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Internet of Things
  • 20 Apr

The Internet of Things Part II: Next steps, and what it means for the retail industry

This is the second part of an idea that originated in last week’s blog, “The Internet of Things: be careful what you wish for”, exploring the impact that IoT could have on our everyday lives, and how retailers can tap into this technological phenomenon.IoT might be pervasive earlier than we first thought. And if Gartner’s research is correct, it’ll be a big revolution: they have predicted that 26 billion IoT devices will be in use worldwide by 2020. Last week, we touched on Amazon Dash’s automated “replenishment” button, which operates via an Amazon smartphone app and the home wi-fi network. Customers select stock products they want to reorder, such as washing powder, milk, or toilet roll, and when stocks get low in the home, users can press a replenishment button that automatically places an order of the item, which will then be delivered the next day. Of course, in the physical retail world this puts pressure on the efficiency of the supply chain. The need for clear stock visibility, real time ordering, and a highly mobilised delivery network is essential. With the right end to end omnichannel supply chain solution, this is the opportunity for retailers to provide an even better service to their customers. Personalisation is paramount. The sheer amount of personal data that our super-connected devices generate means that it will become easier to target consumers based on requirements. IoT is so intelligent, that it has the potential to even “think” the way a consumer does. For example, when a consumer is out of milk, their IoT smart fridge will detect this and send out the data via the home wi-fi to their connected smartphone. What’s next will be notifications shared with supermarkets via beacons, so that when said consumer walks past, the internet in their pocket – smartphone – will connect with it, and automatically display a price comparison advert for milk within their current shopping radius. For the time-poor but cost conscious consumer, this automated functionality is well targeted. The same goes for retail. If a consumer has been browsing online, and abandons their shopping cart, their shopping profile data will be stored and shared with the retailer’s in-store beacons. Imagine the next time the consumer walks past the store, and their smartphone receives a simple email notification via beacon technology, of the products they were previously interested in, and the option to purchase and select delivery. Once the “desire to acquire” an item has been sparked, that desire now needs to be serviced immediately. Perhaps smart wardrobes will soon exist: if a consumer needs to order stock items, such as jeans, or a white tshirt, they can speak out to their wardrobe to do so, and have it delivered in-store to try on, or to their home later that day. Reducing the waiting time between the initial desire and the purchase is essential, especially given the increasingly short attention span of today’s consumer. When there are fewer clicks between the desire to acquire and…
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Black Mirror IoT control
  • 14 Apr

The Internet of Things: be careful what you wish for

During a recent conversation I had on the Internet of Things (IoT), the similarities recognised between this technological concept, and an episode of Channel 4’s drama Black Mirror, sparked an interesting discussion about the potential dark side to the rise of automated technology. To recap on a previous blog, IoT refers to the ever-growing network of everyday physical objects, from watches to ovens, that autonomously connect to the internet and communicate with objects around them, and with us. The physical world is becoming one big connected information system.Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is a series of speculative dark dramas, based on how the world has changed, and projecting what might be to come; literally holding up a black mirror to our current society, and reflecting back worrying possibilities. The most recent mini-series, ‘White Christmas’, features an episode with startling parallels to IoT capabilities, with a human twist. In a futuristic world, a demanding businesswoman undergoes an operation to remove part of her consciousness, making a digital copy of herself which is implanted into a virtual body, called a “Cookie” (not data storage, but a back-up of your entire self). The reason for this is that the digital copy will then run everyday aspects of the real human’s life, from controlling the air conditioning in her house, ensuring her toast is cooked in the morning when she walks into the kitchen, to booking her meetings, and ensuring everything is “perfect”, in the same way in which IoT does autonomously. Thanks to the virtual copy, the human no longer has to carry out the little tasks, to free up her time for more “important” matters. Sounds familiar.During the episode, the darker view on the subject comes from the need to repeatedly torture the digital copy to become a slave to her “real” counterpart’s needs. Even though the Cookie is an artificial copy of consciousness, effectively a computer programme, the fact that it retains its human awareness whilst acting as the enslaved IoT controller raises issues. Though IoT makes our lives easier, is removing the “mundane” and “everyday” from our lives simply making ourselves less human? The “real” businesswoman certainly seems colder and more inhuman than her copy. Being “always on” comes at an obvious price. In addition, the episode raises the issue of security around IoT. In the case of Black Mirror, we still have a human, albeit a digital copy, actioning the personal aspects of her real counterpart’s life. Yet she sees everything she does, through multiple surveillance cameras. IoT doesn’t “spy” on us in this personal sense, but the amount of data it gathers definitely does. Security will become a big issue as IoT integrates more and more into everyday aspects of our connected homes and lives. So before you sign up to a button that automatically replaces the milk in your fridge when it’s empty, think about the points raised here, as well as the real-time, unique and irrecoverable human experiences that will slip by.…
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The Pud Store
  • 2 Apr

