Standing out

Scott Thompson and Michelle Stevens bring you the highlights from the RBTE 2014 exhibition floor and conference streams

The problem with shows like Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE), and the Retail Systems Editor can oft be heard having a moan about this, is that they tend to be sprawling affairs featuring the same old salesmen from the same old tech vendors flogging the same old solutions to the same old punters. It’s one of the things that did for Retail Solutions (RBTE’s spiritual predecessor which shut up shop a few years back). So kudos to those exhibitors who this year
broke free of the stereotype and did something a bit different or launched a product that stood out from the pack.

First up, PMC, along with partners Casio, Epson & YESpay, hosted an event during the two day exhibition, at Casio’s Covent Garden store, showcasing the former’s Store Enabler application. This allows retailers to transform their existing website into a mobile PoS, with full capabilities to scan products, print receipts and take secure payments. Paul Mason, CEO at PMC, commented: “We wanted to give retailers the opportunity to see the benefits Store Enabler can drive in a real life store environment. We had a fantastic take up of invitations to the event, proving that retailers are searching for the right solution to their in-store mobile challenges.”

The company reports that over 30 retailers came to the event. Andrew Reason, general sales manager, who represented Casio on the night, stated: “We experience the same challenges as many other retailers; our stores can only hold a limited subset of our entire range. Store Enabler allows us to complete the consultative sales process successfully at the point of decision, even if the chosen item isn’t at the store with a customer present card transaction. This gives us true range extension and a higher level of customer satisfaction. Most of the other retailers who attended the event at the flagship Covent Garden store confirmed that they were experiencing the same or similar challenges to Casio, and a number of them expressed interest in considering Store Enabler for their stores in the near future.”

Mason added: “It was great to talk to so many retailers about how Store Enabler could be used in their stores to deliver a better customer experience and drive higher sales. The hugely positive reaction we received to Store Enabler validated our innovative approach to using existing systems to rapidly deploy a mobile solution that really delivers an all important ROI.”

Sticking with PMC and in previous years the company’s managing director, Huw Thomas, has criticised RBTE for the lack of decision makers walking the floor, as well as the absence of fully operational end-to-end solutions that were on show. This year, however, things were different. “It was a great show – well attended by retailers – plenty of engagement, attendees with decision or recommendation authority,” said Thomas.

In terms of the technology on display, there were no massive surprises and as with last year mobile and payments were all the rage. It was, however, something of a novelty seeing a retailer putting in an appearance as an exhibitor, rather than a conference speaker. Hats off to Clarks for using the show to highlight its new iPad foot gauge, which will be used to measure children’s feet in-store, with the aim of giving both parents and children a fun and interactive consumer experience.

The device uses a footplate to measure foot length and a digi-tape to measure foot width. This size information is then relayed to an iPad app, presenting an instant shoe size guide for use by Clarks staff. The device also features animated Clarks characters, Jack Nano and Daisy, who entertain children whilst guiding them through each step. The iPad foot gauge and bespoke app has been designed specifically for the retailer who worked with design agency Designworks Windsor. Simon Jones, head of sales in the UK and ROI at Clarks, commented: “We’re always striving to innovate and improve our in-store experience. Great fitting shoes are at the heart of our business and we have developed the iPad Foot Gauge because we want to continue to enhance our consumer experience, ensuring that children have stylish shoes that fit their feet perfectly.”

The retailer will roll-out the technology across the UK and ROI throughout 2014.

Conference streams
The small conference theatres at RBTE 2014 were standing room only, as one eager audience member found out to his cost when he went crashing through a makeshift wall in the busy keynote session on day one. The headline ‘power panel’ of speakers certainly drew in the crowds with an impressive line-up of retail leaders. Up for discussion were the current challenges and opportunities for retailers in a multi-channel trading environment.

“If you look at the landscape today as a retailer who is running a largely bricks and mortar business, you are competing in a world where anyone who has developed a business in the last five to 10 years, or has an online-only business, is looking through a very different lense,” opened Andrew Harrison, CEO at Carphone Warehouse. “The online world is looking through an analytical, responsive and fast moving lense, and that is in many aspects the opposite of a retail business which is reviewing KPIs on a weekly basis and not getting real-time analytical feedback. Traditional retail needs to evolve in how it competes with a new set of competition that is utterly data driven and to the minute.”

