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retail it solutions
  • 22 May

What’s next for VR technology?

Last week we attended VR World at London Olympia (a familiar location for those who visited us at RBTE earlier this month!) According to statistics shared in the keynote presentation, VR and AR technology is expected to make a $126 billion dollar contribution to the global economy by 2020, with a production value of €15-36 billion euros. As per the continuing technology revolution, which has seen tech replaced by photos < videos < VR, virtual reality is expected to be the near-future “go to” medium of information, entertainment and experience. Since early developments in VR, the gaming and entertainment industries had effectively dominated the space. However, more recent innovations across market sectors have introduced us to VR application within education, manufacturing, travel, robotics, architecture, and even health. These were definitely as prominent as entertainment and gaming at the Expo. Here’s a round-up of the key VR trends 2017 to look out for this year, identified from the Expo. VR for Engagement In a presentation by Facebook Oculus on the key drivers for VR adoption, we learned more about Facebook Spaces, available with Oculus Rift. A personal avatar is created and launched into an interactive social session, experienced through your Oculus VR headset. The app allows users to share everyday or special moments with friends, in an immersive online experience. For example, in today’s world it’s impossible to always be physically near the people in your social circle. Facebook Spaces provides a virtual meetup platform, with the ability to introduce photos, videos and links to the session. This could also be incorporated into a virtual shopping experience:Will shopping centres of the future be #vr locations where friends meet in #socialmedia #sellingspaces & shop together online? #retail #tech — Alan Morris (@Alan_R_Morris) May 18, 2017Building on this “shared” experience, we also saw VR experiences in which users enter a pod, individually or in interactive groups, removing the need for the somewhat bulky headsets. One stand at VR World featured an immersive sensory reality pod, with immersive 360 3D video and sound, as well as scent and temperature differences to enhance the experience. We also saw VR experiences to allow users to engage with brands, or celebrities. A good example in the music industry was a VR experience whilst listening to your favourite tunes. You could see through the eyes of the music producer, or singer, going about their everyday life, or even get their perspective whilst playing on a stage. In this way, fans become more emotionally engaged with the artist. This could work similarly in fashion, where VR could allow a user to follow their favourite fashion designer as they go on buying trips, sample fabrics or create new designs. Specific market application – Health and Education We were impressed by the use of VR within the medical sector, such as interactive training from Dual Good Health on how to carry out effective CPR. Wearing a VR headset, a dummy became a real life patient on a bed. The…
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Retail Assist RBTE
  • 10 May

Top Technology Takeaways: RBTE 2017

Thanks to everyone that came by our stand at RBTE. We had a busy few days, making new contacts, catching up with old ones, and exploring new opportunities. We’ll be following up with you all over the next few days, but if you have any further queries in the meantime, please feel free to contact the team at marketing@retail-assist.co.ukAway from the stand, we took some time to visit the various RBTE Conference Theatres, to find out more about latest technology developments, challenges, and innovations affecting the retail and hospitality sectors. Here’s a quick round-up of our findings. RFID We noticed a real change in pace surrounding RFID (radio frequency identification) development at this year’s Expo. Attending a panel on “RFID in Real Life” really set the bar for this technology: 20 of the top 30 UK retailers are currently using RFID within their supply chain strategy. The panel included John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and River Island. Instead of focussing RFID on the customer experience, the discussion focus shifted inwardly, to the ways in which RFID is benefiting retail operations: The RFID examples discussed offer solutions to the back-end issues faced by omnichannel retailers:Increasing operational efficiency: RFID, sewn into garments, or applied via hard tagging, removes the need for store associates to painstakingly barcode scan every item in a stock-take. Instead of a lengthy, inaccurate process, retailers can use one centrally-located RFID reader to obtain a complete view of their inventory. Stocktaking can therefore occur more regularly, as a reliable and efficient process. Thanks to faster stock takes, less staff are stuck in the stock rooms, and more are available to sell, increasing customer service levels too. Improving stock accuracy: definitely the buzzword on the panel. As said by River Island’s representative, “don’t go into peak season guessing, and know what your exact stock position is”.  Increasing profitability. Of course, this is the Holy Grail for every retailer, and stock accuracy is making this happen. By understanding where stock is held in real time and how well it’s selling, better decisions can be made to sell more stock at full price and reduce discounting. RFID also offers opportunities to improve the refund process in retail, especially for those without a receipt, by holding unique product information – a great real life example shared by Marks & Spencer.   Payment at your fingertips From mobile, to contactless, and now – fingerprint?Biometrics are the latest development in the payments sphere, as revealed by Visa at their seminar on Day 2 on Retail Futurology. Half of consumers that were surveyed would use fingerprint tech to pay for items, and 81% see fingerprint as the most secure biometrics identification method, over iris scanning and facial recognition. Visa is now using this technology as part of its Visa Checkout product. We’ve already seen this technology take off with smartphones, and in-app purchasing. Further traction in the physical world must take place through partnerships between the payment provider and the retailer. 3D immersion And…
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RBTE Retail Assist 235
  • 2 May

