There used to be a time when the board would set out its aims and objectives for a retailer and IT would then try and make sure the technology in place was, at best, an enabler. IT was a challenge to overcome. That’s no longer the case. Technology decisions are driving change; and with the new norm of omni-channel and consumer tech penetration driving the majority of retail growth, companies who can bring IT into the business at a strategic level are pulling away from those with a more traditional outlook.
Technology has become more than an enabler. It is shaping everything from business processes to in-store experiences. In other words, technology is finally driving and delivering the promise of brands. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the technology you choose will dictate how you operate, how your people work and how your customers will view you.
Just before Christmas BT Expedite completed a project with Fat Face which highlights just how important IT is in delivering on brand expectations – and how beneficial it can be to have technology driving change.
The Fat Face initiative was focused on a complete replacement of the EPoS system. As a project, it’s impressive enough in its own right; it was delivered in half the usual time (just nine months), and withstood the rigours of a record-breaking peak trading period in its first few weeks of operation.
The solution – what we call our Connected Hosted Retailer suite – covers a whole range of things including: EPoS (Store 6.3), Sales Audit, and Customer Relationship Management; a managed payment service, specifically designed to meet the PCI DSS standards; and an e-learning solution – BT View – an intuitive online training and messaging platform delivered through the EPoS.
All that is worth shouting about on its own… but the fact that all of this is hosted on a cloud-based platform represents something bigger; a step-change in technology’s place within the business. Fat Face now has a centrally managed IT infrastructure that’s fully in line with its needs as a business and its ambition as a brand.
Fat Face has bags of personality and a sense of adventure that runs right through everything, from its history (set up by two friends supporting their skiing adventures in the Alps) and marketing campaigns to its products and people (or ‘crew’ as they’re known in the business).
It’s the kind of business that wants and needs real flexibility and agility. It has to grasp opportunities as they become available and deliver the experience customers expect. That was impossible within the limitations of the legacy EPoS system. Change was a slow, costly exercise – and the company’s ambitions were being stunted by its technology. Multichannel retailing was a patchwork of different systems that ended up forcing store staff to jot down orders details on bits of paper before phoning the call centre to check for stock, or even using their own smartphones to place online orders for customers!
That’s definitely not the case now – and the benefits are being felt throughout the organisation.
So why exactly is this so aligned with delivering on the brand promise?
Firstly, people. Fat Face crew tend to be young and tech-savvy. So when it comes to using systems, they naturally expect the same level of user experience they get from consumer technology, in terms of accessibility and usability. The new EPoS is intuitive by design, with context sensitive onscreen help buttons to bring up instant step-by-step ‘how to’ guides. This helps get new crew members up to speed quickly, while simpler processes free them to spend more time with customers. The business has saved hugely in annual training costs as till training has been cut from 1 week to just a matter hours for each sales assistant. This also drives staff satisfaction as new people very quickly become effective members of the team.
Secondly, for a brand like Fat Face, moving quickly and grabbing opportunities is in its DNA. The new system means opening new stores is a much easier, quicker and more cost-effective process. IT resources and processing power can grow and shrink as needed. With less CAPEX required, there’s less risk and with no servers to support, lower planning overheads for new stores. As a result Fat Face is much more responsive – for each new store, everything can be deployed, or decommissioned, remotely. Having no need for on-site hardware also means that stores can be located in smaller sites such as stores in seaside resorts (there’s even one on Aviemore) or in temporary locations as pop-ups.
This ease of expansion breaks down borders as well. Crabtree & Evelyn, the first UK retailer to make the move to BT’s cloud-based system, has recently expanded operations in Germany and the timescales and processes involved were not that much more complicated than opening a new UK store.
These on-demand POS pioneers, like Fat Face and Crabtree & Evelyn, are likely to be followed by something of a landslide in the next few years as attitudes towards technology within retail organisations change and businesses seek ways to invest less while remaining at the forefront in terms of business capabilities. As a result, we’ll see IT being brought right into the heart of the organisation, with technology initiatives that push the business – and the brand – forward.
Posted by Josh Pert, CEO, BT Expedite & Fresca
It has always been one of the unsolved mysteries of the universe, something that our minds can’t grasp, the intellectual challenge that relates to the question: “What would happen if the indestructible force met the immovable object?”
Relating that thought to retail software and services, and coming fast over the hill is the indestructible force ‑ the move toward Software as a Service (SaaS). Here, we’re told that businesses will be able to simply subscribe to software as a service, and therefore be up and running overnight, much as one does with internet service provision, but this time related to business applications. It sounds attractive, the approach is compelling, it can’t be resisted.
However, on the other side of this hill is the immovable object, the traditional ERP (Enterprise resource planning) project. This is the implementation of software applications into the business, including the adoption of numerous complex business processes and the spreading of the vision to a wide group of people, in different departments, with different skill sets and conflicting objectives.
Today this really is an immovable object. Projects are run by documenting a series of business process blueprints, produced from a lengthy series of workshops, discussed and eventually agreed by a group of business sponsors. This lengthy and time-consuming process is required before the software can be used, indeed before the training can start, and it’s costly and challenging for all parties.
As we know though, you can’t stop an indestructible force, so there must be a solution. Perhaps the force will simply go round the object or maybe they’ll call it a draw and settle it through penalties.
At a recent trade show, I was approached by a former US colleague visiting the UK to see what opportunities exist. He wanted to know the name of the organisation that acted on behalf of UK retailers, considering industry trends and providing solutions. In North America the National Retail Federation is the body that does this, enabling retailers to debate their approach. We don’t have an organisation like this in the UK.
So it seems to me that the answer to our question is closer to home than we think, but it requires collaboration, something that challenges our UK culture. Clearly we need standards, and a body that considers these things, to make the immovable object budge a little! Then one of the challenges of the universe may have a chance of being solved…
By Robin Coles, Director of Supply Chain Consulting, BT Expedite