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

How can retailers make in-store a more flexible shopping environment?

For every positive story in the retail press at the moment, there seems to be a contrasting tale of lesser fortunes. For example, Ocado has announced a first-quarter jump in sales, with average orders increasing nearly 17%, and weekly orders passing a quarter of a million for the first time. Compare this to the wider grocery industry, where profits are falling and sales are stalling, and it’s clear that more needs to be done to keep customers satisfied.  It’s not a just supermarket thing either; only last week, John Lewis revealed a near 10% fall in pre-tax profit.

What makes John Lewis unlike some of the other retail brands to have suffered a dip in sales is that they simultaneously announced a plan to drive recovery. The department store chain is moving their services to 7-day delivery, driven by the “need to reflect how and when our customers are shopping with us” in the words of Managing Director, Andy Street, as “customers increasingly want flexible shopping and delivery times”.

The fact that John Lewis wants flexible shopping as well as delivery is important. The recent success of Ocado would indicate that fulfilment is high up the priority list for consumers, but convenience and seamlessness rank highly also. PWC’s Total Retail Global Report 2016 shows 55% of UK consumers cite convenience as their main attraction to online shopping, compared to just 37% being motivated by price.

Bearing this in mind, retailers need to focus on making the store more flexible and agile, in line with shopper priorities. Click-and-collect has been the first hugely successful cross over service in this area; 60% of consumer report they have used it, and a huge 98% recognise the concept. This illustrates that, despite drops in foot traffic, shopping in-store is still an important channel for most consumers.

So how can retailers create a store environment that not only attracts shoppers, but also meets their expectations and encourages them to spend? PWC asked a sample group of online shoppers how retailers could enhance their physical stores, and better alignment of in-store and online services ranked highly. With this in mind, we would recommend retailers focus on enhancing three core aspects of their bricks-and-mortar business:

  1. Increase communication between staff, and locations, to streamline the customers experience

Poor in-store communication has long been a problem for some retailers, but improving it needs to be a priority. We know that a third of consumers have abandoned a shopping trip 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. The industry needs to understand that consumers place value on the ability to check online stock quickly (32%) and sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product range (40%).

Alongside providing training to empower their staff with all the information they need, retailers should consider investing in managed data networks to address this problem. Giving sales associates connected devices can improve their access to knowledge about the customer, as well as giving instant access to stock information, store transfers, and transactional capabilities, but these will only run efficiently with a robust supporting network

  1. Improve systems to reduce waiting times

Shoppers, rightly, demand the speediest checkout experience (35%) possible, and retailers know queuing times can have a negative effect on sales. Yet many are working with overloaded systems, which can affect not only payments, customer queries, and processing orders, but also core tasks including inventory. This has huge potential impacts on customer loyalty, with a third (32%) of consumers not returning to stores with slow service, and 1 in 5 being put off buying from that brand over any channel.

In response, retailers should review their systems and consider updating them, or even just increasing bandwidth, to avoid technical downtime.

  1. Invest in the customer across all channels, to deliver a joined up experience

PWC’s report clearly demonstrates that technology is as important in-store as online. A fifth of customers are interested in store WiFi (22%) and most use their mobile phone as an important research tool when wandering the aisles. Alongside this, many shoppers would like to receive mobile promotions in-store, be able to access loyalty programs, and make mobile payments.

With 3 in 10 believing the quickest way to answer queries is to look up the question on their own mobile device, retailers can better facilitate consumer needs by ensuring there is a fast, secure WiFi offering in place, and also providing independent technology experiences such as in-store tablet information points.

To find out more download our report More than words – Why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network – and how to fix it

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.




The #manonthemoon isn’t just a test for John Lewis’ ad team

When does the festive season begin? For retailers it was months ago, but for much of the public, the Christmas klaxon has been sounded in recent years by the debut of John Lewis’ Christmas advert.

This year is no exception, with the launch of its #manonthemoon commercial, a poignant piece highlighting the loneliness and isolation that this time of year can be filled with for many (John Lewis has partnered with Age UK for the campaign).

I’ll leave any critiques of the advert to the marketing experts; what I want to focus on are the consequences of yet another hugely successful initiative for John Lewis.

Ultimately, however they tell the story, retailers release big budget ads because they want to sell more in the run-up to Christmas. All being well, they should see a fairly swift uplift in online traffic, which will filter through to the store as well.

The challenge for these businesses is to make sure the beautifully crafted brand image showcased in their Yuletide commercials is upheld when customers reach the shelf edge – otherwise their overriding emotion is going to turn from awe to disappointment.

Christmas shopping is a stressful activity at the best of times, let alone when shoppers can’t get the item they’re looking for, they’re forced to queue for a long period of time, or they struggle to get questions answered by overstretched members of staff.

Now, I’m not saying John Lewis is guilty of any of the above, but generally speaking, customer experience in the store is an ongoing challenge for the retail industry. In our recent report: why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network – and how to fix it,  we discovered that almost half of shoppers have experienced frustrations trying to get queries solved in-store, and looked into the significant impact this has on long-term relationships.

What makes depth of service even more critical at Christmas is the fact that many consumers aren’t buying for themselves this time of year. As a result, they’re far more likely to be asking questions about the products they potentially want to buy.

Christmas isn’t a particularly loyal time of year – events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday encourage people to shop around for the best price – but a good store experience can make a retailer stand out from the crowd, and inspire a newfound advocacy into the New Year.

Equally, a worse-than-expected encounter can dampen the reputation that marketing departments and agencies have spent thousands (in some cases, millions) of pounds creating.

