15 Years of Retail Assist – Interview with Leigh Mann

Following on from our previous blog with our Executive Chairman, Alan Morris, we are continuing  to focus on those members who have been with Retail Assist for 15 years, as we build up to the celebration of our 15th Birthday.

Leigh Mann is a Support Analyst Team Leader, who works at our Northampton Applications Centre. After 15 years at Retail Assist, Leigh provides an interesting observation in to his day to day role and how this has changed and evolved over the years.

What does your role involve, and how has this changed over the last 15 years?

  • I am the support team leader for 3rd line Merret issues. This involves identifying problems and finding answers to client issues whether it is a data issue, bug or client requirement.
  • My role has changed considerably; I used to be client based but am now part of the shared resource in the Application Centre, based in Northampton.

What would you say the most significant change has been in retail over the last 15 years?

  • Easy, eCommerce without a doubt. 15 years ago I was of the opinion

“Who would want to buy clothes over the internet?” Well, everybody apparently.

For most of our customers the on-line store is by far the most important part of their business and obviously some of our customers only have an on-line presence. I’ve even resorted to buying clothes on-line myself. Who’d have thought!

What changes have you seen at Retail Assist over the last 15 years?

  • The size of the business has increased dramatically. Starting with just a handful of staff to well over 200 and climbing. Thank goodness for the intranet, at least I can get an idea of what the person looks like when I’m talking to them – a shadowy version of Alan sometimes!

What is your favourite aspect of working at Retail Assist?

  • The challenges and the making a difference. Although not during the night I’d like to point out to the Ops team! It’s good finding a solution to the impossible problem. To find the answer to something that can’t possibly be happening is a great buzz.

Most memorable/funniest Retail Assist experience?

  • Helping to setup the Sainsburys Tu brand and the Boots Minimode brand, particularly the warehousing aspects are my happiest achievements.
  • My most memorable experience was when we started the automatic warehouse at Adams Childrenswear, and on a few occasions I got to the launch the picking cranes. It was an awesome sight and I felt like a big kid with new toys. Although they never let me have a ride on the sortation machine.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog and are interested in reading about other members of our team then keep an eye on our blog page: http://blog.retail-assist.co.uk and also our twitter account: @RetailAssist #15YearsofRA for updates and latest blogs.

For more information about Retail Assist then please contact us on info@retail-assist.co.uk or 0115 853 3910.

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Shortlisted for ‘Project of the Year’ with Nutmeg at Morrisons

Nutmeg and Retail Assist

Entering and winning awards is really important to us.  It demonstrates the vast achievements of the teams involved in our projects, and showcases the work that we have carried out with our customers.  It demonstrates our passion for what we do, and recognises that we are delivering operational improvements, providing competitive advantage and cost efficiencies for our customers.  This is why we are delighted to announce that we have been shortlisted  for ‘Project of the Year’ at the Retail Week Technology Awards for our work with Morrisons clothing range Nutmeg.

This project enabled Morrisons to bring it’s own branded clothing line to market, from concept to launch with entire systems and infrastructure live in just 6 months.  Morrisons had a strategic view to develop a home-grown clothing line in 2013, so launched ‘Nutmeg’ as a clothing brand for the family, with initial launch of the childrenswear range.

We were chosen with our supply chain solution ‘Merret’ as the ideal partner based on our unique experience in this area. Nutmeg chose the Merret application for scalability and omnichannel retailing functionality, in addition to managed IT services from us to host the IT infrastructure for the operation to support the entire user base.

Merret is our omnichannel supply chain solution that covers all aspects of stock control, retail supply and business information through it’s single stock pool management. It offers retailers scalability enabling the technology to grow with the needs and size of the retail operation.

The first phase of the project was to launch the childrenswear range in Morrisons stores on 21st March 2013, which was to quickly rise to several hundred stores within a year.  The achievements within this project have exceeded all original expectations.

We find out whether we have been successful on June 11th, 2014, at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London.  Fingers crossed everyone!

If you want to know more about this project, please get in touch on 0115 853 3910, or enquiries@retail-assist.co.uk.

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15 Years of Retail Assist – Interview with Alan Morris

This year we are celebrating our 15th Birthday. As such we have been speaking to some of the Retail Assist team members who have been with us from the very beginning. In our first post we will be asking our Executive Chairman, Alan Morris, about some of his favourite Retail Assist memories and about the changes he has seen over the 15 years.

