For a long time, whenever ‘the cloud’ was mentioned it was like it was something mystical. A platform with magic properties that would never fail. Retailers, especially those who have to run the IT, tend not to believe in magic and, being conservative in nature when it comes to stability, tend to believe in what they can see and put their hands on. It’s a shame as this has led to many retailers lagging behind in technology and spending more time being IT specialists and less time being retailers.
Then reality started to be applied. Some high profile failures in a number of cloud platforms meant that the old sell no longer worked. Service outages at Amazon, Microsoft and Google and a number of other high profile providers hit the regular press as they also underpinned key consumer services and the gloss came off the whole cloud story.
Strangely, this has been a good thing. With the mysticism removed, the cloud capabilities could be seen for what they really are. Superbly architected technical platforms with a focus on automation, scale and resilience or the same old data centre architecture wrapped up in a glossy wrapper. Underneath all of that lovely marketing is a collection of servers, cables, software, scripts, gaffa tape, engineers and blind faith that exists in every data centre (the big ones tend not to rely on the tape and faith but if you look close enough, you’ll find some). The reality is, it’s a blend of both.
The clouds are like banks, another highly relevant example. Banks are based on trust and when the trust goes, the bank will fail. Your average user cannot see what goes on inside the bank so you can only trust that if you put your money in, you will be able to get it out again. As we have seen recently, if you can’t get your money out when you need it then the trust is gone and you will move your money.
It’s the same with the cloud.
We’ve seen the recent impact on services from the Amazon cloud-based network (with NetFlix, Pinterest and Instagram very public sufferers) and the on-going threats to migrate. I suspect some companies are finding that getting out is significantly harder than getting in (just like banks) but they will all have the same problem. Who can do it better?
It all comes down to the same old question that IT has always struggled with. Do I do it myself or pay someone to do it for me?
If I do it myself I may not be the best, but at least I’ll know where the weaknesses are and I am master of my own destiny. If I let someone else do it, I trust that they have the best people, the best equipment, and the best processes that I could never afford. It’s the IT equivalent of putting your money under the bed or using a bank. Personally I think that this is good for the future of IT. It’s never sensible to get caught up in the hype of an idea without understanding what you are actually getting into. Once you understand that you are just buying a service from someone who does one thing that you need better than you could ever do it, life gets a lot easier. But the important bit about the cloud is the thing that often gets forgotten. The network.
So when considering running part of your critical systems in the cloud, make sure you put it somewhere with the best network…
Posted by Mike King, CTO, BT Expedite
Fashions change fast. What was once innovative, suddenly becomes adopted by the mainstream and is seen and expected everywhere — just like technology.
Retail customers who have become used to free access to Wi-Fi in coffee shops and restaurants now expect in-store Wi-Fi — they want to be able to check in with their email and stay connected to social media while they’re shopping, just as they would at home or on the move.
However, retailers have been reluctant to offer free Wi-Fi as customers have previously come to the store to see the product up close, tried an item on, and then gone online to get the cheapest price.
Therefore, a retailer’s dilemma is: how can we use Wi-Fi to further enhance the advantages of a store?
Enabling consumer’s Wi-Fi access allows retailers to offer a more interactive experience; they can engage directly with a shopper while providing a truly personalised experience. They are able to present customers with a virtual and in-store journey and increase loyalty with unique promotions, geo-localised offers, click and collect, extended aisles, e-wallets and augmented reality
It also provides customers with the chance to communicate with staff in that store, in others stores, or even their call centre.
It’s proved successful for eight of the leading Prupim UK shopping centres which giving retailers the opportunity to promote their stores, and highlight special centre events and messages to 118 million shoppers.
With 52 per cent of people now using a tablet or smartphone while they are out shopping, it only seems natural to improve their in-store visit with an interactive experience: are you going to be offering customers free Wi-Fi?
Posted by Ralph Hengstenberg, Marketing Director UK Markets, BT Global Services
We’ve just taken the first (pretty major) step in our technical investment roadmap with a brand new e-commerce site. We’d had a bit of refresh, design-wise, last year, but the new platform that now underpins it all has really brought the change to the fore.
Long before the project kicked off, we’d drawn up a hit-list of what the new platform should be capable of. Getting something stable in place, something that wouldn’t fall over as we continued to grow was a given; but we also wanted a genuine multichannel hub, and one that could be a springboard for an ambitious international expansion plan.
Top of the list, however, was getting an engine that would help us trade the site better. So what have got for our money?
In terms of the roll-out itself, it was a textbook project, delivered on time and within budget. This was no doubt due to the fab project team we had. It was all very collaborative and confirmed that we were right to go with a supplier who knew the retail sector just as well as it did the technology.
Behind the scenes, we now have a centrally managed online presence, with one central database. Previously, we had to manage separate sites for each country manually so there was a lot of duplication and things tended to not get updated. With a new French site on the horizon, this is going to be much easier to maintain.
We’ve also got a mobile site in the pipeline, to make things as easy as possible for our customers.
The redesign also means we have more space to showcase our beautiful products and, for a visual brand like Cath Kidston, this is absolutely vital. The new BT FrescaCommerce platform enables us to pull up products and promote them easily, with a simple drag and drop utility.
So for example, on the old platform our ‘Big Spot Dog Bed’ always appeared at the top of pages no matter what we tried! It’s a lovely bed, and any dog would be proud of it, but the fact is, we don’t sell a huge amount of them and we have so many other items that were never promoted. Now the dog bed – or anything else we choose to promote – has to earn its place on the site…
Posted by Amy Bastow, Ecommerce Director at Cath Kidston
Omnichannel is the word of the moment. But what does it actually mean? For us, it’s about delivering a consistent brand experience across every single customer touchpoint. And that means making it easier for customers to shop.
Make things difficult and people won’t come back. And the same is true for staff – make their job easier and give them the tools to work more effectively and they’ll be more motivated, more engaged and ultimately more successful.
Video: See suppliers and partners discuss the priorities and strategies that will dominate retail in the coming months>
Of course, it’s easy to say – quite another matter to put into practice; there’s a gnawing fear that the pursuit of genuine omnichannel could result in a real omnishambles. Having a strategic partner who understands retail will help avoid that. And this is really where we think we come into our own. From consultancy to software, delivery to implementation we’re confident that retailers can come to us and we’ll be able to handle everything.
Justine Arthur, Head of Communications and Campaigns, BT Expedite