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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It may have been cold and foggy outside the BT Tower last week, but inside one thing was clear: in-store wi-fi is a hot topic right now.

More than 70 retailers squeezed into BT Tower to pick the brains of various product experts and mobility providers during a morning of presentations, discussions and technology demonstrations.

So what did we find out?

BT Expedite & Fresca’s product director Jason Shorrock kicked things off by outlining how mobile is transforming the bricks and mortar customer experience. The eventual arrival of  e-commerce as a mainstream for all retailers has helped change the role of the store, from a purely transactional customer experience to become a point of service.

In addition to using wi-fi to mobilise elements of the existing store experience, retailers are finding the key to success is identifying opportunities to generate more value from their two fundamental resources – human capital and floorspace. Mobile technologies create friction-free experiences for customers in store, whether that be through queue-busting in busy periods or providing staff with a live inventory of the stock room so they can provide better information to, and spend more time with, the customer.

One thing is very clear – mobile isn’t going to go away and it’s vital that in-store infrastructure is set up and managed properly – rather than allowing it to grow piecemeal. The benefits are material, as Julian Niblett former head of retail operations development at Boots UK, pointed out. Enterprise mobility can create real value through improved:

  • accuracy (mobile is real-time and paperless)
  • productivity (it removes tasks and introduces more automation)
  • management information
  • audit systems (by removing physical paperwork)
  • customer services (with staff on the shop floor more)

And all at a lower cost model by reducing stock investment and improving margins.

Which all sounds great, so how do we do it?

John Vaccaro of Mobilis Consulting and BT Expedite Infrastructure Services Director Eddie Dodds outlined the main challenges of managing mobile hardware, software and systems. Understanding the interplay of networks, access points and applications underpins the successful planning of effective delivery.

It’s all about the three Ms: measurement, monitoring, management. The real opportunity is knowing and reacting if something goes wrong – before it impacts the business. With so much now dependent on it, wireless is a mission-critical asset. So it needs to be brought into your existing systems and procedures with a central platform capable of managing as many devices as possible.

And that’s when the real fun begins.

Once you have the infrastructure and management in place you can throw your virtual doors open and invite some guests. Just don’t assume that your role as a host is to simply open the door! You need to spend a little bit of time getting to know your guests.

Carlos Gómez Gallego product management director at Aruba Networks described the different ways retailers are doing this. One thing was loud and clear: IN-STORE GUEST ACCESS IS NOT ABOUT INTERNET ACCESS. I’ll say that again: In-store guest access is not about internet access. The days of enticing customers to buy a coffee for some “free” internet time are over, especially as some of the behaviours that drove there were not always in the best interests of the retailer (anyone want to confess to sitting in Borders’  café reading a book you then didn’t buy?)

Smart retailers are using wi-fi access to capture customer info and to engage. They’re broadening the concept of a “session” to a “visit”. It’s a whole new channel with additional engagement and targeted marketing opportunities and the chance to learn from an even broader spread of behavioural and usage data.

Each time someone connects, you get information such as email addresses, phone numbers, time and duration of visit, pages visited… and with this you can start firing out personalised, targeted offers in real-time on their device – or even via in-store display screens running dynamic personalised messages. 

Watch highlights and hear from speakers Julian Nibblet (formerly with Boots UK), John Vaccaro (Mobilis Consulting) and Carlos Gomez Gallego (Aruba Networks) as well as and Eddie Dodds and Jason Shorrock from BT.

Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player

By Josh Pert, CEO, BT Expedite & Fresca

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Mobile device? Check. In-store wi-fi? Check. Let the benefits of mobility begin…

For most retailers, establishing a wi-fi network is often a tad more difficult than a simple plug and go set-up. But getting a network in place is just the first – and far from the biggest – challenge you’ll face if you want to grab the opportunities offered by in-store mobility.

Make no mistake, it’s well worth all the effort. Wi-fi can be  real-time. It can take stock management and customer service to whole new levels. And by plugging the gaps in data accuracy, it’s a massive step towards the holy grail of multichannel retail.

But to benefit from all of this, you need to understand what you’ve already got and know what you want – and then be able to manage it. Whatever your set-up you’re going to be faced with a plethora of apps, devices, access points and terminations that make up your mobile estate. And that’s before you even think about throwing your wi-fi doors open to the public, leading on to even more benefits…

First steps
Compared to a fixed infrastructure, wi-fi  networks throw up additional challenges around managing components  effectively from a central point.

This is a key issue, because you’re going to face a momentous job managing and monitoring all the various devices – iPads, handheld terminals, RFID readers – as well as apps, firmware and access points. For a large organisation this can run into tens of thousands of devices. And if you can’t bring all that together in one place to manage, you’re onto a loser from day one.

Retailers are finding more and more ways of using in-store and distribution centre devices. As a result, more and more are expanding their wi-fi estate. But given that retailers are increasingly carrying business-critical applications over wi-fi devices, you can’t afford to risk the infrastructure integrity.

We’ve rolled out a significant number of wi-fi networks and act as guardians for many of our customers. That means they hand over all the worrying to us and we keep an eye on things remotely, stepping in whenever there’s trouble on the horizon, and fixing it before it affects business. 

