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IT services and solutions
  • 19 Dec

A Year in Highlights: Retail Assist 2016

Reflecting on 2016, it’s been a fantastic year at Retail Assist. Check out a few of our annual highlights: from customer news, to innovative events, we’ve enjoyed supporting our customers’ successful omnichannel retail and hospitality operations, across the globe, 24 x 7 x 365. If you’re interested in any of the below highlights and want to know more, just get in touch via marketing@retail-assist.co.uk, to see how we could support you. January As with the start of every year, in January comes our annual trip to The National Retail Federation’s BIG Show and Expo (NRF) in New York. In 2016, we identified top 5 technology trends in vlogs live from the Expo Hall, which you can view on our YouTube channel and below. So, did we predict it correctly? We thought the top 5 realistic technologies at NRF 16 were Cognitive Computing, Virtual Reality, Wearables, RFID and Changing Room Tech. Virtual reality has definitely become more mainstream with the introduction of affordable gaming headsets from Sony just in time for Christmas. RFID and smart fitting rooms were showcased in a real, integrated retail setting at our retail technology pop-up, Nexpo, which you can read about in the September round-up below. We can’t wait to see what NRF 17 holds! If you’re going to NRF and would like to meet up whilst in New York, please get in touch via our NRF page here. March Karen Millen is just one of our customers benefiting from smart stock management technology in-store. We went to their Covent Garden store to capture the benefits of using our Merret Tablet Inventory solution in action, which you can view on Youtube here. The flexibility the solution gives to store staff is invaluable. Without being constrained by fixed terminals or outdated hand held devices, still able to walk the shop floor and interact with customers, store staff can do the following through Merret Tablet Inventory, as mentioned in the video:Process Inter branch transfers (create, send and receive) Receive stock from the warehouse Progress write on / off transaction Undertake a stock-takeCarrying out these processes in response to real-time sales data, Merret allows effective movement of stock that is 100% visible and accurate, helping maximise stock availability by placing it where it is needed most. In this way, more profitable business decisions are made and actioned. Retailers can then fulfil more orders, and sell more stock at full price. You can read more about the solution on its dedicated webpage here. AprilIt’s all about our Awards win of the year at the SDI Institute’s IT Service and Support Awards, where Retail Assist’s Help Desk won the global Best Managed Service Desk Award! This was a well-deserved recognition for our 24x7x365 IT Help Desk, which sits at the heart of Retail Assist to ensure our customers in retail, hospitality and leisure can trade with minimal disruption thanks to greater IT systems uptime. The SDI’s annual Awards identify the excellence of outstanding service desk teams and individuals,…
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  • 12 Dec

NRF 2017: See you there!

As 2016 draws to a close, and the Christmas festivities set in, we begin New Year planning for the retail show of the year: our annual visit to the National Retail Federation’s Show and Expo in New York – NRF Expo. There’s just one month to go until NRF Expo, Retail’s BIG Show 2017, taking place from Sunday 15th January – Tuesday 17th January 2017 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in NYC. The Show brings great opportunities for Retail Assist to review latest innovations in retail technology, and network with faces old and new. Last year, we made short videos of our NRF experiences to bring you daily retail technology blog content; the most interesting and innovative retail IT solutions from the Expo floor, and our opinions on the top retail trends to watch. The Catalyst Delay Mirror, featured in our NRF 2016 video roundup below, even played a part in Nexpo, our pop-up store of the future held in London this September. That’s just one example of how technology showcased at NRF inspires us.Watch our NRF 2016 highlights here. If you would like to meet up whilst we’re in New York at NRF Expo, please get in touch with us. We’re looking forward to arranging meet-ups with other retailers and suppliers – just click here to schedule time to meet with the Retail Assist team. Make sure to watch our daily video updates, which will be published on Retail Assist’s YouTube channel. We’ll also be tweeting @RetailAssist with the latest trends and innovations from the Show. We hope to see you there!…
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  • 28 Nov

Are you coping with peak demand?