Alan Morris is Retail Assist’s Executive Chairman and one of its founders.  He is a very skilled businessman, business systems practitioner and visionary. Alan began his career in the mid 1980′s and has managed major projects throughout the entire supply chain. In the mid-1990′s Alan observed a gap between the retailer and the IT solution provider, to bridge this, he set up retail IT services company, which later evolved into what is now Retail Assist.

Alan, what does your role involve, and how has this changed over the last 15 years?

  • That is a good question. I guess the proper answer is “to ensure that the objectives of the shareholders are achieved”.  In the early days I was far more hands on than I am today in terms of actual projects and services delivery. Although it is a long standing joke that I have never answered a Help Desk call I feel that I must have done at some point in the past; I have done almost everything else!

What would you say the most significant change has been in retail over the last 15 years?

  • The ability to sell product across multiple channels, in multiple countries over multiple time zones. Technology 15 years ago played a supporting role (in that it made existing process run better). Now technology provides opportunity for competitive advantage at the sharp end of retail; the web and mobile are two examples.

What changes have you seen at Retail Assist over the last 15 years?

  • It is said that change is the only constant in life and this is certainly the case at RA. We are obviously bigger than 1999 in terms of more people, more clients, we are stronger in terms of more experience and we have a both software and managed solutions offerings. I like to think that our core values over the years have not changed and I am sure that they won’t. It is these that underpin the way we do everything.

What is your favourite aspect of working at Retail Assist?

  • The people – it sounds glib and trite but it is true for me.

Most memorable/funniest Retail Assist experience?

  • Most memorable was the weekend we moved into Compass Point in Bingham, Nottinghamshire. The team work that went into that exercise was fantastic and the pride that everyone involved showed for a “job well done” was great to see and experience. The funniest is equally difficult because like the memories there has been a lot of fun too, but if I was to be drawn on one thing then I’d say it was the night that Dan Smith, Steve Eckersley and myself spent an evening and all night building a replacement till for a store in Ireland (well, Steve was doing the work and Dan and I were just nagging him). At 3am Dan fell asleep momentarily on the sofa in my office. He woke with a start about 20 minutes later and seemed to think that I was someone called Brian! Very odd, I have no idea why or what goes on in his personal world. Perhaps you had to be there, but it was very funny.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog and are interested in reading about other members of our team then keep an eye on our blog page: http://blog.retail-assist.co.uk and also our twitter account: @RetailAssist #15YearsofRA for updates and latest blogs.

For more information about Retail Assist then please contact us on info@retail-assist.co.uk or 0115 853 3910.

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Interview with our Head of Product Strategy – Views on Retail

We’ve been speaking to our Head of Product Strategy, Robin Coles, about his views on retailing, his role at Retail Assist and information regarding some of the latest developments  regarding our supply chain solution Merret.

1. During your time working in retail, what are the most dramatic and effective developments you have seen?

Developments began with the barcode, which for the first time enabled accurate stock to be kept, as the accuracy and timeliness of data was dramatically improved. This lead to the centralisation of key buying and merchandising functions, enabling retailers to expand their business without a straight line increase in cost.

Latterly we have moved from a single channel (stores) to multiple channels (stores + e-commerce) to today’s omnichannel world. Essentially this has put the customer in charge of the relationship with the retailer, before that it was the retailer who controlled the relationship deciding what they would offer to customers, as opposed to now being forced to offer the customer service options that the customer wants. Essentially this has made the retail world much more competitive, costly to do business in, yet with many more opportunities for new entrants. Typically the traditional retailers have struggled to compete as their infrastructure is either not capable of supporting these new options, or far too costly to change. Clearly new entrants have no infrastructure to change, so are able to start with the options that today’s customers want.

Essentially today’s focus is about stock accuracy and systems that can enable a sale to be made at any point, to any customer and for the system to promise the delivery options available, and to keep that promise.

2. What are the latest Retail Assist developments that you have been working on that can facilitate these changes in the retail world?

Stock accuracy is vital, so the use of Android/tablet technologies in-store gives a modern and low cost method of managing the various transactions required to improve the accuracy and timeliness of stock. In addition such devices can be used for multiple applications, unlike previous generations of Hand Held terminals. Example of these include; access to the company intranet, training documentation, email and assisted selling applications. We are seeing the movement away from fixed point till systems, to a more flexible point of service environment, based on devices that everyone is used to using, as they are essentially big phones.

