emerging payment technologies is to make life quicker and more convenient for the consumer. Giving them the chance to use a niche payment service like Apple Pay is fair enough, but many retailers and hospitality vendors still haven’t perfected their current transactional offering.

In today’s customer-centric society, getting the basics right cannot be underestimated. Adding new payment channels puts greater strain on stores and hospitality venues – devices, data, networks, staff knowledge, customer service etc. Without a solid foundation to build on, businesses risk adding to a house of cards that could collapse at any second.

One thing we do know is that mobile commerce has increased significantly in importance over the past 12 months, so it’s likely that mobile payments will follow suit. While consumers are coming to terms with using their smartphones as a payment device, retailers and hospitality companies have a prime opportunity to refine their existing transactional technology, ahead of Apple Pay’s widespread launch further down the line.

For more payments insights visit our sister site, The Payments Network.

Welcome to the store that never sleeps

Switching off is not a concept that most consumers are familiar with. We’re trying to fit more activities, across more channels, into every single day. In fact, some would go as far as saying we’re ‘always-on’.

The Always-On Consumer was a term coined by Vivaldi Partners last year to describe the 48% of shoppers who go online multiple times each day, using an average of 3 devices and logging on from at least 3 locations, invariably engaging with retailers and brands along the way.

There are 5 types of Always-On Consumer:

Social bumblebee – extrovert, spontaneous, avid social media user

Mindful explorer – early tech adopter, minimalist, very loyal to favourite brands

Deal hunter – discount driven, listens to social media for tips

Focused problem solver – sticks to tried and tested brands, prefers store shopping

Ad blocker – ignores online ad content, mostly shops online for household staples

One thing they have in common, though, is the relentless pace with which they interact and digest information, not to mention the expectation that their needs will be met right there and then.

Because of this, it’s not just consumers that are always-on – retail stores must be too. The high technology dependence and low tolerance levels of today’s shoppers mean any interference in their offline encounters could result in defection to another, potentially more reliable brand. The store can’t ever afford to sleep on the job.

This so-called ‘interference’ could consist of a lack of goods availability, or a long queue at the checkout. Some retailers may claim these are inevitable experiences in the bricks-and-mortar environment, though, in-store technology enables store associates to smooth over such shortcomings; I’m thinking specifically of using mobile POS for queue busting and mobile clienteling.

However, these devices – and fixed POS terminals too – are all reliant on the store network, which underpins every element of the customer experience. Connecting devices is crucial to delivering seamless customer service. The disruption of store networks can cost retailers thousands in lost sales, while the damage caused to consumer relationships can be far greater, and longer lasting.

With this in mind, organisations cannot afford to rely on outmoded networks that are not optimised to cope with the multi-channel, multi-device demands that modern retail places on the store. They need a business-class network that can cope with high traffic, high pressure trading – across multiple sites in many cases.

Remember: the Always-On Consumer is an unforgiving being. Get caught napping even once, and these high spenders are likely to take their business elsewhere.

Is your store ready for the mobile shopper?

Fashion retailers are immersed in one of the most competitive markets out there. With constantly changing trends to keep up with, meeting customer demands has always been difficult to achieve.

Alongside this, retailers now have consumers’ tech-addiction to contend with. As new devices constantly hit the market, shoppers are being presented with alternative ways to browse and pay for goods – with fashion being the first stop it seems!

According to the latest research from the British Retail Consortium, UK consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to shop online, particularly when it comes to buying clothes. In fact, popularity is soaring, with smartphone searches rising by over 50% since last year.

While this may seem intimidating for bricks-and-mortar stores, there’s no reason why they can’t embrace mobile technology too. It’s very likely that most customers will be carrying a smartphone, so why not see the device as an untapped resource to help boost business?

Many retailers are already doing just that. UK shoe specialist Clarks has noticed the appeal of mobile to today’s shopper, and actually promotes the service to passers-by. Featuring stickers in their shop windows, Clarks urges shoppers to use their devices in-store to browse their entire product range online. This not only caters to consumers’ growing reliance on technology, it encourages them to complete their full journey in the store – even if their desired item might not be there at that time.

Some retailers are taking this one step further, creating mobile apps aimed to enhance the store experience. Ted Baker is a great example of this, finding a way to combine mobile and beacon technology to draw in more shoppers. The retailer’s Westfield White City store recently installed beacons in its mannequins, allowing them to send push notifications to customer smartphones about the displayed items. If the shopper has downloaded the Ted Baker app, they will be able to quickly purchase the clothing directly from the website.

However, before retailers consider launching an in-store mobile strategy, there are some factors to consider. For one, there’s no use advertising mobile services if their website is not mobile optimised. Surprisingly, Barclays recently revealed 70% of UK retailers have admitted they do not have a responsive website or an app in place – which can be very off-putting for a smartphone shopper.

Secondly, retailers must ensure they have a robust Wi-Fi network in place if they are offering mobile facilities in the store. A slow internet service will not only discourage customers from using it in the first place, but will likely open doors to complaints too.

Mobile offers a very lucrative opportunity to build stronger relationships that drive revenue in the store. However, retailers need to get the basics right to create a solid foundation on which to build impressive customer experiences.

What’s in store for stores in 2015? 3 retail game changers

Retail never stays still – if anything, it’s moving faster than ever. This year alone, we’ve seen growing adoption of click and collect and contactless payments, to name two examples. But what will be the major influences changing retailer/consumer relationships in 2015?

In our final blog of 2014, we’re looking towards the year ahead – and predicting what’s in store for retail stores next year. Here are our top 3 most influential trends:

  1. There will be more devices in the store

From mPOS tablets being operated by sales associates, to mobiles being utilised by consumers to showroom, digital touch points will become an even greater part of the store experience. This will place additional strain on retailers’ data networks.

Those who triumph will offer reliable connections for staff and robust complimentary WiFi connections for the customer.

  1. Technology will personalise store shopping

We touched on the store becoming a theatre of dreams in a blog post earlier this year, and this trend will most certainly continue into 2015.

Technology such as near field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth beacons, are already being piloted by major retailers like John Lewis and House of Fraser; this points towards in-store interactivity dominating next year’s marketing and customer service agenda.

  1. Reputations will thrive or dive on payment security

With more consumers than ever using credit and debit cards to pay for goods, data breaches could prove devastating to retailers’ reputations. From June 30th 2015, businesses accepting card payments will need to meet PCI DSS v3 standards.

As a result, the race will be on to upgrade current payment solutions and reduce scope for PCI compliance before legislation comes into force.

For further information about payments security in 2015, visit the Payments Network, our online community for retailers and hospitality vendors.