Whether your Black Friday sales period took place over one weekend, one week, or in some cases, 10 days, did your stores cope well with Black Friday demand this year? And are you prepared for the festive sales to come? On Black Friday, some of our customers were transacting around £1million per hour on average – sales figures that can’t be put at risk. This blog will look at how Retail Assist can help to improve your performance at peak times, to ensure a profitable Christmas trading season. Retailers know when to expect a sales surge, and so at these times, your IT infrastructure must operate consistently at 100%. However, downtime can affect anyone, even the most organised. Our IT services and solutions are developed with this in mind, for example the high availability of our omnichannel supply chain solution, Merret, and our 24×7 international Help Desk support, to keep your store transactions running smoothly. Venturing into the peak retail season, putting the correct processes in place is critical. Our Peak Trading Checklist is a great place to start. We developed this guide with input from leading retailers, in order for you to check off areas that encompass all aspects of IT store support.Retail IT Support: our Help Desk. It’s all about being proactive. Our Help Desk analysts work to reduce the number of incidents our customers experience, by identifying patterns and data trends, to prevent future issues from recurring. This might also involve identifying where costs are being incurred unnecessarily, and reducing the number of chargeable hardware call outs for example. Consumers now have the ability to transact anywhere, at any time – Black Friday 2016 stats show a peak of customers shopping from 1am! Therefore, retailers’ IT support must reflect 24 x 7 expectations. Outsourced service providers, like ourselves, can bridge the gap between in-house capabilities. We play a vital “weekend” or “out of hours” role for some many of our customers, working as a crucial extended part of their own teams. Improved systems availability, enhanced customer service, reduced overall service cost and, most importantly, increased profits, are all benefits to be expected of a well-resourced IT support service. If you’d like to implement our award-winning services, our retail project management team can manage the service transition end-to-end within months. Get in touch here for more information or to register your interest for our IT services and solutions.…
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Nottingham Trent University
  • 21 Nov

Thinkubator Challenge: The Future of Retail

Last week, Retail Assist had the opportunity to discuss the future of retail with bright young minds at Nottingham Business School, part of Nottingham Trent University, at the annual “Thinkubator Challenge”. Now in its fourth year, the event saw Nottingham Business School undergraduates and postgraduates, research students, Alumni Fellows and academics, split into thinking hubs to create commercial solutions for real business challenges, in just three hours. The retail technology focused challenge Retail Assist presented to students was: How can retailers engage better with their customers, in order to sell them more? As a retail technology specialist, understanding what consumers want from retailers will enable our own developments to align with future expectations. Firstly, students identified current issues with the retailer-consumer relationship, which were generalised in the following points:Consumers require help with choosing products – owing to feeling overwhelmed by the massive amount of choice. Consumers are frustrated when orders are not fulfilled according to expectation. Consumers want to see what products look like before a purchase. Ethics: don’t assume customers are happy to share their data and personal information, the opt out option is very important. Customers want to be involved with content creation; it is a 2 way communication between retailer and customer. Importance of mobile as a communication channel.We were really impressed with the responses from students, as value enhancing technology was chosen over gimmicks and short-term gadgets. Could these ideas be the future of modern retailing?The students pointed out that they are much more likely to buy items that have been honestly reviewed by real customers, and cited bloggers as examples of consumers rewarded regularly by retailers for their widely disseminated reviews. A “Reward 4 Review” programme would encourage real, everyday customers to review products, building up credibility for the retailer, and a more comprehensive picture of product popularity and why. The incentive for the customer review is that a customer who reviews 10 products for example will receive a reward in return from the retailer, e.g. a 10% discount. In-store mapping – It is sometimes frustrating in-store when you can’t find the item you’re looking for. You might have been browsing online, and know exactly what you want. An in-store map, loaded onto the retailer’s app, could direct you straight to the product. Better still, by scanning the product with your smartphone, you should also be able to complete the payment there and then rather than queueing at a till. Retailers will know where its customers migrate to in-store, and where the bestsellers are located. Future fitting room – This idea was very similar to technology showcased at our Nexpo pop-up event. The fitting room “knows” which items have been taken in through a scanning device, and can recommend complimentary products to the customer, which is an opportunity for the retailer to upsell. A swipe to like/dislike feature on the mirror will also enable retailers to know which items are popular and why, and which items are being discarded. The future fitting…
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  • 14 Nov

Black Friday 2016 begins

With just 10 days to go until Black Friday traditionally launches on the last Friday in November, shoppers are already taking advantage of early deals. Where are the best Black Friday deals 2016? Amazon UK launched ‘The Black Friday Sale’ today, and remains the first etailer to do so. Extensive discounts are available across all departments, with “double the number of deals” compared to last year. The online retailer said it was extending its promotions, which ran for a week last year, in response to customer feedback.Other retailers will be soon to follow Amazon’s early start: Argos will be begin cutting prices on Friday 18th whilst Tesco starts its Black Friday deals on Monday 21st. Debenhams will also begin the sale early, launching on Monday 21st.But with all the media hype, retailer backlash on margin damage, and so called “consumer fatigue” towards the event, why are retailers still making so much of Black Friday? Sales volumes over Black Friday and Cyber Monday make up a large amount of Christmas purchases. In 2015, Amazon (UK) sold over 7.4 million items over its week-long event in the UK: selling on average 86 items per second at peak time. Black Friday 2015 was also the largest and most successful shopping day for Argos in its trading history. Retail Week reported that both Amazon and Argos are increasing their workforces, with Argos recruiting 10,000 seasonal workers and Amazon hiring 20,000. In essence, retailers are still competing on price. If you can find your favourite fragrance for a third of the price at another retailer, what’s to stop you ditching your go-to department store in the face of a cheaper item? Consumers now have the knowledge, and paired with unlimited choice, this definitely gives them the power. Look out for our full Black Friday analysis after the event. Don’t slip up on customer experience during peak trading season. Ensure your stores are well prepared with our free checklist: download it here.  …
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Black Friday Christmas
  • 7 Nov

