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Retail Technology, Retail technology News

Tough times are no excuse

Thursday December 10 2009

When times are tough, they say the tough get going. And, elaborating on recurrent theme in Retail Technology magazine, now has never been a better time for technology to come to the fore and prove its worth within the retail environment.

When times are tough, they say the tough get going. And, elaborating on recurrent theme in Retail Technology magazine, now has never been a better time for technology to come to the fore and prove its worth within the retail environment.

Dolphin 6100 mobile computerWe've been saying this ever since the recession hit last year. But it is understandable that, at a time when no one knew how far the economy would fall, the natural reaction was to batten down the hatches and freeze all non-essential spend. The problem inherent in this course of action however, is that, too often within retailing environments, all technology is lumped into that non-essential category.

But the deals we have continued to cover during these tough times at least prove this attitude towards technology is changing. And a recent Forrester research report (page 7) vindicates what we've been trying to say all along - that tough times may ebb and tide, but consumer expectations do not. And retail technologists now have the perfect opportunity to help shape a better retail experience for the future. Indeed, it is a sad indictment of all enterprise technology when it's taken as read that people's experience of the technology they have in their own homes is nowadays likely to be more sophisticated than the technology they encounter anywhere else.

The excuse that technology is something that is "nice to have" will no longer cut it with the consumer - recession or not. In fact, those retailers that are seen to continuously innovate to improve their customer proposition and levels of service in spite of economic constraints will reap the benefits of loyal customers willing to act as advocates to their peers in future. Having a branch on every street corner is not going to win customers looking for value and service, as well as convenience. I'd rather that type of retailer closed their under-performing stores and redirected funds towards innovative new service enhancements - most of which, nowadays are technology based.

Beneath this, the retailer first has to understand which are their best and worst stores and/or channels and where back-office processes are lacking or could be streamlined to further contribute to a tighter bottom line. And again, here, technology is key.

The example of Poundland is a great one here. It's decision to trial contactless technology (page 10) demonstrates that it understands it must continue to innovate, even though its discount retailing proposition is winning it many new, more value-conscious customers. Butt with more customers coming through the door it recognises that such payment technology may be able to maintain or even increase transaction throughput. Moreover, it will help position Poundland as retailer that offers choice and convenience meaning that, if a first-time customer has a good experience of the technology, they are more likely to become a repeat customer.

Part of this value proposition includes having the basic technology infrastructure to support such innovation, which is why I'm hoping our major, annual communications feature will be an informative and though provoking read. At the same time, this area of retail technology also encompasses contact and communication with suppliers, staff and partners, as well as customers across multiple channels, and often plays a key role in the process enhancement that's so key to improving the overall retail experience.

But it's our in-store, electronic point-of-sale and digital signage that really excites me this issue because it proves that some retailers are heeding the signs and continuing to invest in the brick-and-mortar experience, despite burgeoning online sales. These retailers truly understand the value of technology and its benefits if harnessed intelligently.