RBTE 2017: See you next week!

If you’re attending Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE) at London Olympia next week on Monday or Tuesday (8th and 9th May), make sure to stop by our stand 235! We have some exciting new digital content of Retail Assist’s services in action, and our Sales and Marketing teams will be on the stand to chat through your IT services and solutions requirements. Check out just some of the brands that we support on our customer page. From POS implementations to 24 x 7 IT Support, data exchange to store openings, we offer the full range of services to suit your needs. With 10X better performance than industry average IT Support, we were also awarded the ‘Best Managed Service Desk’ globally last year. We would be happy to discuss how we can help you save 30% of your IT costs and much more. If you are attending or exhibiting, and would like to meet up at the Expo, please fill in your details here. Want to know who’ll be on the stand? Put a face to the name with our “Meet the Team” blog here. Want to know our location in the Expo Hall? This year’s RBTE is bigger than ever! Here’s a handy floorplan of the RBTE layout at London Kensington Olympia to help you locate our stand.Don’t miss an update: Stay updated ahead of RBTE by reading our blog, or follow us on Twitter for daily updates with #RBTE2017. Our Marketing team will also be sharing the latest action from the Show floor, conference and presentations via Instagram Stories @retailassist. Want to schedule a meeting? We have meeting spaces available, if you’d like to arrange some time with a member of the team. Just fill in your details via our form here, and we’ll be in touch. We look forward to meeting you on Stand 235! Make sure to register for RBTE here.…
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  • 24 Apr

Why should I implement omnichannel?