Black Friday demand: hype or reality?

The media does much to hype up Black Friday year on year, inflating the event as the end of November approaches. From spending forecasts of £5BN, to hints about the best deals, consumers can’t help but be swept up in the Black Friday build-up. But how far are the forecasts correct? Are UK consumers still buying into the Black Friday concept, or are they tired of the retail frenzy? Our Black Friday survey reveals more. Something that could damage this year’s Black Friday experience is the apparent mismatch between retailers’ and consumers’ perceptions of expected spending. Research for Retail Week conducted by Retail Economics shows that 40% of retailers are anticipating higher demand, but only a small 14% of consumers intend to spend more during Black Friday 2016.In fact, as the infographic shows above, nearly ¾ shoppers actually plan to spend LESS this year. Of the survey conducted by Retail Assist, just over half of our respondents (59%) are planning to shop at all. So, can retailers really sit back and relax if consumers are planning to spend less? In short, the answer is no. Black Friday is still a largely unpredictable event. Who’s to say that of those consumers “planning not to buy”, they might browse online or in-store over the weekend, and be tempted to make an unexpected purchase due to the lure of “unmissable” discounts. In addition, the vast amount of consumers logging on to browse deals means your ecommerce platform must be functioning at 100% performance to provide the best customer experience, even if those prospecting shoppers don’t convert. Black Friday will still be used as a measure against which retailers’ peak trading performance is tested, and judged by consumers and the wider retail industry. Make sure you’ve planned for Peak Trading. Working with leading retailers, we have developed a simple in-store checklist to make sure staff and systems are best prepared for increased demand. You can download Retail Assist’s free peak trading guide here.    …
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  • 31 Oct

Black Friday Survey 2016

Black Friday 2016 is hot on the agenda for retailers, taking place at the end of the November – from Friday 25th November and across the long weekend. Current predictions have indicated that online channels (especially mobile) are ones to watch this Black Friday: £5billion is expected to be splashed out over “Black Fiveday”, and that just accounts for online spend. In order to analyse the consumer opinion of Black Friday trading, this year 300 respondents took our Black Friday survey. See our full findings in the below Black Friday infographic. You can view our Black Friday 2015 survey results here.With just over half of respondents planning to buy something on Black Friday (59%), this is the same percentage as in 2015. As mentioned before, it may seem low, but this figure doesn’t take into account the amount of impulse buyers that could take unexpected advantage of “don’t miss deals” over the Fiveday sale periods. Although last year predictions totalled £1billion, in reality UK shoppers spent £3.3bn over the weekend online and in-store. This is the “unpredictable” demand, in the face of which retailers have geared up to prime and protect their ecommerce platforms, logistics and supply chain operations for maximum performance. Will 2016 sales top £5bn predictions? Time will tell.  54% of respondents are looking to take advantage of the extended Black “Fiveday” discount period, making multiple purchases across the weekend. Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales may also affected due to the event falling before the traditional UK payday. A massive 77% of respondents are set to be online Black Friday shoppers, which is an increase on 70% in 2015. The move to online has been reported on extensively in recent years, as the scrumlike fights in-store for discount TVs in 2014 have given over to purchases behind screens and virtual queueing. This is perhaps due to consumer frustrations and fears about a hectic in-store Black Friday experience. Did you know that 40% of consumers won’t queue for longer than 2 minutes, and 51% refuse to even enter a store if they see a queue? Increased demand means a busy store is inevitable, but making customer service more efficient should be a number one priority for retailers during peak trading season. Till down-time and queueing are preventable issues, if you have the correct support in place. Our IT Help Desk analysts are experienced in front line retail service, and understand the real impact of systems downtime at peak periods. Our 24×7 IT and technical support facilitates greater systems uptime at point of service, critical for any brand, any time of year. You can download our How To Guide: Preparing Stores for Peak Trading, here. Make sure to check out our post Black Friday analysis blog, for a full analysis and breakdown of this year’s event. If you’d like to use our survey results, please get in touch at marketing@retail-assist.co.uk.…
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Missguided Halloween Outfits
  • 24 Oct