“The proof is in the puddin”: local independent retailer The Pud Store is taking the high street by storm

There’s a new kidswear retailer in town, and it’s expanding its high street stores at a fantastic rate in the East Midlands area. The Pud Store, set up by Rachel Mawby and Frances Bishop, sells an exclusive range of designer brand and boutique childrenswear at fantastic outlet prices. Featured recently in Drapers, and with the Drapers Independent and Nottingham Post Business Awards firmly in their sights, the ladies sure have successes to shout about. Given that Retail Assist began in 1999 working with high street childrenswear retailer, Adams, we wondered how much the business start-up experience has changed in this sector over the last 15 years. With the Future High Street Summit taking place in Nottingham just last week, to discuss ideas to futureproof the UK high street, we thought it was a good time to hear from a successful high street brand. Pud’s newest permanent store in Nottingham opened in February just around the corner from Retail Assist’s Head Office, so I headed down to Flying Horse Work to chat with Rachel about their success.  Rhianne: Latest high street reports unfortunately didn’t bear positive news, with store closures totalling 16 a day as consumers shopping online challenge the relevance of the physical store. But it couldn’t be more different for Pud! As you continue to expand your business, what is it that keeps the customers coming through Pud’s doors? Rachel: The response in Nottingham has been fantastic. We originally opened here as a pop-up on Bridlesmith Gate, which was a prime location to get us noticed and on the map as a new business. With a loyal customer base, now that we’ve moved to Flying Horse Walk, the boutique feel and more relaxing arcade location aligns really well with the brand. Unusually, we actually began the business online in January 2014, but felt that we needed a physical store in order to engage better with our customer. The brands we were buying in were relatively unknown at the time, so we wanted to put them in front of the customer in order for them to feel the quality. The unique in-store experience we offer at Pud is what we attribute our high street success to, as well as stocking some amazing brands such as Lilly & Sid (that we won exclusivity to trade over TK Maxx!), Bea Cadillac, Ben Sherman, French Connection and Converse.Rhianne: What is it that’s setting you apart from other childrenswear retailers out there? What do your customers really value about Pud? Rachel: You’ve got to really know your customer to do well on the high street, and we are designed with mothers in mind!Our feeding room has been praised as a bit of a haven, where mothers can relax and feed their little ones in a comfortable environment. The store is also designed clutter-free in order to allow pushchair room, and a relaxed space to browse. We’ve also had a lot of customers commenting on how practical the kids play area and…
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Retail Assist Easter Retail Insight
  • 30 Mar

Easter Insight: Will it be a retail eggstravaganza?

