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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

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OK the economy is coming right… but the real problem is the pack of velociraptors in your back garden. If you don’t fix them…forget the economy!

As the country slowly limps out of recession, we find ourselves in a very different retail landscape. The downturn obviously had an effect on the high street, but were the casualties really just victims of a credit-dependent business model, and an economy pumped to bursting point? Maybe. Maybe not.

For nearly a decade, “The Economy” has been paraded as the reason for the retail sector’s woes. But the new reality we’re all adjusting to has been shaped much more by the pervasive, here to stay, and I would argue massively more dramatic influence of the e-retailers who have spent the last fifteen years or more sharpening their e-commerce teeth – becoming a devastating weapon in the jaws of what is now a savage pack of predators…

I suggest this is really what is causing the challenges today and this is far more dangerous than an economic cycle.

The seismic change that they’ve learned to ride on has been driven by the massive social trends we’re all very well aware of. The way people and businesses interact is different now – social media has mushroomed, e-commerce is the norm, everyone has a mobile and wi-fi is the invisible link, and it’s going everywhere.

In this e-xx world the e-tailers are thriving by offering instant access to endless aisles, one-click buying, peer reviews, smart suggestions, no queuing, no parking hassles, low prices and home delivery so fast it’s almost instant gratification. It’s easy and time efficient.

Amazon is setting the benchmark here. It’s a genuine marketplace where browsing and buying is made easy.

For retailers with a more traditional set-up, that’s the real challenge, and it needs to be urgently addressed. With a voracious predator muscling in on your hunting ground, economic growth will not necessarily save you… so how do you respond?

First you need to adapt to your new environment. That means tapping into the expectations and demands of the e-xx world and making better use of the resources you have; take what people like about Amazon and incorporate into your own business model, while playing up the differences to your advantage. You have two weapons:

1. Omnichannel

We‘ve all been working on this. There are some startlingly good examples (as one demonstration of this working) of retailers getting store stock as part of e-commerce orders for same day delivery… Boom! One raptor down.

The learning here is that, although e-commerce looks like it all, suddenly the store has a role again… and e-tailers don’t have any!

2. The Store

It’s time to really leverage the store, from a stock point for e-commerce into something far more powerful. The store has two massive advantages:

  • an emotional buying experience that allows touch/see/feel. This builds a connection with the customer
  • staff – the customers’ hosts – helping, guiding, offering alternatives, adding a warm layer of human interaction to the experience… we’re all suckers for a good salesperson especially, as I’ve learnt, if you are one. People buy from people.

The key is to make it easy.

Bring the easy, visual, virtual world together with the exciting, tactile, almost visceral world of interacting with a product and a service wrap with human warmth, and value starts.

Make your store people a dramatic part of the virtual, visceral experience… provide them with the e-xx world and shape it around the customer and you may be able to fend off the rest of those blighters in your back yard…

The time is now. You urgently need to unleash your stores… if not, the economy may not save you. Now, where’s that copy of Jurassic Park?

Posted by Alan Townsend, Sales Director, BT Expedite


Retail + Mobile = ?

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Balance is important in relationships. When things get out of balance the harmony is lost and the relationship suffers. At the risk of working in sweeping generalisations, the retail industry is out of balance with its customers and the cause is easy to see. Looking back over the last five years, retailers and consumers have been going in completely different directions.

Retailers have had their hands full. They’ve been working hard on consolidation, cost transformation and efficiency. They’ve been implementing ERP systems and forecasting engines, upgrading their POS platforms, transforming their supply chains and providing e-commerce channels. They’ve been updating their stores, upgrading their networks, improving manufacturing processes and being more energy efficient. This is great stuff but when you get to the heart of it, it hasn’t really changed how retail works and the life of a store employee hasn’t materially changed.

Compare this with what the consumers have been up to. Smartphones, tablets, broadband, mobile broadband, Google, Facebook, Twitter. The list goes on. People communicate differently now (who would have thought that after the 160 character restriction of SMS messages were removed, we would voluntarily choose a service like Twitter that only allows even shorter messages) and are data rich. The transition of Google from a company to a verb is a strong indicator of how behaviours have changed.

OK. All of this is well known and documented to death. Customers are now highly mobile and informed so retailers need to give the consumer what they want – e -commerce, social interaction, richer information online, wireless networks in stores, better shipping options, apps, kiosks, customised promotions, seamless shopping experiences, to mention just a few.

