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Intelligent systems: adding value to the shopping experience

Retail systems seize on rapid development

By Retail Technology | Wednesday November 13 2013

Computing expert James Stannard discusses the latest technology developments for communicating with customers, delivering targeted messages and personalised offers and measuring results

Modern retailing is characterised by intense competition and pressure on margins. James Stannard, software brand manager for original equipment manufacturing (OEM) computing provider Arrow OCS says that, to minimise risks, retailers are increasingly looking to build strong customer relationships that win loyalty and recommendations. 

Stannard said new technologies available to consumers such as mobile web, location services and social media present both opportunities and challenges. “Location services, for example, provide the possibility to present offers to customers in the vicinity of a store, while social networking provides a channel for customers to share information. This is why retailers seek to establish a strong presence in an increasing number of channels,” he stated.

Omnichannel customer not retailer

Pointing to the trend towards the notion of the ‘omnichannel’ shopper, where they use all available channels simultaneously – including mobile – to access goods and services, Stannard continued: “These customers are an attractive target for retailers; purchases researched on the internet first and completed instore outnumber e-commerce sales by as much as four to one according to various sources. Omnichannel shoppers are also reckoned to spend around 15-30% more.”

Despite the rise of e-commerce and internet-only retailers, instore remains a popular channel for today’s shoppers. “This is a rapidly changing environment: interactive fixtures providing access to online information, digital signage offering promotions and messages tailored to certain audiences all point to these changes,” he said. “Advanced technology is a common sight, such as handheld devices used by employees to log customer requirements and quickly check stock levels.”

For Stannard, these changes mean it is critical for retailers to have a competent technology platform supporting the convergence of multiple activities. “By connecting transaction processing, loyalty and gift-card handling, inventory management and customer relationship management (CRM), retailers can manage inventory in real time, create better promotions and sell-through strategies, recognise returning customers and deliver more consistent experiences.”

Rapid retail systems development

Historically, the industry has been moving towards the ideal of a seamless experience through the adoption of bespoke systems developed closely with dedicated technology partners. The computing expert said that, although successful in terms of achieving functional objectives, projects can demand heavy commitment of time and resources. “Retail solutions also tend to be expensive and slow to develop,’ he added. “But by using off-the-shelf retail software such as Microsoft SQL Server supporting intelligent capabilities and Windows Embedded POSReady, which is optimised for retail applications, developers can now realise individually tailored retail-system solutions.”

Businesses of all sizes and in various sectors that include hospitality, clothing and food retailing are basing strategies for converged commerce on applications that leverage the inherent interoperability these types of systems can offer, leading to a simplification of activities such as collecting, recording and analysing data from key business activities. Application developers can customise applications to suit the needs of individual retailers and improve business performance – while ensuring security, scalability and flexibility.

“Intelligent systems built this way allow data to flow, and this can help unlock hidden business value,” Stannard explained. “Tracking key data such as store sales, purchase history for customers and response levels to individual campaigns helps companies understand customers’ needs and create better promotions and targeted offers. Businesses are also able to capture employee workflow data to help improve efficiency and customer service.

“Retailers will soon be able to gain even greater power to monitor consumer responses to visual messaging presented on out-of-home digital screens, using advanced systems capable of automatically collecting information about the number of viewers a screen is attracting, as well as their attention span and demographic information,” he continued. “Systems such as the Intel AIM Suite combine multiple sensors with advanced computer algorithms, which should provide an efficient means of capturing and analysing such data compared to traditional audience research.”

Customer-facing digital progress

Digital signage, coordinated and controlled via a powerful content management system (CMS), is often the corner stone to successful customer interaction, according to Stannard. “Falling prices for digital signage software, and computers capable of acting as media players, are key reasons behind the extensive use of advanced visual communications. One example is the Advantech ARK series of rugged, fanless, compact embedded PCs. As a small form-factor alternative, the 4.5-inch by 4.4-inch NUC [Next Unit of Computing] from Intel can deliver intelligent computing in small spaces.”

Instore experience also relies on the screen. “Today’s large-size LCDs are relatively lightweight, supporting vibrant colours and sharp image quality. They can be installed without an expensively engineered mounting. Displays are commonly used in standard sizes up to around 65 inches – sometimes pushing up to 80 inches. Long life industrial-grade panels are considered rugged and durable enough for continuous operation in busy retail applications,” he concluded. 

With tracking, collecting, logging and analysing technologies readily available to the retail sector, Stannard is expecting future customer experiences to improve and for further operational efficiencies to be made.

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