3. How does your background help you in your role at Retail Assist?

I have been on the supplier side for 30 years and have worked with numerous retailers, in multiple sectors. Whilst the requirements across the sectors are fairly common, each individual sector (for example fashion or footwear) has its own unique requirements. My experience across these sectors provides an in-depth knowledge of multiple technology platforms and databases, and enables me to provide a strategic focus for Retail Assist.

4. How do you think omnichannel affects what we do here at Retail Assist?

Omnichannel is at the core of everything we do, retailers come to us for system most normally because there current offering either cannot give them the Omni-channel offerings they need to remain competitive, or the cost of changing their current system to provide these is prohibitive.

5. How does Merret differ from other supply chains?

Our reputation for delivery means that people buy from us. Our target clients tend to be Tier 2 fashion retailers, who are looking for a medium sized company who can be as flexible as they want to be.  Many other supply chain solutions are not built specifically to deal with fashion, but instead are more generic in their management of stock.  We find that fashion retailing has specific requirements, and so the solution fits this area of retailing particularly well.

The way in which Merret fulfils stock is also different to other solutions.  Despite a retailer having multiple channels, Merret fulfils stock from a single stock pool, providing the retailer with a single view of stock regardless of channel.  Therefore, wherever a customer requires product from Merret will look into the central stock availability and source it from the most efficient location.

With the growing global requirements Merret is multicurrency and can deal with multiple time zones for pricing deals.  This is giving buyers and merchandisers the best opportunity to get products in the right place at the right time at the right price, providing customers with the chance to buy anything from anywhere at anytime.

If you would like to know any more about the above, please contact us on info@retail-assist.co.uk or 0115 853 3910.

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Retail Business Technology Expo – 2014 – Show Highlights

Last week we visited the Retail Business Technology Expo at Earls Court in London; to catch up with some of our clients, to take a look at some of the technologies being exhibited, whilst also listening to some of the latest thinking regarding the future of retail.

For us the show had 3 main themes of:

  • Customer Service – A presentation by Charles Tyrwhitt shirts revealed that the business was built on ‘quality, value and service’.  These principles are the same in the business today.

This theme was echoed by others at the show.  With the presence of social media the importance of customer service becomes even greater.  If a great experience is had the customer is likely to ‘tweet’ or share this socially.  However, if they’ve had a bad experience the same is true.  Therefore, the importance of getting social opinion right through great customer service is imperative.

It is so much easier today for customers to access opinion, and the opinions of social peers.  It is a growing factor in the purchasing decision, particularly in the generation Y customer. According to latest research by Planet Retail, 44% of people see social media as a good source of reviews and recommendations. Charles Tyrwhitt stated that all feedback bad or good goes live on their website as soon as the opinion is given.  It is often from the bad feedback which they learn the most.  They learn how to do things differently next time, which is helping them to improve their customer service.

  • Mobile and Payment Technologies – Mobile is propelling multichannel retailing.  It appears that customers are demanding change, and retailers who have an omnichannel retail strategy will be the ones who will capture market share.

Not only are customers using their mobiles to research products or services, and use them for social sharing, but mobile payments are on the increase.  Gartner predicts that by 2015, 350 million people will use mobile to make payments.

  • In-store technology – Combining both the physical and online world in the store has been a common theme in retail over the last few years, yet some customers have been hesitant to engage with the technology.  Some of the figures from Planet Retail show that this might be starting to turn around with:
    • 14% of customers having used virtual mirrors in store
    • 20% of customers having engaged with staff with tablet devices
    • 22% of customers using digital display’s in store to search more products
    • 19% of shoppers visited in-store kiosks.

The other area shoppers want to see the combination of online and bricks and mortar retailing is when it comes to fulfillment and returns.  With 56% of shoppers wanting to return their online items to their local store, it is all about convenience for the customer, and facilitating a seamless journey regardless of channel.

Did you attend RBTE?  What were your thoughts and highlights from the show? Share your answers here or email us at info@retail-assist.co.uk

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Social Media – Are You Connected?

