All eyes might be on Hollywood for the Oscars this weekend, but those in the retail technology business know the really big prizes are dished out in June at the annual BT Retail Week Technology Awards. We’re really proud to be headline sponsors of the awards once again – it’s our fourth year and it gets bigger and better every time.
Why are the awards important?
The awards are run by Retail Week magazine and judged by a panel of leading retail experts. They promote and honour the achievements of the very best retail technology in the UK. The event also acknowledges those who have invested to stay ahead in an industry which has gone through some very tough times recently, as highlighted by a raft of high profile closures since the turn of the year.
Retailers are passionate about enabling technology to support future growth and there’s a pattern emerging. Those that thrive have really grasped the nettle of technological change – and embedded it in the way they do business. Retailers that have struggled tend to be those with outdated business models (often those made irrelevant by the stunning rise of the web) who are unable or unwilling to adopt new technology fast enough or, more importantly, don’t adopt the right technology for their business.
The solutions are out there. The biggest challenge is choosing where to invest.
The choice will often come down to whether to focus on customer-facing technology that drives an improved in-store or omni-channel experience, or to go the way of investing in a smarter business where efficiency of the operation and the supply chain takes precedence to bolster the bottom line. Success depends on finding areas to invest in that match your business needs. It’s not easy, and that’s why it’s important to highlight and celebrate those companies that are getting it right.
Video: Watch Jennifer Creevy, deputy editor of Retail week quiz me about the upcoming awards>
What’s new this year?
Retail is very fast-paced and technology even more so. Just a few years ago, e-commerce was still considered by some retailers to be a sideline. Now it’s central. And just as technology and consumer trends move on, the awards themselves have changed to reflect the new retail IT focus. For example, in terms of the way customers interact with retailers, we have a couple of new categories this year:
• Customer experience technology of the year
This has become a key battleground and technology has a central role to play in creating this new “retail theatre”.
• Insight solution of the year
Data and insight has always mattered to retailers. But in the digital age, it’s the speed of application that’s crucial – we need to be able to use what we learn about our customers and put it into action there and then.
The awards are free to enter but you need to be in it to win it. The deadline is 15 March. So have a look at the awards categories and get your entry in now: www.retailweektechnologyawards.com
I’ll be there on the night and I’ll hopefully get the chance to toast the winners and celebrate the best in the business with you.
Posted by Josh Pert, CEO, BT Expedite
When the iPhone 5 was released recently, one of the big talking points was the decision not to include near field communication (NFC) capability. So is this a missed opportunity by Apple or a stark assessment of the technology’s prospects?
NFC facilitates contactless payments and data transmissions and it’s been bubbling under for quite a while. But it’s not hit the heights predicted for it just yet, with only 2 per cent of merchants globally equipped with NFC reader terminals.
In the UK its spread relies on retailers investing in new PEDs (PIN entry devices) and implementing/accrediting to the associated standards. As a result, contactless payments have yet to have their day in the sun – despite more and more card issuers now issuing cards with contactless enabled.
The biggest driver in retail at the moment is mobile. There are 1.08 billion smartphones out there, and over 38 per cent of smartphone users have completed a purchase from their device. So the phone is an obvious target for anyone seeking to bring everything – including payments – together in one place.
But in terms of in-store contactless payments, NFC may be the weak link.
“What came out from NRF,” explains BT Expedite product director Jason Shorrock, “is that NFC is NOT proven as the way to do ‘contactless payment’. In fact, the parties interested in NFC investment are now pushing it for media transfer between devices (you can now share photos, product info etc just by touching) rather than payments.
“The big debate was whether the e-wallet should be in the cloud (and therefore accessible to all channels) with the method of identification in the store varying between barcode, NFC, finger vein and visual recognition.”
There’s no doubt that NFC could deliver a more enriched in-store experience, but then so could QR codes or geolocation. For retailers, getting to know the consumer (CRM) and targeting them with meaningful data is of greater value at the moment.
Mobile puts the power of the internet in the palm of your hand, giving consumers the upper hand for product information, price comparison and deals. It enables you to transact anywhere at any time. So it’s more important just now that retailers ensure their website is mobile optimised.
What is clear is that, regardless of how payment is taken, all retailers need to have an in-store strategy for both customer-owned and staff mobile devices. NFC may not be about to come of age, but m-commerce is growing fast.
by Kevin Burns, Head of Payments and PCI, BT Expedite
OK, let me get a confession out of the way. This blog isn’t very glamorous. It’s not going to set the world on fire in terms of innovation. It’s not going to dazzle you with new, shiny toys. It’s perhaps even the dullest topic I could have chosen to blog about after my recent trip to NRF. But it may also spark a revolution…
With a prime spot at the biggest retail showcase in the world, astoundingly some exhibitors were presenting the mundane and unattractive. In a sea of glamorous assistants, the latest innovations and multi-million pound stands, were these people super-brave or super-crazy?
For those that noticed this trend, you can say: “I was there when the revolution started.” For those who let it slip by unnoticed or didn’t make the trip across the pond, I’m prepared to let you in on the secret. Amongst all the glitz and glamour there was a tribe of at least five or six brave suppliers, big and small, all demonstrating the latest ‘innovations’ in cash management.