Trick or treat yourself: Halloween spending

Money spent on Halloween celebrations is expected to top £300million for the first time in the UK – thanks to millennials. Market analysts Mintel found that 40 per cent of Brits expected to spend money on the spooky festival, showing that seasonality is evidently still a big win for retail brands. The figure rose to 50 per cent in the 16-35 age bracket. Twentysomethings are firmly behind the predicted growth in costume and party sales, with spending expected to be five per cent higher than in 2015. Let’s hope they don’t turn out to be phantom shoppers… October sales have suffered in recent years, due to consumers saving up and holding out for promised deals and discounts on Black Friday. The response from fashion retail has been to ramp up October spending appeal with a range of Halloween costumes, mainstream fashion pieces, and heavily marketed Halloween campaigns. With a shorter seasonal timeframe in which to sell, Halloween products are more likely to be sold at full price. Have a quick scan of the ecommerce offer of a range of retailers, and one thing is clear: Halloween is dominating fashion retail in a big way. Missguided’s extensive range, ASOS’ styling tips and H&M’s House of Halloween are all examples of optimised content paired with what consumers want, all in one convenient place to search.Do you think fashion retail has improved its Halloween offer in 2016? Last year, our research revealed that supermarkets took an overwhelming majority when it came to Halloween purchasing habits: 67% voted for supermarkets as their preferred place to shop Halloween items, over the 33% of people choosing fashion retailers. And in terms of the top Halloween activities: 53% said they’d be sitting down to a scary film, whilst 28% were going to costume parties, and 19% having a night out. Check out our 2015 Halloween spending survey.…
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  • 17 Oct

Black Fiveday

The countdown has begun, as the annual discount extravaganza looms. Black Friday, or more appropriately “Black Fiveday” as it has been dubbed this year, is due to kick off in just 5 weeks’ time. Here’s all you need to know ahead of the event. When is Black Friday 2016? This year the Black Friday deals are due to land on 25th November 2016, but the one-day peak is expected to end in favour of an extended Black Fiveday – Thursday 24th November through to Cyber Monday on 28th November. Recent research from Salmon has estimated that a record £5 billion will be spent across the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend: and that’s just online.What were Black Friday sales in 2015? In the UK Black Friday is largely an online event, with UK online sales up by 36% year on year to £1.1 billion on Black Friday 2015. This was the UK’s first ever recorded £1billion+ online shopping day. How should retailers prepare for Black Friday 2016? The main preparation will have already been done: ensuring mobile optimisation for greater traffic and usability, website high capacity testing, and deciding the all-important promotions. Retailers must prepare contingency plans to respond to issues during Black Fiveday, to prevent a negative customer experience impacting upon brand loyalty. Retail Assist’s 24 x 7 IT Help Desk is a critical service for our fashion retail clients, as we proactively monitor and detect issues before outages arise, and fix problems efficiently in real-time. Check out our free downloadable guide for Black Friday peak trading here. Omnichannel must still be retailers’ top priority, as consumers will demand a Black Friday brand experience that is consistent across all channels, with a full range of order and delivery options, to ensure they can really buy anywhere, at any time. Preparing for an increased amount of returns must also be a top consideration: as consumers expect to buy more across the Black Friday weekend, they will inevitably return more. This calls for a fully integrated omnichannel supply chain solution, with 100% flexibility and availability to fulfil, with orders returned across any channel (i.e. buy online and return in store, the bugbear of many a consumer). We’re currently researching Black Friday 2016 trends, so look our for our survey results and predictions soon.…
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  • 10 Oct

Retail project management: Nexpo

How do you set up a branded Karen Millen pop-up store in a railway arch space, complete with the latest in-store technology and digital integration? Answer: Retail Assist’s retail project management team! Did you know? Our internal team successfully carried out the end-to-end retail project management of our Nexpo event. This included the coordination of all technology partners involved, to install comms and network infrastructure, hardware, and configure our own software solutions to integrate seamlessly into the Karen Millen pop-up store environment. Here’s our Chairman, Alan Morris, explaining Retail Assist’s role behind Nexpo, and giving his insight into some of the technologies demonstrated in our latest Nexpo video feature on YouTube.For more information about our IT services and solutions mentioned in the video above, including retail IT outsourcing, Merret omnichannel supply chain, tablet inventory, retail project management, and Managed IT services, please visit the linked pages. Our other Nexpo videos can be viewed in last week’s blog. If you’re implementing new systems, and require coordinated retail IT support to ensure your project is managed to best practice, please get in touch. For more information about the scope of our retail project management services, please click here.…
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