We’re now one year on from the downfall of BHS, and unfortunately we’re still seeing casualties on the fashion retail scene. Agent Provocateur and now Jaeger are some of the most recent retailers dominating the headlines after falling into administration. It begs the question: why are so many omnichannel retailers still struggling to meet customer demands, whilst also maintaining a profitable strategy? It often comes down to the systems and processes underpinning this. Omnichannel retailers who have a fully integrated front and back end and an integrated organisational structure are twice as likely to deliver double-digit growth. If you want to know more about how to implement omnichannel, visit our dedicated webpage here. Read more on latest supply chain upgrades carried out by Retail Assist for Morrisons and Harvey Nichols. Stock Management A single view of the customer at every part of the customer journey is the crux of omnichannel, with the underpinning objective being improving visibility.  The use of real-time information has enabled an invaluable shift from reactive to proactive supply chain management. Some of our supply chain software’s most powerful functionality within allocation and replenishment, with a host of user defined rules that ensure stock can be automatically and dynamically moved between your warehouse and stores. Stores vs Ecomm Retailers need to start by taking the “vs” out of the equation! Adopting a strategy whereby stores become a crucial step in the omnichannel customer journey, is essential. Methods such as ship-from-store enable retailers to maximise their inventory potential, by using store stock to fulfil orders. A high and undesirable amount of inventory by the end of the season can be managed effectively before it becomes a problem, preventing stores from unprofitable stockholding. For example, your flagship store might sell out of the new range bestseller, whereas a smaller store could end up with a surplus that are difficult to sell. Rather than having to discount this stock, retailers can maximise full-price selling, rather than sourcing the same item from the Distribution Centre (DC). Overall shipping costs for the retailer also decrease, as shipments from the DC reduce dramatically. Retailers can prevent frustrating web “out-of-stock” situations: just because an item might not be available in the DC, it might be hanging on a rail in-store, dressing a mannequin, or have been returned to a store. This captures sales that might otherwise have been lost.International Selling overseas has become more important to retailers post-Brexit. Most international retailers, for example our customer ASOS, now sell through country-specific websites, that include local currency, language, and payment choices. Our Merret software application also supports zonal pricing, for optimising international pricing. 100% data accuracy is key to ensuring a successful international strategy, and solutions such as our Ra-X data exchange (ETL solution) can facilitate the timely and accurate transfer of business critical information between your retail partners. Want to talk more about how we can implement your vision of omnichannel? Just email marketing@retail-assist.co.uk to start the ball rolling. We’ll also be at RBTE…
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google home vs amazon echo
  • 18 Apr

What’s next for voice technology?

Hey Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google… Voice personal assistants are an accepted, integrated part of digital existence for all smartphone-owners today. Over the last few months, AI and voice technology have gained significant traction in the home through the introduction of smart speakers. Firstly, we had Amazon Echo, and now, Google Home. Google launched its device – with virtual assistant ‘Assist’ – in the UK at the beginning of April, hot on the heels of Amazon’s Echo system.Google Home vs Amazon Echo Through voice recognition, these devices are always learning, adapting to your speech patterns, use of vocabulary, and personal preferences. Echo and Home aim to remove your smartphone from the equation, able to play video and audio, control apps, and buy products, just activated by speech. The question most are asking: can this really work for retail? The ability to instantly order household basics is the most obvious use for voice-enabled retail. The biggest commonality between Echo and Home as ordering devices is their disruption of the grocery sector, through making and ordering your required shopping list. This is all well and good for the common and mundane, by removing unnecessary friction from this aspect of the customer journey. Ordering groceries is a requirement, viewed by most as a chore. Making this easier has huge appeal. However, the capacity for voice technology to disrupt other retail sectors might not take the form of automated ordering. In fashion retail for example, where there is enjoyment to be had in browsing and choices to be made, would you really ask Alexa to order you a black dress for an upcoming party in the same way you would a pint of milk? In this way, voice ordering might become the final method in this customer journey, once prior decisions on brand, style and colour had been made. That’s unless there are significant advancements in AI to tell us what we want, before we know this ourselves. Voice and Search Retailers must also be looking to online search capabilities to factor in the search algorithms of virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. As Planet Retail’s Miya Knights commented to Retail Week, optimizing voice searches is critical, as only the very top results will win sales as a result:Planning for the future Google reported that 20% of mobile searches by US Android device users were made by voice in 2016. Additionally, Accenture research found that 10% of millenials have already used voice-activated ordering, and 38% of millennials are willing to try it. With this in mind, the influence of voice on shopping habits could just be warming up. Are bets on for when Apple might release a similar home assistant? Post your comments below.…
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Monsoon KETL IT event
  • 3 Apr

What does the IT Team of the Future look like?