Social MediaWith the ever changing retail landscape, retailers are constantly having to evolve and transform to keep up with the latest technology trends and customer expectations. The internet and its rapid growth has been a key instigator in all this change, teaching retailers that embracing the internet and emerging social media platforms is crucial when trying to appeal to and attract the educated consumer of today.

Social media has become a strategic marketing tool that offers retailers an additional promotion and advertising opportunity, whilst also emerging as a way to have a competitive edge in an environment that is always seeking new and exciting ways to have something different and better than its competition.

Not only does social media provide retailers with more visibility but also helps them engage with their customers, providing a fully connected experience. Social media can also prove to be a vital tool in collecting customer data and raise brand awareness which can have a direct influence on sales.  Mel Exon chief digital officer at Bartle Bogle Hegarty comments;

“With 1.23 billion monthly active users it’s very difficult to ignore Facebook.”

With so many social media channels now available, access is feasible anytime, anywhere, so making it accessible and visible at every stage of the purchase journey provides a truly connected omnichannel selling and buying experience. The Return On Investment (ROI) regarding  social media sites can be difficult to measure, but there are still clear indicators that you are achieving positive outcomes.  Something as simple as posting a picture on Instagram and seeing comments below asking, “Where can I buy this?” is surely a great influence in the purchasing decision.

Personalisation is a hot topic at the moment.  Retailers want to appeal to  customers based on insight into their likes, behaviours and interests.   Through the use of interaction  via social media it allows consumers to feel they are personally interacting with your brand. This helps to build customer engagement, gives your brand a personality and ultimately helps increase brand awareness and push up sales figures.

Social media can also be a good way to learn about your customers, by making ‘tweets’ interactive with simple questions, asking about favourite colours, material, patterns etc.  This customer data, will help you learn and better target your audience whilst building up trust and gaining brand loyalty.

Social media is constantly changing and evolving with technology. Pinterest has recently announced a more open approach allowing retailers back-end access, enabling integration of consumer Pinterest product pins placed directly on to websites. This then lets retailers highlight the most popular product pins in real time.

‘Social shopping’ is a new term that is set to grow .  Research conducted by eBay predicts that UK retail sales coming from social media are going to grow to £290m by 2014, a rise of 44%. With social media so accessible via smartphones and tablets it’s important to maintain a social media presence across all platforms, especially when 35% of smartphone users use their phones to locate nearby stores and 34% take pictures of products to gain product information. Social media is providing the customer with a fully connected experience, making it easier to offer a personalised and interactive shopping experience.

The true value of social media comes in the form of inspiring purchases.  The Generation Y consumer is now more than ever heavily influence by opinions of others.  Therefore, social sharing of individuals particularly within friend groups can have more impact on purchases rather than communications created by the brand themselves.  Therefore, positive experiences and interaction with a retailers brand goes a long way in influencing and inspiring purchases from a much wider group.

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Round up of the #Omnieffect Twitter Discussion

Last week we took part in a Twitter discussion on omnichannel retailing.  We felt it would be good to share with you some of the highlights.  The debate was organised by Ebay, Paypal and Retail week. With omnichannel being such a prevalent topic at the moment, the discussion attracted lots of interactions and raised lots of interesting points.

@LauraH_RW from Retail Week magazine kicked off the debate by asking: What does omnichannel mean to today’s consumer?

We feel it provides today’s consumer with multiple avenues to support their shopping habits, whilst at the same time providing them with a consistent experience across all channels.  It’s all about enabling the customer to shop the brand, not just the channel. There was a general agreement that it was about enabling customers to pay and shop however and whenever customers wanted.   The views were that it is about making the most of online, embracing and adapting to new technologies. @eBayCorp_UK added, customers are in the driving seat now more than ever, shopping in new ways that fit into their busy lives.

The conversation then moved to the importance of a seamless journey, again drawing a general conclusion that this was a crucial element of any omnichannel journey. It is about gaining and retaining customer loyalty, through a personalised and smooth transition from product purchase to product delivery. A seamless experience across all channels is no longer what customers want, but it is what they expect of the omnichannel journey.  It encourages brand loyalty and a positive experience regardless of channel. @eCommera added that the customer sees the experience despite the channel as black or white. Customers simply want and expect a constant retail experience through whatever channel is most convenient for them at the time.

@gemmagoldfingle from Retail Week Magazine asked: Does shopping behaviour differ in the omnichannel shopper?