And this is where balance comes into it. Customers want to engage with the retailer and have the social interaction that makes the process enjoyable, but the store employees just don’t have the knowledge to engage at the level that the customer now expects. Think of the store as a dance floor; the customers are all out there looking for a good time while the store employees shuffle their feet round the edges looking slightly embarrassed, not sure of what to say. Research has shown that customers are crying out for better service. So how can balance be restored? How can retailers get their store staff back onto the dance floor?

Simple. Go mobile, but as a retailer. Not a consumer. Then learn.

It’s not consumer mobile. That’s fickle, fast changing, uncertain. It’s not the old enterprise mobile – that’s clunky, slow and unwieldy. The new enterprise mobile is fast, predictable and secure. And compatible.

Imagine the opportunities. Your store employees, free to engage customers anywhere within the store and provide all of the services you have available today. Not limited by point solutions that do one thing, but with full access to everything with all of the capabilities that you need. And as they engage, learn from the experiences and adapt and evolve the processes and systems to better satisfy the customer.

It’s Retail. Unleashed.

Video: See how an integrated mobile solution can underpin a whole new retail journey

Posted by Mike King,CTO, BT Expedite

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Lots of retailers are wrestling with the challenges that mobile customers bring. But trying to meet different customer needs on a variety of screen sizes – from snug smartphones to widescreen laptops via touchscreen tablets – needs careful planning and design. We recently completed a project with The Perfume Shop that shows just how powerful a good mobile site can be.

As an increasingly important part of The Perfume Shop’s omni-channel business model, the retailer wanted to improve the customer experience on smartphones and create a consistent experience across all of customer connections.

The solution we designed, which was shortlisted for Best Mobile Optimised Site at the recent Drapers and Retail Week PayPal Etail Awards, is helping to get more customers buying on mobiles (with PayPal integration) and visiting stores (with location-based store finder functionality).

The mobile optimised site has only been up and running for a few months, but already The perfume Shop is seeing massive improvement across mobile, in both conversion and transaction rates.

You can try out The Perfume Shop’s mobile site here.

Posted by: BT Expedite  |   Comments  No Response

The recent Retail Week Technology Awards highlighted the vital role technology plays in enhancing the customer experience. And it’s not just restricted to in-store retail theatre fads or digital social trends. As our shortlisted customers proved, the right technology behind the scenes can enhance the customer experience by enabling programmes that impact the customer lifecycle and synchronise cross-channel brand experiences.

There were three ‘Customer Initiative’ projects up for prizes at the event, two for Thomas Pink and one from Liberty.

In the Multichannel Project of the Year category, Thomas Pink’s ‘Single Customer View’ project showed the power of creating one customer database across all channels. It’s not easy to do – but the benefits are worth it as the SCV acts as the foundation for a whole host of other customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives. In Thomas Pink’s case, leveraging the data from different channels by personalising and simplifying the customer experience has paid off, with signs of increased customer satisfaction, increased cross-channel behaviour and improved communication click-through and conversion.

Thomas Pink’s other award entry was for Marketing Solution of the Year. The retailer’s ‘In the Pink’ campaign was created on the back of loyalty research that revealed that rewarding ‘multibuyers’ for their Loyalty would result in incremental customer value, increased customer satisfaction and a positive impact on the bottom line.

The programme designed to tap into this insight, ‘In the Pink’ achieves a number of loyalty  aims – it thanks and rewards customers; keeps the messaging fresh and relevant; and positively impacts multibuyer activity. The result, in incremental sales alone, are way above the target set out in the original business case, with increases in average customer value and overall revenue.

Sitting alongside Thomas Pink for Marketing Solution of the Year was Liberty, with its ‘Retain/Reactivate’ customer lifecycle programme. Liberty provides a unique shopping experience and already boasts excellent customer loyalty. But the ‘Retain/Reactivate’ programme used the retailer’s multichannel database aimed to reach out to less active and dormant customers

Once again, data analysis was the starting point. The Customer Insight team dived into the customer data to identify customer ‘drop-off’ points. They could also see that enticing people back within a specific timeframe resulted in a significant increase in customers going on to make two or more orders. Off the back of this, Liberty undertook a hugely successful two-staged ‘We’ve Missed You!” marketing campaign which provided customers with various offers, depending on their current status, and resulted in significant retention and reactivation.  Best in class CRM retailers know that long-term sustainable profitability comes from the retention of existing customers, not just acquisition.

Both retailers are pleased with the results they have seen, and are already devising and implementing higher levels of CRM excellence over the next twelve months!

Tanya Bowen, Head of CRM & Clienteling, BT Expedite & Fresca


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