Last month, we had the pleasure of speaking at Monsoon Accessorize’s “Future of IT” Panel Event, hosted with KETL, as IT strategists from a range of sectors converged on Westfield London to debate some of the current issues facing decision-makers in technology. What role does technology play in a transforming retail business? Retail Assist was lucky enough to kick-start the session, as our Chairman, Alan Morris, explained the background to the company, and how it is still solving the same business problems today. Alan explained that having worked in retail IT for 30+ years he has seen a lot of changes, and noted that IT and retail have not always been aligned. Retail Assist was therefore founded to close the gap that he had witnessed, when retailers were not sufficiently involved in technology and the benefits it can bring. A common theme in both retail and technology is change, which means that one of the biggest challenges for technology strategists is often around managing transition, transformation and dynamic change. How do you get to a position where you have a team of people who are all pulling together in the same direction so that the management team and the Board see IT and technologists as a core competency of the business? In essence this is largely a cultural change, where technology and IT is recognised as a core function, and where technology reports into the CEO. CEOs believe that technology will transform their business more than any other global trend.In today’s digital age, technology underpins everything retailers do. Companies like Ocado, Air Bnb, and ASOS – who we support with Merret – wouldn’t exist without technology. Retail technologists need to shake things up, challenge their Boards and have a respected voice, especially in areas such as product lifecycle, customer service and project implementation. Because having the people with that unique mix of skills is a challenge, getting the right balance of in-house and outsourced functions is critical.  The Skills Debate Further statistics from PwC’s CEO Survey show that although CEOs understand the need for talent with 83% saying that digital skills are important to their organisation, 2/3 think recruiting staff with these skills is difficult. And 77% of CEOs are concerned that a shortage of key skills could impair their company’s growth. CEOs know they can’t innovate using technology alone. NashTech also shared some interesting research on what should be included in the next generation of IT, including a mind-set that encourages inter functional collaboration and coordination, flattened hierarchies, and an environment that encourages the generation of new ideas. The importance lies in applying technological skills to real business problems. Some of the main reasons to outsource were cited as: Freeing up resource to focus on core business Provides access to skills not available in-house Saves money Improves flexibility in use of resources Improves ability to innovate These were just a handful of topics debated at the event. Want to know what else was discussed? Special thanks to KETL…
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retail IT support
  • 27 Mar

RBTE 2017: Top tips for technology uptime

IT issues can hit anyone at any time – even the most highly organised businesses. But by adopting a proactive approach to incident reduction, retailers and hospitality providers can prevent simple technical issues, such as till downtime, from damaging their sales potential. Perceived waiting time and inconvenience at the checkout are key predictors of ‘shopping cart abandonment’, and in today’s fast-paced digital world, patience in-store is wearing thin. It has been estimated that losses due to systems downtime work out in the tens of thousands. Would you have the right support in place in this situation, to get your systems back up and running before such cost damage could occur? Consumers have the ability to transact anywhere, at any time, and retailers’ IT support must reflect these expectations. Outside of the weekday nine-to-five remit, turning to outsourced service providers for extra weekend support can bridge the gap between in-house capabilities, which offer more hours of support and a breadth of skills that comes from using a shared service. Our support capacity is 4x higher than industry average. We even saved one of our customers 30% of their IT costs through our outsourcing model.By having the right support in place, it helps to eliminate the risks of till downtime and other technology related problems that negatively impact service. This not only gives businesses reassurance, but also helps to promote calm and confident store staff. Although things can go wrong, it’s how you put them right that matters. Playing a ‘behind the scenes’ role, IT Managed Services help to save time whilst increasing profit by delivering greater systems uptime at the point-of-service. It’s not just retail that we specialise in, having supported leading hospitality brands such as Pizza Hut for 3 years with 24 x 7 IT support. Keith Frimley, IT Director at Pizza Hut Restaurants added: “Retail Assist supports some of the UK’s largest and best-known retailers, which gave us confidence in their capabilities. They understand the importance of keeping systems fully operational and keeping staff at ease, whilst finding resolutions to the challenges they are facing. This is something which is as critical in hospitality as in retail. We’ve found them to be efficient and effective, which has resulted in us reaping the benefits of improved service to our operations and reduced disruption to customer service”. We also understand that your stores aren’t just UK based – supporting global stores is a specialism for our multilingual analysts – we actually speak double the number of languages as average IT Support. By analysing incidents and identifying patterns, simple trend analysis can prevent future issues from recurring. This might also involve identifying where costs are being incurred and reducing the number of chargeable hardware call outs. Our latest benchmarking stats show that Retail Assist performed 10x better than industry average IT Support last year across a range of criteria including SLAs, languages, and support capacity: see the full infographic here. Retail Assist will be on Stand 235 at RBTE. Drop by…
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retail personalisation
  • 20 Mar