True to seasonal form, here at Retail Assist we conducted a survey ahead of the Easter bank holiday weekend, to find out people’s plans, and suggest how bank holiday spending could impact upon your retail sales. Here’s a Retail Assist infographic to show the results of our Easter survey:With the weather starting to warm up and more daylight hours to enjoy, the sunshine usually persuades consumers to venture out onto the high street to browse the new spring/summer collections. Or, if British tradition holds true, a sudden April shower might mean an online shopping session is more likely! 27% of consumers agreed that it’s time to change their winter wardrobe, trading darker colours and heavy knits for something brighter and more seasonal. Interestingly, over half of those surveyed (56%) would only purchase their Spring/Summer wardrobe over the Easter period if there was a sale. Today’s retail culture of “sale steals” and “bargain” prices can be detrimental to some brands’ full price mix, but retailers might use seasonal promotions to engage the cost-conscious consumer. They might even buy more full-price items once in-store, or when browsing newer collections online. In addition, the Easter break is usually a time when people start thinking about their summer plans. With a bit more leisure time to search for that perfect break, 43% of people surveyed said that they plan to book their summer holidays during Easter. Given this, it’s definitely not too early as a retailer to begin promoting the “Holiday Shop” trend. 48% admittedly said that booking a holiday would be more of a last minute thing, but that’s not to stop them checking out the summer trends. As a retailer, ensuring customer engagement with the brand should be a high priority, developing long lasting relationships and a loyalty that extends a single basket value to a lifelong one. Whilst you focus on the day to day running of the business, why not consider retail IT outsourcing? Busy trading times such as the Easter bank holiday are a good time to analyse the resilience of your IT systems and the support network you have in place. High street fashion brands such as Oasis, Karen Millen, Warehouse and Coast benefit from outsourcing their IT to Retail Assist, as well as using our Managed Services. Our specialist expertise means retail IT solutions are what we know best. If you’d like to know more about outsourcing your IT support to us, we have a selection of case studies that are available by request. Alternatively, don’t hesitate to drop us an email at info@retail-assist.co.uk or call our Head Office on 0115 853 3910.…
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omnichannel IT services and solutions
  • 23 Mar

IT services and solutions for real time retailing

In the world in which we live, it is becoming more and more essential for retail systems to operate 24x7x365, to provide a seamless customer journey for the insatiable and increasing consumer demand for an “anything, anytime, anywhere” shopping experience.As such, here’s a simple definition of some of Retail Assist’s IT services and solutions, and how they provide business benefits in terms of real time retailing. Merret Omnichannel supply chain Merret is our omnichannel supply chain solution, developed for today’s omnichannel age. Merret is a complete end-to-end solution, with a single stock pool, allowing retailers to maximise trade across numerous customer facing systems, and provide a seamless experience across all channels. In essence, it allows the consumer to shop 24×7, from whichever channel they choose to. Merret’s Weekly Sales Stock and Intake (WSSI), is a vital tool for in-season planning within stock management. The WSSI tool within Merret provides an accurate weekly position of sales, stock and planned intake, ensuring that crucial allocation, replenishment and pricing decisions are made, from up to date and correct information. Merret Tablet Inventory Management of stock with up-to-the minute data has overwhelming potential, because simply put, the most accurate information will lead to better decision making in the field. Deployed on tablets in store, our inventory solution allows greater efficiency of practices such as ship from store, which has been said to have the potential to boost sales by 20%. It gives the most accurate inventory information across the whole store estate, allowing store staff a real time view of the best method of fulfilling orders, whether that is delivery from the distribution centre, or from the store itself. Help Desk support Around the clock retailing must be backed up by equally reliable retail IT support. In real time situations, the losses incurred from a till system going down can quickly add up in terms of lost sales and abandoned purchases, but also lost customer loyalty. Retail Assist’s Help Desk provides retailers with a central point of contact to log all of their IT or Facilities Management issues faced across the store estate, warehouse or distribution centre, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Whether that’s a broken Hand Held Terminal, or issues with technical errors, our Help Desk follows ISO 20000 best practice procedures to resolve the problem in the shortest amount of time, and prevent its recurrence, leaving you to focus on the day to day operations of your business. Ra-X data exchange International retailing, and trading in concessions and franchises, brings great business benefits to retailers through breaking new markets, but can also cause problems with regards to data exchange. Product, price and sales data needs transferring between all the different systems, to provide a reliable and current view of business critical data. Immediate access to timely and accurate sales data enables key strategic business decisions, delivering profitable and successful trading relationships with existing and future global partners. Our Ra-X solution is used to ‘exchange’…
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Retail Assist RBTE
  • 16 Mar

