As new systems and digital capability continue to evolve the way retailers run their businesses, Essential Retail is gauging the views of the sector's main figureheads, via a series of exclusive interviews. This week, it's the turn of Ergonomic Solutions' managing director, Ian Dewar.

Research released in the autumn suggests a year on from Apple Pay's initial deployment in the US there are a number of practical issues causing a slowdown in the growth of consumers adopting this fledgling technology.

Phoenix Marketing International runs an ongoing Apple Pay tracking study, which shows that the rate at which people have been using the service has decelerated after an early burst of adoption – with continuing point-of-sale (PoS) friction apparently "retarding transaction potential".

It is not to say that Apple Pay is not rising in prominence as part of a raft of new digital transaction methods that are expected to form a larger share of the overall payments landscape in the years ahead, but the research does highlight certain negligence on retailers' parts when it comes to store technology.

According to Phoenix, the majority of Apple Pay users it analysed continue to encounter problems at the point of sale (PoS), including terminals that take too long to use, terminals that do not actually work properly and cashiers who are unable to help. Essential Retail caught up with Ian Dewar, managing director of Ergonomic Solutions, which provides businesses with secure mounting systems for PoS equipment, to understand if the wider retail world is taking the safety of their in-store systems seriously enough.

"We deal with most of the major retailers and provide them with mounting and security solutions for precisely that kind of technology, and we find in general in the UK that businesses identify a need to look after their equipment," he explained.

"Consumers want to be able to shop the way they want to shop, when they want to shop and if you haven't got the technology available and working at that time there's too much choice: shoppers will go somewhere else."

Retailers are increasingly identifying technology investment in their stores as an essential component for the required modern-day customer experience. The amount they spend on new systems, hardware and software is becoming a larger part of overall capital expenditure, while the time gap between upgrades is narrowing, which arguably means boardrooms will increasingly look at ways of protecting their investments.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that when the first wave of tablet devices were introduced to stores in the UK as a tool for customer service, there were a raft of breakages due to some manufacturers' design-over-durability approach. There has certainly been a shift to more ruggedised equipment over the last 12 months, and this could be set to continue according to Dewar.

He said it's "absolutely critical" that retailers make the safety and security of their technology a greater part of their loss prevention strategies.

"There has probably been a lot more focus on security of data, [rather than the physical hardware]," he added.

"But if a payment device wasn't available at peak times it has a massive impact on the proportion of transactions going through the retail store."

In the US, where Ergonomic Solutions will be focusing much of its attention in the year ahead after bringing in-house the operational assets of its PoS equipment distributor partner Seamark International, looking after in-store technology is sure to become a greater challenge as the introduction of chip and PIN payments and the switch to EMV ramps up in the new year.

"Firstly, with the shift to EMV in the US, I think US retailers are waking up to the fact there is a need to change technology," noted Dewar.

"With that they'll then start to understand a lot more in terms of the PCI implications needed to keep their equipment well looked after and secure. You've seen a number of quite significant data breaches in the US, including Target. For US retailers, as they wake up to EMV, the implementation of newer technology will be accelerated there."

The various tech hardware and solutions available to protect these products are, of course, deployed for different reasons and depend on a retailer's specific requirements. But there are common goals all businesses operating in the sector can be working towards.

Not all customers are the same and it is up to retailers to recognise that offering shoppers choice is a central pillar to keeping them happy and fostering loyalty. Whether that means providing different ways to transact, running personalised and relevant marketing campaigns or having an array of delivery options, the consumer wants the power to interact with a retailer when and how they choose.

Indeed, one of the friction points in Apple Pay usage identified by the Phoenix study was that nearly half of the service's users have, in the past, expected Apple Pay to be accepted – only to find out that the specific store visited did not in fact accept it.

A lack of customer support is another reason why adoption of Apple's mobile wallet has been slowing, the research firm said, with users reportedly confused as to whom they should contact when an error such as a double charge occurs. 40% of users who have required support called Apple, but were unsure it was the right route to take.

Apple is just one of a multitude of companies involved in the in-store technology ecosystem, and the issues raised in the research can serve as a warning to the wider industry. Dewar said that if systems are not operating efficiently or damaged in some way, it can have far-reaching consequences.

"You'll lose not only a transaction but the customer as well, which is obviously very expensive. Retailers have spent a lot of money to gain the customer in the first place."

He added: "Retailers have got to take the issue of system availability and security very seriously."

Ergonomic Solutions will be exhibiting at RBTE 2016, which takes place at London Olympia on 9-10 March 2016. Click here to register for your free event ticket.

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