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With only days to go until the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics, news that retailers have been slashing prices as gloomy weather compounded the misery on the High Street will not be welcome

A report from PwC found nearly three-quarters of High Street retailers were offering sales or promotions. It also said this marked a 40% in the numbers of retailers that felt it necessary to cut prices during summer three years ago and that the price cuts were also deeper than last year’s.

James Passingham, founder and technical director of managed communications provider Foehn, commented: “The Olympics are fast approaching, but it seems the overriding emotion for a lot of people is fear and panic rather than excitement and pride.”

Harness new sales opportunities

Passingham told Retail Technology that retailers should be focusing on the predicted £750 million in additional consumer spending during the Olympic season and the positive commercial impact it may have on UK retailers. “As long as you’re prepared and understand your options it can absolutely be business as usual and you may even flourish during this summer’s games,” he said.

To both cope with the impact of an event as major as the 2012 Olympics, as well as prosper from the opportunities it presents, many in the retail industry put the role of technology for keeping their people and processes working smoothly as central to requirements during the coming weeks.

For Passingham, communications are a crucial business continuity tool. “Many High Street retailers already have a call centre sitting at the heart of their customer service,” he said. “However, many others haven’t traditionally placed as much importance on customer contact or remote working, as they’ve regarded their shopfloors as the place to handle concerns. If that’s your business, customer response technology will be key in keeping your customers or partners informed and looked after, so you need to be investigating it now.”

Matching staffing levels to demand 

Barney Quinn, chief executive of workforce management (WFM) software vendor WorkPlace Systems, advised: “Retailers can maximise sales by planning to have the correct level of staff during the Olympic Games – WFM software provides an exceptional tool for planning ‘peak’ sales, typically, the ‘event’ would be treated as a season and planned accordingly with forecasts of key business drivers such as sales, items, footfall etc. made some weeks and months in advance.”

Considering that staffing levels can have a direct impact on customer service levels, Dennis Fois, UK and Northern Europe sales director for collaboration and communication software provider eGain, highlighted that customers and visitors will have high expectations and an unprecedented amount of ways to share their experiences with others. “At the London Olympics, I believe we will see how far the impact of peer recommendations via social networking has come and how that interacts with other sales and service channels; UK brands’ ability to cope will be very telling,” he said. 

Multichannel comms strategy

Fois predicted that it would be essential for retailers to manage and respond to high volumes of new and existing customers consistently across multiple touchpoints and within promised timescales. “Without doubt, some long-term, valued and trusted relationships will form between the consumer and supplier,” he added, but with a note of caution. “It’s not just social; if retailers don’t have the resources to manage increased volumes of customers well in the call centre, store and online then they could become unstuck.”

Some estimates are predicting up to 500,000 extra tourists in the UK over the Games period, while a recent study carried out by travel distribution systems provider, Amadeus and travel data specialist, Forwardkeys revealed a huge 143% spike in air-travel arrivals on the 26 July – the day before the opening of the Games – in comparison to the same day last year.

So, if it turns out to be a welcome boost for UK retail, the ability to maximise any opportunities will depend on the resilience of business continuity and disaster recovery plans, as well technology to optimise supply chain operations alongside customer service levels.

This story first ran as the cover story of the May/June 2012 issue of Retail Technology magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition or register for the free e-version.

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