RBTE Round-up

Retail Assist had the pleasure of attending the Retail Business Technology Expo 2015 (RBTE) at Kensington Olympia last week, where retailers (and increasingly hospitality and leisure operators) gather to network, learn new ideas, and keep up with the latest retail trends and solutions available to help them improve business efficiency and the customer experience.For us, most of the technology at RBTE solidified the importance of the physical store in the omnichannel retail experience. With Google opening its first fully branded physical store in London last week, it could not gesture more significantly toward the bridge that many companies are now beginning to make between the physical and digital divide. They want the consumer to physically experience the brand, and the store is the most traditional, and now a more innovative, space to do this in. So, it’s probably safe to say that the retail channels that had most precedence at the show were definitely mobile and in-store, or more accurately, the interaction between them. Here are a few key things we were impressed by or picked up over the two days, whether that’s actual technology, or new trends in technology and what it means for retail. 1) Scannable mannequins/VM Beacons At the intersection of RBTE and venturing into its sister show, the Retail Design Expo, stood a striking fashionable set of mannequins in coordinating outfits that you might find in a “look book”. These mannequins were “scannable” – i.e. by holding up your mobile (with the relevant app installed), you are given the option to scan for looks, explore the collection with coordinating outfits and accessories, and make a purchase from your mobile, and finally share this over social.Given that a common way to shop is now using the store to browse, and making the final purchase from a mobile device, this technology by Iconeme bridges the gap between the two for a seamless brand experience. In addition, for the time-poor consumer who may rush by an enticing window display and not have the chance to venture into store, they can continue the shopping experience at their leisure from their mobile device. 2) Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear S With Samsung exhibiting at the Expo, I was thrilled to finally try out Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, that I’ve blogged about previously.Once again, the “game-changer” status that this technology holds in the retail arena cannot be understated. My experience behind the goggles was a Thomas Cook hotel poolside experience, to “try out” a holiday resort, judge its weather, the general atmosphere, and see the other holidaymakers that you might find there: a great tool for the hospitality industry to invest in. If a retailer could develop 360 imaging of their flagship store, and add relevant sound and staff interaction, the shopping experience could equally be replicated over virtual reality. The Gear S watch was also on display on Samsung’s stand, which was shown to us from a retail technology perspective. The watch has store inventory capability, and…
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Mothers Day Gifts Retail Assist Harvey Nichols Afternoon Tea
  • 9 Mar

What should I buy Mum for Mother’s Day?

What should I buy Mum for Mother’s Day? This is perhaps the question on every son and daughter’s lips this week! 78% of people we recently surveyed believe that their Mum deserves the 5* treatment this year, so here’s our top 5 gift guide for Mother’s Day, for 5 different types of Mum. 1) The best friend We might not like to admit it, but Mums can be pretty fun, and I’m definitely one to say that Mum is one of my best friends! So, why not treat her to the season’s hottest handbag to take on your next trip out, whether that’s for a glass of wine, or hitting the high street! The tasselled bucket bag is everywhere this Spring, and Warehouse takes the best of the 70s trend, relaxing it with an optional neutral grey suede. Definitely a high fashion, high street steal.At £40, it doesn’t break the bank. (Plus, it’s real leather, so will definitely make for a fantastic hand-me-down afterwards). 2) “Home is where my Mum is” Mint Velvet’s Wild Fig candle has all the comforting tranquil scents of home. Give Mum a cosy night in and let her relax in style, with a woody blend of fig leaf and blackberry scents, and essential oils of cedarwood, patchouli, galbanum and vetiver.Mint Velvet is also running a Mother’s Day Photo competition on Pinterest. To win a £100 shopping voucher, send a retro photo to relaxedglamour@mintvelvet.co.uk; winner announced 16.03.2015. 3) The outdoors lover Now that spring is in the air, going out for a countryside walk is just the tonic after a warming Sunday Roast. We absolutely love Joules’ women’s “wellibobs”, perfect for taking the dog for a walk through the fields, or for brightening up a rainy English day.Joules’ iconic wellies come in a variety of quintessential British patterns, and are currently on sale at £26.95. Even better! 4) The Power-Dresser Mums who always step out on trend will love this little black dress with a seasonal splash of bold spring colour from Planet. Perfect for the office or an occasion, the fit and flare style will suit Mums of all shapes and sizes.This dress from Planet is £99, and available in sizes 8-20. 5) The Mum who has it all! Instead of having a last minute scramble in the shops, why not treat Mum to a luxury dining experience at Harvey Nichols?Harvey Nichols is offering a set lunch on Sunday 15th March at The OXO Tower Restaurant in London at £65 per person, or in the Brasserie at £55 per person, with a £20 menu for children. In fact, 63% of people take their Mum out as a nice way to celebrate Mother’s Day, and 44% will be taking their Mum out to dine. For more stats, see our Help Desk’s blog on Mother’s Day outings – complete with our own survey and infographic. Whatever you decide to do, we hope that you put a smile on the face of the…
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Google cardboard at Fashion Week
  • 2 Mar