With click-and-collect purchases expected to soar to record levels this festive season, store associates are going to be under enormous pressure to serve time-poor customers in a satisfactory and timely manner.

So as the nation passes its verdict on Christmas ad season, let’s hope the retailers putting out these yuletide offerings have the network infrastructure to follow through on the brand promise their stories portray.


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.

Are networks about to become retailers’ next big battleground?

Retailers are always looking for the ‘next big thing’ to help them march ahead of their competition. Companies have gone (and are still going) head to head on many emerging trends in recent years – omnichannel, mobile commerce, in-store technology, to name a few – and it seems networks could be the next competitive battleground.

This insight comes from IDC senior research analyst Miya Knights, who spoke about the Internet of Things (IoT) at this month’s Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE).

For those of you not familiar with the Internet of Things, it’s defined as ‘a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data’.

Already we’re seeing retailers experimenting with IoT capabilities. Electronics firm Darty is installing technical help buttons into customers’ homes; John Lewis crowned geo-location technology start-up Localz the inaugural winner of its JLAB scheme; Zara and American Apparel are successfully using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in their respective supply chains.

Over the next two years, more and more retailers will start experimenting with connectivity, both behind the scenes and to power customer engagement. IDC predicts the retail industry will invest over $500 million in the Internet of Things by 2017, and it’s important that this investment is not purely on front end technology.

It seems obvious, but a connected device is only as secure and effective as the network it runs on. The more devices are connected, the greater strain this puts on a network. Therefore retailers must invest in the robustness of their data network for an IoT strategy to stand any chance of success.

Not only that, but business networks must be capable of adapting to multi-stage IoT implementations. In her RBTE speech, Miya pointed out that the Internet of Things can feel vague in concept at the moment, because we don’t know exactly how it will evolve, and therefore networks need the flexibility to adapt to these developments as they unfold.

This is an exciting time for retail technology, but it’s important that forward-thinking organisations get the basics right before exploring cutting-edge solutions. Data networks will be the foundation on which outstanding IoT experiences can be built.

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.

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.

4G – hype or alternative to fixed line internet access?

There has been a great deal of news in the national media and on TV about the launch of 4G services in the UK, particularly since EE (formerly Orange and T-Mobile) was awarded the first 4G spectrum last year, resulting in the imminent auctioning of spectrum licences to other mobile operators and download speeds potentially faster than fixed line broadband.

The question is; have we at last found a technology that will replace fixed line broadband services in business premises and at home and therefore negate the need for a standard telephone line?

Well it’s not the first time the telecoms industry has faced this question. It was also posed when 3G services were launched in the mid 2000’s, offering theoretical speeds in excess of the fastest service at the time. The reality being, that even though 3G offers extremely fast download speeds, few of us have ever experienced what the technology is capable of.

The main reason for this is, congestion on the networks, or put another way, the networks have been unable to cope with customer demand, particularly since the explosion of smart phones and tablet devices. As a result, actual speed is greatly affected by a user’s location and how busy the local network is, i.e. how many times have you been stuck in a traffic jam or at a busy event and been unable to get a reliable connection?

Most network operators are investing significantly in their networks to support 4G, evidenced by the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, and Vodafone’s acquisition of Cable & Wireless. So we can at least hope that the experience on 4G will be sufficiently better than 3G. With the impact of the investment in networks by the mobile operators yet to be understood and Ofcom’s aim in auctioning licences to achieve 98% UK coverage by 2017.

The reality is that we won’t know for some time whether 4G will be a technology that we can use as a reliable replacement for fixed line network connections – particularly in a business scenario.

As a network specialist, Vodat International continue to monitor the progress of 4G services as they are deployed by the operators and will keep readers updated on its progress.

How Mobile brings retail channels together

Critics are rejecting the idea that retailers are operating in an omni channel world; they claim that most retailers are still not even multi-channel, saying that they may have optimised their operations and communications through each channel, but not across channels. Mobile is clearly one of the ways in which retailers can provide a consistent, seamless experience to customers, almost regardless of the channels.

Retailers can use mobile devices in various ways to interact with customers and improve their experience, from tablets used in-store for mobile PoS, visual displays and online services, to sending electronic coupons and gift vouchers to a customer’s phone, keeping them updated on offers.

For instance, in store, tablets connected to the internet via WiFi are a great way for retailers to offer their entire product offering, where previously they could only offer a limited range. This delivers better variety and availability of products which in turn helps drive sales.

A great example of this is our recent project with Reiss, the international men and women’s fashion brand, which has introduced iPads across all UK and US stores with a new fully managed WiFi network, in a bid to complement its multichannel offering and give customers full visibility of its entire product range.

Mobile gift vouchers are a great way of building customer loyalty and enticing customers back in store. Typically, the best deals are available online, so mobile vouchers play an important part in customers feeling that they can also receive good value for money in store. A step up from this is using mobile for up selling, if retailers can identify specific customer purchases, a mobile teaser campaign can be launched to promote products related to their purchase.

Another method of delivering vouchers to customers via mobile is the use of push notifications. When a customer is within close proximity to a store, a direct message can be sent via short-range networks such as Bluetooth, with offers and discounts to persuade them to venture in.

A great example of the use of mobile technology in retail is the recent project with Reiss, the international men and women’s fashion brand, who has introduced iPads across all UK and US stores with a new fully managed WiFi network in a bid to complement its multichannel offering and give customers full visibility of its entire product range in-store.