Personalisation Guide 2017

We’ve blogged, researched and reported a lot about personalisation, consumer targeting, and how retailers are using these techniques to power customer engagement (and make more sales). Personalisation has become a mainstay technique in modern retail, with three in four consumers expecting web and email content to display targeted products based on their preferences. A recent presentation at Marketing Research Society’s Impact Conference saw ASOS’ Head of Marketing Analytics, Celina Burnett, speak about how the fashion etailer takes on a different approach to personalisation:Citing digital industry stalwarts Amazon and Netflix, as brands heavily invested in personalisation and targeting, Burnett feels that they are sometimes slightly off the mark. “Recommendations on Netflix or Amazon are usually based on things I’ve done in the past but not on what I might do in the future. If all we offer a consumer is based on their past behaviour then how do we make them aware of what the next big trend is?” (Burnett). If this stands as an example of “past-personalisation”, where products suggested already exist, what should brands be focussing their efforts on? Our customer, ASOS, is a great example of a brand that has over 13 million active customers, but the unique strategy and technological infrastructure to get personalisation right. Future personalisation strategyThis isn’t to say that targeting based on purchase history data, for example, isn’t useful. It is, but it should form just part of a wider strategy. If you continue to target a customer who has previously bought a white slogan tee, with alternative slogan tees (like Amazon) or matching jeans (like most fashion retailers), you could run the risk of becoming irrelevant or frustrating to your customer. Burnett advised: “There is a tipping point for personalisation and targeting when it can become creepy or annoying and actually ends up making people distrust a brand.” Striking the balance between creepy and cool is a fine line, but one which brands must get right. Watch our video discussion here. So, looking to the future: what might the customer want to buy next? What trends are they into? Or, connect up the social media profile information, and voila – where are they next going on holiday? When is their birthday? What are they sharing with friends, or liking on your brand page? These are all examples of ways to tap into rich personal data that’s easily accessible. Turning “me” into “we” Personalisation is often a me-centric technique, using a customer’s first name to kick start a ‘we thought you might like this’ campaign of indulgence. Alternatively, as some have suggested, engaging well with a certain brand and the experience it provides places you in a community of brand advocates, potentially with similar interests and behaviours. So, taking the “we” not “me” approach, why not mould approaches to personalisation on an inclusive, community outlook? Retailers could mix in other types of recommendations based on crowdsourced data, for example “people similar to you bought this” from Boohoo.Despite the challenges of getting…
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retail technology news
  • 13 Feb