Google Cardboard: Virtual Reality for the masses at Fashion Week

Though London Fashion Week came to a close last week, the inspiration left in its wake will continue to create a buzz in the fashion and retail community. If one thing was for certain, it was that retailers used technology in new and innovative ways to engage both attendees and fashion week followers with their brands. Earlier this year, we were impressed and inspired by the Virtual Reality technology on show at the NRF Expo in New York, and predicted its value and benefits to retailers in the near future. At LFW, it seems as if other retailers had the same thinking. Introducing – Google Cardboard (spoiler: it’s about as “high-tech” as it looks!)CONCEPT LFW AW15 saw River Island as the first fashion brand to use Google Cardboard and a new creative approach to fashion film to launch their new Design Forum product collection through Virtual Reality technology. The virtual reality film collaboration, Virtual RI, created with Google Cardboard and luxury designer Jean Pierre Braganza, seamlessly connects an aesthetic and immersive 360 Virtual Reality experience directly with River Island’s e-commerce platform. This is a new way of engaging the consumer with the aesthetic vision behind the product before the purchase. The film also contains an interactive element: when playing the VR experience, the consumer guides a kingfisher (a key print from the collection) through a mechanical maze to locate a woman dressed in the style of the collection. Once she is found, the consumer can “share” their kingfisher over social media to promote the experience to their friends.   ACCESSIBILITY Launching the virtual reality fashion film, River Island wanted to allow consumers the same access to their vision that only the press and celebrities usually experience at LFW. It is perhaps the first LFW innovation that is directly relevant to the everyday consumer by using universal technology: an app, a smartphone, and a cardboard headset. Google Cardboard technology allows the user to experience the virtual world through their smartphone, simply by downloading the app, and inserting their phone into a VR style cardboard headset as a makeshift “viewer”.This is the first time that the smartphone sitting in your pocket has been unlocked in such a way to open up what feels like an exclusive aesthetic experience to a much wider audience. The accessibility of Virtual RI enhances the excitement of the Jean Pierre Braganza collection by bringing the consumer into fashion week: the technology has challenged the insider/outsider concept that the “exclusivity” of LFW usually provokes. River Island is further widening the reach of the VR experience post-fashion week by promoting it with customer purchases. Consumers buying from the Jean Pierre Braganza collection receive a complimentary Google Cardboard headset and app download with any purchase, allowing them to experience the creative vision that they have bought into. It’s when technology becomes both simple and cheap that people adopt it and innovate with it. Interactive multiplatform content is a new area for fashion brands to be experiencing, and Google Cardboard…
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Click and collect
  • 23 Feb

Click and Collect – are we “click happy” consumers?