Next steps
Assuming you’re up and running with a wi-fi infrastructure, you then need to look at building the management solution. This involves bringing the end user devices into configuration control to provide the following functionality:

• software/firmware distribution
• remote scan to configure (allows devices to have software loaded remotely)
• infrastructure component performance monitoring
• remote management to provide help desk and diagnostic capability
• alerting and reporting

Which brings us back to the statement: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t monitor it and therefore you can’t manage it.” It seems mobility is all about the three Ms.  

 Posted by Eddie Dodds, Infrastructure services director, BT Expedite & Fresca 

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Almost everyone has one. You can launch infuriated fowl at devious swine with them. And they provide the missing link between virtual and physical worlds. The mobile phone may seem an unlikely saviour, but with the right technology in place in-store, it could give retailers a real edge.

The death of the High Street has been prophesied for a while now. Globalisation and the growth of online shopping have squeezed traditional retailers – and we’ve seen a raft of closures and changes on the High Street in recent years.

At the moment, experts suggest multichannel retailers have two options:

  1. jettison the physical stores
  2. jump on the showrooming bandwagon – and sell online

But there is a third way; bringing the benefits of the web in-store.

Because, the fact is, people still like to go shopping. The difference now is that, when they do, they expect to get all the benefits they’d get online – access to a full range of products, real-time stock availability, instant access to product information and price comparisons, no queues, quick checkout and multiple delivery options.

Mobile technology can give customers all of this in-store, while at the same time improving customer service and providing retailers with new ways to sell.

We’re already seeing it in action at retail frontrunners such as Oasis, which has introduced iPads and mobile points of sale to its stores. Liz Evans, the company’s managing director, explains: “Using iPads is a fun and more practical way of shopping. People don’t have to queue and can buy anywhere on the shop floor. They can also look things up online and take pictures of themselves when trying on clothes. We are making shopping more fun, intuitive and innovative. In our first week of operation, iPad transactions accounted for 20 per cent of sales.”

It’s not just customers that benefit from the “webification” of the store. Mobile devices also empower store staff. They can instantly get their hands on enhanced product information or access training materials, planograms and store dashboards. All in all it means they can spend more time with customers on the shop floor selling, instead of in the back office searching.

The tablets themselves can be fully mobile or docked in secure holders to act either as a customer-facing kiosk or a more traditional staff-facing till. And with intuitive ‘pinch and swipe’ touchscreen gestures now the norm – both store staff and customers adapt quickly to new devices.

Of course, the next stage will be sharing information between customer and staff devices. So rather than handing a tablet back and forth between store staff and customers, in the near future the shared experience will move between store tablets and customer smartphones, ‘throwing’ content or payment between devices.

The fact that you can access product information, check stock, order goods and take payment from just one handheld device, while roaming round the store, is also reshaping store layouts, with less need for great banks of tills. Instead we’re seeing less formal “touchdown points” dotted around the store where customers can pay and have products wrapped etc. The result is more stock and display space in store.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of mobile technology in-store we’re hosting an event at BT Tower on 24 October 2012.  The details are still being finalised, but we’ll have two high profile retailers as guest speakers, sharing their experiences, and our experts and partners will be there with a wealth of practical advice via our technology demonstration showcase at the top of the BT Tower.

Posted by Charleen Benson, Head of Consulting Services, BT Expedite

Posted by: Justine Arthur  |   Comments  No Response

What do you want, difficult challenges or beautiful problems?

If your answer is “neither, I’d prefer an easy life”, you’re probably not cut out for retail.

At last week’s BT Expedite and Fresca Retail Client Conference we had over 80 delegates from some of the UK’s (and the world’s) leading retailers lock themselves away for two days to get down to the real nitty-gritty of retail IT. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted.

This annual event is getting bigger – and better – every year. This year there were more retailer-led sessions, more technology demos and more user groups than ever before. We even had Kryten from Red Dwarf.

And there seems to be a little more optimism around again. We’re not completely out of the woods – it is retail we’re talking about here – but things are looking up.

Last year we gathered together like post-apocalyptic survivors, guiltily checking off the names of those who had gone under in the previous six months. We were in the midst of a massive economic downturn and all thought revolved around survival. So what’s changed?

Two things stood out: Social media and international expansion. It seems, like life, retail will always find a way.

The 40+ retailers who crammed into the first, steamy breakout session of the day highlighted this. During the session, Lyle & Scott’s Will Dymott outlined the brand’s website refresh and mobile focus, and ran through its social media strategy and successes. He presented himself as a bit out of touch with it all – drawing inspiration from the derision of his nieces – but it’s clear the success is no happy accident. Lyle & Scott has developed a ferociously loyal following – and there’s no great secret to it, as Will pointed out. If you’re going to get involved, get involved properly. So Lyle & Scott takes a very active part in their customers’ social networking. This takes in everything from organising Twitter races and underground music events to launching a Facebook commerce page.

More tips on launching a Facebook commerce page>

Designing for mobile e-commerce>

In the afternoon, another standing-room only session explored international expansion – with two retailers offering a different take on it. One, Aurora Fashions, has gone down the e-commerce route. The other, Aldo Group, is working through franchisees. Both have had successful years. Both have made mistakes – and have learned from them.

Five steps to successful international e-commerce>

And it was in this session that I heard about “a beautiful problem”. It summed up the whole mood at this year’s conference. And the nice thing is, we’re talking about the same old problems, but we’re looking at them in a different way. The world is no longer lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce out and crush you. We’re not automatically taking defensive measures. There’s a whole world of opportunity out there now – with no more difficult challenges, just lots of beautiful problems.

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