3 ways to increase your store conversion rate

In the news this week are latest footfall reports on January 2016, as the headlines proclaim the High Street struggles once again. Footfall fell 1.3% in January year-on-year, which marks the deepest decline since June 2016 and the post-Brexit vote slip when footfall plummeted 2.8%. Shopping centres were worst hit: footfall slid 3% year-on-year, making it the 12th consecutive month of decline at shopping centres. On the High Street, figures were down by 0.8%. Cue “death of the High Street” and “online cannibalisation”. But when the UK High Street is still the main channel for 45% of shoppers, it still has a firm place. The trick is making your stores more relevant to the consumer of today.It’s all about stockConsumers admit to visiting retailers’ stores for browsing purposes, to see how a garment will physically look and wear. So, how to make those browsers convert into purchasers? Making your stock readily available where it’s needed most must be the focus for retailers this year. With business rates increasing, and online competition, it boils down to the simple fact that retailers must generate more full price sales per square metre. The store is an asset that must be maximised for the best return. Having items in-stock that are most likely to be bought, in the correct sizes, must be a number one priority. This requires an omnichannel supply chain solution with the flexibility and dependability to utilise a central stock pool to efficiently fulfil and replenish demand across all channels. Stock management and movement must also be achieved more profitably – rather than shipping items to store from the warehouse, our retail IT solution Merret will ship from store if it’s more cost effective.  It’s a fact that customers want items faster, with priority delivery options being favoured by over half of shoppers. If the item can be seen, tried, and bought all in the store visit, this greatly improves the store customer experience.  Or, if it’s out of stock, make in-store ordering an easier and more joined up process, so that the customer isn’t left feeling like they could do it themselves. Which brings us on to the next point…Educate, communicate7 in 10 consumers say that when they go shopping, they know more than the store assistant. This is changing the culture of the store from one of expert advice and valuable experience, to a plain nuisance. We’ve all been there – the store assistant goes to “check in the back” for your preferred size and never returns, or can’t direct you to the correct location, leaving you to fumble around the store for a good 5 minutes, before giving up and leaving empty handed. Retailers must invigorate store teams to sell well, and give the consumer an experience to remember. Technology such as our Merret Tablet Inventory can give store staff the tools they need to please the demanding customer. It’s demonstrated here at Karen Millen, as the customer asks to check stock in other…
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  • 6 Feb

What is the difference between Augmented and Virtual Reality?

Guest blog by Sufyan Quraishy Last week, Retail Assist had the opportunity to attend an Enabling Innovation programme at Nottingham Trent University. The workshop was delivered by Nottingham based company Hot Knife Digital Media which has expertise in designing and delivering 2D/3D animation and video, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and App development. The event was meant as a taster to introduce these standard and emerging technologies with minimum investment; how they might be used to develop innovative processes in 3D visualisation, information sharing, and marketing. What is Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality? Augmented Reality (AR) simply put is enhancing one’s current perception of reality in real time. This can be as simple as overlaying an arrow on a football pitch to show how many yards a free kick is from goal or as used more recently by retailers thanks to the advancements in technology that has brought AR on to smart phones and thus allows both the retailers – to create and bring to life a 3D render of their product and consumers – to see a 360 degree image of the product, with the capabilities to zoom in and out of each angle. Depending on the quality of augmentation, this can go as far as indicating the approximate size of the item, allowing the consumer to ‘wear’ the item, as viewed through their phone. See how Microsoft’s HoloLens seamlessly blends high- definition holograms with the real world.One great example shown at the workshop was how the singer Ariana Grande has used the App ‘Blippar’ with 65 million users worldwide to market and bring her latest fragrance to life. Blippar offers a very easy entrance to AR with low costs and uses the camera on your smartphone or tablet to recognise an image to then bring to life, showing ‘dynamic digital content’. This can be information, news, social media content and even games for example, right on top of your image. Don’t believe me? Try “blipping” this image using the App – ‘Blippar’ (make sure your phone is landscape). Not only has AR been introduced into the retail sector, it has also been making progress in the Hospitality market. Check out our Head of Marketing at Retail Assist, Alex Broxson showcasing how Marriott Hotels uses AR technology to enhance customer experience in a new location. There are other free apps such as “Aurasma” – downloaded by 8million users and was recently used by Argos in their catalogues, mainly aimed at children, to get them playing with products and interactive games before they buy the product. However Argos has recently pulled the wire on this in their catalogues, showcasing the difficulties still faced in introducing this new tech into the market. Also as pointed out at the workshop, “AR is nothing without the content, you need something good to be able to augment over”. So if Augmented Reality is enhancing what we are currently seeing, what is Virtual Reality?Virtual Reality (VR) usually refers to computer technologies that totally immerse…
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