Click and Collect, the omnichannel retail purchase and delivery principle, is defined here in our Retail Assist Dictionary: Retailers enable shoppers to purchase items online and pick them up in their physical stores. Like bricks-and-clicks, click-and-collect stores merge eCommerce and physical retail outlets together. It can often make the shopping journey more convenient for consumers, making a purchase from the comfort of their own home, and collecting the item whenever is most convenient for them, instead of paying for shipping or waiting for their delivery to arrive. Click and collect is catering to the increasing demands of time-poor and cost conscious consumers, who are no longer prepared to pay for deliveries that may arrive at an inconvenient time. Instead of waiting for delivery, they expect their items to arrive in-store all but immediately, often at little or no cost. This push towards click and collect has ultimately driven customers back in to bricks and mortar stores. But for all its benefits, how popular is it? We conducted a Retail Assist survey to find out more. The majority of retailers now offer click and collect, with only 23% of top UK fashion retailers not providing the service. With over half of retailers planning to invest more in technology this year, and omnichannel being the top priority (Retail Week Report 2015), it’s likely that we’ll be seeing click and collect introduced into more brands this year. When we asked the key motivations for using click and collect, 63% of respondents use it to benefit from the free click and collect delivery option that most retailers offer. Convenience was also a popular reason, with 21% saying that the timing suits them better to collect their items in person. Only 16% are yet to become click and collect crazy, and prefer the more traditional online shopping and home delivery method. With convenience and low delivery costs on top of the shopping priority list, not surprisingly, 34% of shoppers we surveyed use click and collect at least once every three months, and 17% at least once a month. So if you currently don’t have click and collect as a purchasing option, there’s a big reason to think about implementing it: 37% of shoppers that currently use it are planning to continue using it, and 29% expressed a keen interest in trying it out in the future. Click and collect has definitely been responsible for encouraging more customers back into the physical store environment, positioning the traditional bricks and mortar retail channel as one of the cornerstones of omnichannel retailing. Studies have shown that shoppers going in-store to collect items spend on average £27 more per trip. Though a large proportion of our respondents (78%) said that they try to avoid extra spending when in-store, this cost-conscious attitude does not take into account the impulse buying one might indulge in when entering a great store environment. With 22% of our surveyed shoppers actually owning up to spending more when they go in store to collect items,…
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High Street Retail Assist
  • 16 Feb

The UK High Street has weathered the storm

When the age of Internet revolutionised the retail experience with the birth of online shopping, no-one expected the High Street to survive the sudden exodus of shoppers from its stores, and into the realm of the web. However, recent reports are starting to show that “bricks” are just as important as “clicks” in the 21st century shopping arena. Footfall recorded in January 2015 increased by 2 per cent: though it’s a small percentage the figure is significant, marking the first time in a decade that a January footfall increase has been recorded in the UK. It also follows a 2.7 per cent increase in December; the two successive months of growth since the same period in 2014 are showing that the high street has lived on through the effects of the Internet declining footfall volumes, and should now experience the benefits of the blossoming omnichannel retailing era.In fact, our recent Valentine’s Day survey showed that 65% of people planned to buy their Valentine’s gifts in-store, a huge proportion, given that only 26% opted for online and just 9% for mobile and tablet. One of the most common reasons for High Street visits is the “inspiration” that the shopping experience provides – and the demographic of “browsing shoppers” are being lost from websites failing to inspire them. A third of shoppers will give up browsing online after just ten minutes if they haven’t found something that catches their eye. The most successful retailers are now concentrating their efforts across all retail channels with equal enthusiasm, and bricks-and-mortar stores are fundamental to omni-optimisation. Can your customer enjoy the inspiring shopper-tainment of a great physical store, and then transfer the experience elsewhere? For example, if an item in-store isn’t available in their size, can they order it on an in-store tablet device to be delivered to their home? Or can they enjoy browsing the online store on their mobile, and find the same new season trends easily in store? Here are some top tips we would suggest for maximising your omnichannel experience:Ensure that the ‘look and feel’ of your brand is applied to each channel: everything from your brand messaging, to seasonal campaigns. The consumer is looking for a shopping experience that can be replicated across each channel, providing a seamless experience. Provide functionality that allows shoppers the choice that they are demanding: for example, click and collect delivery, order in-store, and the ability to return online purchases in-store. Optimise your desktop site for mobile and tablet devices. Think about how your main navigation appears on a small screen, its readability, and ease of access. Are your items displayed clearly, with different views and the option to zoom? Optimising the payment sections on mobile sites is also extremely important: time consuming forms are a no-no on smaller screens. If the online shopping journey is interrupted, or shoppers switch devices (i.e. from smartphone to laptop), make sure their basket is automatically saved and survives. No-one likes a wasted effort. Think about investing…
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