David Wilds, CEO at Domino’s Pizza Group, told attendees that it was important for retailers to be inspired rather than daunted by current changes in the market, and to always be one step ahead. “In terms of what’s on consumers’ minds I think the big issue today is ease of use – someone said to me the other day that easy is the new loyalty,” he explained. “We are going to see some very interesting changes around the infrastructure implications of online ordering – both for the direct fulfilment and for click and collect. I think we are only at the beginning of the reshaping of retail infrastructure in order to deliver the right experience for customers.”

On the topic of analytics, Wilds added: “The interesting thing is that a lot of people look at data today and describe it as insight, but it’s actually hindsight – using past behaviour of customers in order to predict the future. There are businesses emerging that are using foresight data and are scrapping social media in order to find people’s real intentions and habits.”

“Clearly, knowing as much about customers as possible is absolutely key,” agreed Steven Esom, non-executive chairman for the British Retail Consortium and previously MD at Waitrose. “But there is so much data it really is about cutting through it and using it as a tool rather than a blanket. The important thing is how retailers keep up with consumers.

There is a lot of competition now and consumers have complete transparency and visibility in terms of product, service and price.”

Fellow panellist Peter Williams, former chief executive, Selfridge’s and currently a non-executive director at both Rightmove and Cineworld, said that retailers also needed to be mindful of the amount of digital experience at top management level. “Many bricks and mortar retailers have been around quite a while and have board members aged 50 plus, and frankly they are the wrong age to understand digital,” he argued. “Rather than just inviting an e-commerce manager in once every six months to talk about how you are doing on the internet, you need to have a digital director who is at every board meeting, because that is the future in terms of growth. And if they’re over 40, they’re too old!”

Meanwhile, the final panel discussion on day two of RBTE 2014 turned its attention to the world of mobile payments, and what might be holding back mass consumer adoption. “Firstly, I think that payment may not necessarily be the ‘killer app’ that starts it,” noted Mark McMurtrie, founder of Payments Consultancy Ltd. “It may well be more of a loyalty programme, a coupon or offer – something which is going to incentivise the consumer and also make a difference to the retailer.”

Raja Ray, director of products and solutions at VeriFone, agreed that there needed to be perceived value for the customer if they were to embrace m-payments. “That may come in the way of the added-value services associated with mobile, but I also think it can come from payment itself – if you provide consumers with a fantastic customer experience,” he explained. “For example, we have just seen the mass roll-out of contactless here and what we are starting to see, especially in London, is a real excitement and almost enjoyment from consumers using contactless as a method of payment.”

Peter Keenan, CEO at Zapp, argued that one of the biggest challenges to m-payments was the physical retail environment. “When a customer walks into a store wanting to make a payment, quite frankly card or cash payment today is a very slick experience. And many would say that mobile payments in that arena is a solution looking for a problem that isn’t there,” he pointed out.

“When you break it out, however, a lot of those cash and card payment types were developed when only a physical channel existed, and there was no such thing as buying on the internet. The industry has had to evolve as a result of that, and where I believe mobile payments can really make a significant improvement is to the friction in online and m-commerce payments, because right now card is not a great solution for those channels.”

Turning the discussion to NFC, Keenan added: “As a former retailer, I am very sceptical about NFC. I think it is a high cost solution, and there is clearly a battle going on between Apple and Google about which technology is going to win out in the end. It seems likely that it will be resolved in the next 24 months, and if I was in a retailer’s shoes I would be waiting to see what way that is going to land.”

But Ray said that he was not so pessimistic about NFC. “There are still some uncertainties, but the fact remains that pretty much every card acceptance device and every piece of infrastructure that we are now putting into the UK market has the capability of supporting NFC transactions,” he explained. “And I think that is one of the hardest battles – when you look at the infrastructure investment retailers have to make to adopt new technologies the fact is by default, that investment is already being made.”

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