Reducing the cost to serve through driving operational efficiency while also encouraging innovation is a difficult balancing act for retailers. But Zynstra CEO Nick East says retail technology is the key
Physical retail is currently at a turning point. With the rise in ecommerce and heightened customer expectations for buying convenience – such as click and collect - retailers are having to think about how they can redefine the bricks-and-mortar store in today’s landscape.
From an insider perspective, these developments have led to increased pressure on both COOs and senior decision makers to shape this in-store revolution while simultaneously driving cost savings and operational efficiency. Despite the ecommerce boom, it is the physical store that remains the most influential of spaces in this regard, and the environment in which there are the most significant savings and improvements to make.
This is not the only problem weighing heavy on the shoulders of retail decision-makers. On top of this lies the need to determine how these stores can be leveraged to further instil and support brand values, and to build a platform for innovation that will entice shoppers of all ages back into these bricks-and-mortar stores.
The most common obstacle faced by retailers, however, is the ability to reduce the cost to serve through driving operational efficiency while in parallel encouraging innovation — not stifling it.
The first step towards achieving this is adopting an IT and technology infrastructure that accommodates these needs, and a major step in achieving this is the consolidation of their in-store compute resources. By enabling large-scale consolidation and reducing the physical IT footprint, retailers can benefit from a more efficient infrastructure that naturally drives efficiencies within the store.
This also enables centralised management and control of the IT infrastructure, combined with Intelligent Automation — an essential requirement for modern retailers.
Centralised control and management of your store infrastructure mitigates the expense of sending IT teams out to solve store IT issues while also enabling the retailer to roll out new stores quicker.
Intelligent Automation enables all patches, updates and upgrades of your IT infrastructure across all stores to be automated, ensuring you have a more secure and consistent system.
Taking a look at this from a higher-level perspective, the consolidation of in-store compute can also bring about huge security improvements — this is due to the increased levels of currency and control afforded to retailers through centralised management, and the dramatic reduction in potential pathways for hackers to gain access to your systems.
All too often we hear about retailers suffering from serious data breaches, and this can also have operational knock-on effects. Just imagine, for example, that a hacker gains access to your infrastructure and forces the tills in your stores to go down — this results in disgruntled customers, lost revenue and a damaged brand reputation.
At the core of consolidation is virtualisation — something that does not only have an impact on back office systems, but also important in-store technologies including POS and self-checkout terminals.
This allows retailers to virtualise their existing POS application onto a centrally managed store server while maintaining exactly the same appearance and functionality as before.
It can help to massively improve POS terminal performance, with less downtime and reduced maintenance costs, and to regularly update and apply patches to individual terminals from a central point. It also helps to significantly extend the life of existing POS terminals.
Another emerging retail trend that can increase efficiency and drive staff productivity is the use of mobile POS tablets, which staff can use to take payments from anywhere within a store, thereby reducing and perhaps even eliminating queues. These virtualised and fully functional tablets are the ideal solution for those looking to introduce innovative tools into their bricks-and-mortar stores, and the operational advantages are obvious.
The potential of mobile POS tablets transcends business needs and can also have a major impact on the in-store customer experience. If staff are empowered to be more productive and get out from behind the counter, this can often result in customers feeling more valued and satisfied with the interactions they’ve had with a sales advisor.
Finally, businesses cannot underestimate the importance of ensuring any technologies they adopt to improve efficiency are compliant. With regulations like the PCI-DSS and GDPR making headlines at the moment, all retailers must ensure they are operating within the relevant guidelines, and should not sacrifice the risk of non-compliance for other benefits.
The battleground has moved to the edge – in the physical store. Retailers need to find new ways to drive optimal operational efficiency in-store if they are going to survive and thrive in today’s environment, and technology will undoubtedly play a huge part in enabling this. Only by doing this will they meet the expectations and demands of customers today.
There are too many examples of computer resources being wasted in-store when there are new technologies available today that can transform these resources to deliver a better performance and better experience at a lower cost to serve.
It may be a challenging balancing act, but if businesses can adopt innovative technologies that are both efficient and cost-effective while simultaneously delivering a seamless customer experience, retailers will be able to enjoy strong success in a challenging landscape.