I’m not entirely sure if it is being led by the growth of mobile in the store, a need to make the store as efficient as possible or loss prevention improvements but a cash management revolution is coming. Automation is the name of the game – automated cash counter devices are in, in a big way.
What these devices do is take money in (and it can be directly from the customer), automatically count and issue the appropriate change and then perform all your cash management for you – so no cash lifts, no banking, no z or x reads – your new cash management friend will automatically prepare the money ready to be taken direct to the bank. No one in your store will ever have to touch cash again. All those complex processes, all those Loss Prevention worries, all the time it takes your store staff – all taken out of the equation by a machine.
For the retailer it becomes an interesting thought – as you are not touching the money, you could get agreement with your bank that when the money is in the device it’s as good as banked therefore you could start earning interest on it at that point?
That’s not all; these devices also help you with your mobile POS processes. Anyone who has a mobile POS in their store will soon realise that the first time someone wants to pay cash, you have a problem. What do you do with the cash? Do you have to take the customer to the till, bypassing your fancy new iPad in the process? Are you resorting to a bum-bag?
Many of the devices on show could help solve that challenge. When a customer wants to pay cash, you walk them to the cash device, conveniently situated within the store, pay the money in and are given the correct change.
There’s nothing new here; we’ve seen these cash management devices hang around the fringes of the mainstream for some time now but my feel from NRF is that 2013 and the changes enforced by mobile technology mean this could well be their moment.
The downside is that, in the main, these devices are big and deeply unattractive. If you had one in your store you’d be so ashamed of it that you’d want to hide it as far away from customers as possible. It would immediately distract from anything your visual merchandisers could do to make the rest of the store look uber-cool. To be truly adopted, these machines will need a makeover to become slick and sharp, matching the new mobile technology that’s being installed along the high street.
Maybe in a year’s time we’ll look back and laugh at the prospect but devices that take the pain out of potentially the most complex in-store process, eliminate store loss and enhance the Assisted Service capability can only be a good thing.
Thank you for your patience while I got that out of my system. I promise, the next time I blog we’ll be discussing something far more exciting – maybe receipt paper, innovation in scanner technology or the latest PCI policies. I bet you can’t wait.
Posted by Mark Denton, Head of Solution Consulting, BT Expedite
It’s a tough time for traditional retailers – as the number of prominent casualties on the UK high street in recent weeks testifies. However, the National Retail Federation conference in New York the other week showed how retailers could fight back using a combination of design, innovation and showmanship.
It’s very apparent that online retailers are out-innovating the conventional high street. Companies like Amazon, eBay and Apple are setting the benchmark for both price and service – with 78 per cent of customers expecting the same level of online service from older brands as new online players, according to the Autonomous Customer research about to be published by BT. The same survey also tells us that convenience is more important than price for 1 in 3 customers.
For traditional brands to survive, they need to be as, if not more, innovative using the one advantage that they have over online – their physical presence.
Blending online and offline channels is an obvious one, to start with. A simple example of this is ‘click and collect’, which is proving a big winner with customers – all the convenience of shopping online but without all that parcel paranoia that comes with home delivery. But this notion hasn’t bypassed online retailers, with Amazon establishing handy high street collection points for customers who want to pick stuff up.
Physical advantage can still be gained by remembering that retail is, to a certain extent, show business. Brands such as Build-A-Bear create fabulous experiences that can only be had in-store. Build-A-Bear encourages online customers to visit a store where, with the help of a Bear Builder, they can lovingly stuff, fluff, dress and register the birth of the creature. And when the customer leaves the physical store, their bear gets its own unique avatar in Build-A-Bear’s online world, BearVille.
Even self-service is getting in on the experience design trick – with Costa developing a vending machine that not only delivers a decent cuppa but emanates the subtle smell and sounds of a coffee shop to draw you in. A simple and intuitive HD display takes you through a seemingly infinite number of caffeine and flavour combinations, before delivering a delicious steaming cup at the end. This is a clever combination of good design and technology – and would suit the office or the high street equally, without the need for a physical store.
Games technologies are especially strong on experience design too – so it wasn’t a surprise to see Microsoft apply Kinect’s gesture-based interaction to trying on a new wardrobe. Their motion tracking system enables the customer to swish around in that red dress or match it with the ideal bag or scarf without the need to disrobe in the changing room.
However, having created the ultimate shopping experience, it is so easy to fail at the basics – with queuing at the checkout one of the main things customers would like to see eliminated in the future. Aside from technologies like Square, which turns an iPad into a swipe machine that can be used by any wandering customer service person on the shop floor, the possibility of self scan, linked to payment methods on a smart phone, is becoming a reality. I can simply scan, pay and walk out of the store with my proof of purchase on my phone and a receipt sitting in my inbox.
So for the high street to survive, it may be a case of going back to good, basic and innovative design that plays to its physical strengths as well embracing the online world!
Posted by Dr Nicola Millard, BT Futurologist