Omnichannel consumers are being influenced in their shopping habits – new technology is making it easier for them to spend. Customers simply reach the same outcome via a different mix of channels.  @eBayCorp_UK added, customers don’t think in channels, they don’t see themselves as omnichannel shoppers – just shoppers. Different customers have different demands, but delivering reliability is absolutely key.

@LauraH_RW: Does an omnichannel offering mean in store sales are being cannibalised?

We felt that this was not the case, shoppers aren’t abandoning the high street they regard the high street as complementary to online shopping.

@LauraH_RW: What motivates ‘Super Shoppers’?

Strong motivation for ‘super shoppers’ is the use of a combination of channels, helping deliver a consistent experience across the brand, providing multiple avenues to support shopping habits. The benefits of having a broad online presence was the next issue raised, and we remarked that a combination of channels and containing a consistent experience across the brand was definitely a core benefit. Also a broad presence across multiple channels can help ensure support for higher spending consumers and ‘super shoppers’, giving consumers a wider view of products and providing access to more niche items.

@LauraH_RW: How are customers behaving before they enter a store?

We acknowledged that customers are now definitely doing their research, and using stores for ‘show-rooming’. Statistics in Drapers back this up saying that 31% of shoppers visit the store, but equally consumers also use online as a virtual showroom, with 34% researching online before purchasing in store. @OmnicoGroup agreed with this adding, on the go research is now engrained.

@gemmagoldfingle: Retailers would agree that stores, online and mobile form their current omnichannel strategy – what’s next?

@OmnicoGroup talked about Google Glass in terms of the next strategy, noting its importance for retailer and consumer. @PayPalUK mentioned fingerprint scanning, providing the perfect mix of security and convenience. We felt however that mobile and tablet technology still hasn’t been explored enough, especially not when used in store.

We then asked: Is omnichannel shopping linked to the value of goods?

We commented that 63% of consumers use multiple channels when the value is +£100, this statistic was from research conducted by @Deloitte. @EbayCorp_UK commented on this saying the omnichannel effect is more prevalent at higher price points, but super shoppers seem to use all channels at any price point. However research in Drapers notes that when purchasing a considered item people refer to 9 reference points, over 7 days covering 5 devices, constituting a non-impulse buy.

@Adam_Yeoman: What does the perfect supply chain look like?

We responded that it has the ability to fulfil multiple channels from a single stock pool, this is crucial for seamless omnichannel retailing. @eBayCorp_UK agreed with this statement saying their research showed that its best when there is a single view of customer & goods, creating a seamless experience, agile channel-agnostic supply chain.

‘Final thoughts’ concluded the debate, eBayCorp_UK said, the omni effect is here to stay, customers are in the driving seat, some will seize the opportunity – will it be you?

We concluded recognising that a seamless experience across all channels enables the consumer to shop the brand not just the channel.

Before the debates conclusion @PayPalUK said, it’s exciting times for retailers and consumers, following this with a bold statement;

“We know the future is mobile, we predict by 2016 you won’t take your wallet out shopping.”

The omnichannel purchase journey has become complex as a result of the wider ranges of channels through which consumers are shopping.  Mobile payments would help to make purchasing goods an easier experience, helping to further engage consumers at every stage of their shopping journeys.

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What effect does the weather really have on retail sales?

In the UK the weather is often erratic and unpredictable, it can put us in a good mood or it can put us in a bad one, especially when you get caught in the rain without an umbrella. But can the British weather really have an impact on our retailers, and if so to what extent?

In an interview conducted by the BBC it explains how this dramatic swing from, “Ice-cream to umbrellas” has a severe impact on market stall retailers but also poses an issue for all retailers (big or small).  The interview in question reveals that there are two key factors which influence how people shop.

1. The general state of the economy and how ‘well off’ people feel

2. The weather

But if this is the case what can retailers do about it. Tesco use a system that cross checks an accumulation of 5 years’ worth of data with information about every product in every store, every day of the week. Treeva Fenwick , Head of Broadcast and Consumer Communications at Tesco ‎ comments that this allows them to accurately predict what people want, allowing them to appropriately stock their stores.  Their weather system is so specific it can even indicate the temperate at which sales of burgers will go up.

Although most companies don’t have pockets as deep as Tesco there is still data being produced that can provide predictions which can still give an indication of weather patterns.