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At Fat Face, we’re no strangers to excitement and danger. A sense of adventure runs through the whole company, originally set up to support two friends skiing in the Alps. But it’s a fine line between the thrill of beating a black run – and the embarrassment of being air-ambulanced off the slopes.

When it came to our recent POS replacement project, we knew any mistakes could bring the whole mountain crashing down on us. And no one jumps in to rescue off-piste retailers.

It was a brave decision to replace the old system, no doubt; it was dead on its feet and in danger of toppling over at any point, but the project wasn’t without risks of its own. Massive benefits if successful; the very survival of the business at risk if we failed. And we had a timescale that looked impossible on paper and landing right at the start of peak trading.

Having come from the rather less adrenaline charged surroundings of Marks & Spencer, the POS project at Fat Face was a real eye opener. You tend to imagine similar approaches and processes on a bigger or smaller scale depending on the size of the organisation, but IT change projects in small to medium businesses bring with them a whole new set of challenges.

So, for example, in a large organisation you might have people whose full time jobs revolve around one aspect of the project. That’s not the case in a small retailer, where people have to be prepared to learn new skills, take on new responsibilities and push themselves out of their comfort zone – on a daily basis. That needs a real entrepreneurial mindset.

It doesn’t mean internal stakeholders have any lower expectations – if anything, they’re much greater as they have a lot more skin in the game. And with disparate and ageing systems, the requirements are often much more complex.

Similarly, there’s less governance and less large change project expertise in-house – so it’s vital to have a technology partner that you can depend on and pull in to help when needed.

And lastly, budgets are smaller and there’s absolutely no leeway. You might take a £m hit in a big company for going over budget. In a small company, you could bring the whole thing down. That’s a huge amount of pressure to deal with – and because it’s not a faceless “department” at fault, there’s nowhere to hide. You’re exposed and you’re accountable.

But, when it goes right – and despite a few late nights and scary moments our POS project went spectacularly well – there’s no better feeling. You can genuinely see the difference your work is making to the business, its people and its customers. And after a quick breather, you’re off looking for the next mountain to tackle.

Watch the BT Expedite Fat Face video case study: Cloud-based, omni-channel POS system designed, deployed and delivering the goods in just nine months

Posted by guest writer Leon Shepherd, Business Change & IT Director, Fat Face

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This year’s BT for Retail Summit was held in the motorsport-themed Whittlebury Hall, just a champagne cork’s pop from Silverstone. As they pulled in from the high speed High Street chase, what did the nearly 200 delegates get out of this two-day technology pit stop?

It wasn’t a rest, that’s for sure. Two days, packed with retail technology presentations, demonstrations, articulations and explanations. And, just as Formula One winners are decided by the tiniest of margins, everyone attending was making full use of every second at the event to try and gain an advantage when they rejoined the race.

The focus was on the practical, the here and now. So we had BT futurologist Nicola Millard describing herself as a ‘now-ologist’ while unveiling the latest customer loyalty research which highlighted the importance of reducing effort for customers. Then John Ryan, stores editor at Retail Week and Drapers, raced through a whistle stop tour of the best in-store theatre around the world, ending with “I have one second left…”

This ‘every second counts’ approach ran through the whole event. Even in between formal sessions – in the Indianapolis, Hockenheim and Hungoraring suites – retailers were rattling through a room full of technology demonstrations. Clienteling? Check. In-store wi-fi? Check. PayPal integration? Check? Cloud-based infrastructure? Check. Go, go, go!!

Every one of the delegates would have come armed with analysis of how the race had been unfolding and where remedial work was needed – they’d also have predictions of the conditions they’d be likely to face and an interest in what the competition was up to.

But what shone through was the collaborative spirit. The tone was set by our new CEO David Grossman, who kicked everything off by lifting the lid on some of the latest innovations he’d seen after a recent trip to Silicon Valley.

It was an event that was geared up for sharing as retailers got together to discuss experiences, solutions, insights and challenges. So Brown Thomas, Notcutts and Thomas Pink shared centre stage in a presentation on customer loyalty; Claire’s, Jigsaw UK and Jigsaw24 shared their web design experiences; PayPal and the Logic Group shared a vision of payments beyond plastic; WH Smith and The Co-operative Food Group explained how Elfs and beetles had helped stock shelves and serve customers; and Crabtree & Evelyn and Fat Face had an open discussion on the future of the store.

All too quickly, the pit stop was over and people rejoined the race – fired up for the next few laps. The brand takes all the glory, of course, but the IT, e-commerce, marketing, CRM and operational teams underpinning it are the ones really driving the business.

We’ll have videos, photos and presentations from the event available shortly. In the meantime, you can see the Fat Face case study video shown during the event.

Posted by Justine Arthur, Head of Communications and Campaigns, BT Expedite & Fresca

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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.

Fat Face crew member tries out the new EPoS

Fat Face crew member tries out the new 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.

Useful links

Video: Watch Crabtree & Evelyn cloud-based EPoS case study

Posted by Josh Pert, CEO, BT Expedite & Fresca

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