Empowering the connected colleague

In its latest webinar, Essential Retail was joined by Dave Abbott, head of in-store at Dune, Colin Pike, senior key account manager for retail at Datalogic and Jacky Broomhead, market development manager for apparel at GS1 UK, to discuss various technologies that empower the the in-store colleague and bridge the knowledge gap between physical and online retailing.

Webinar moderator Caroline Baldwin, editor of Essential Retail, set the scene with the observation that customers are now more knowledgeable than store assistants. “They have many burning questions and staff need to be well equipped to deal with them,” she noted.

She then handed over to Datalogic’s Pike who gave a presentation entitled ‘Delivering the Connected Retailer’. The retail automation market is worth over £8 billion and this is set to rise by 10% per annum up to 2022. Datalogic is a market leader (over one third of the world’s retailers use its tech) that focuses on manufacturing barcode scanners and handheld devices for stores and DCs.

Pike cited research stating that 63% of retailers are planning to increase their budgets for store innovation in the next 12 months as they look to provide a seamless online and offline experience. “This investment is not just restricted to stores. We’re seeing investment in both the DC and warehouse sector as well as front of store and home shopping. There is a move away from multichannel retailing and segregated delivery to a true omnichannel approach where fulfilment is often delivered locally at store level.”

The key to all this is connected devices. There are a number of factors driving change, including the growth of Android devices in-store, making it possible for users to access a much wider range of applications via devices that are familiar to them. There are also various technologies they can hold in the palm of their hand, including integrated barcode scanners and enterprise class radios.

These devices are not just being used for traditional applications, like stock taking, but also customer facing applications such as assisted selling. It’s now essential for retailers to be able to scan barcodes from customers’ phones. Over the past few years, Datalogic has seen “incredible investment in the UK from retailers replacing conventional legacy laser scanners (which are unable to read barcodes on smartphones), including 2D images.”

Other major areas of growth include eReceipts, self-shopping, RFID, interactive kiosks, empowering tablets and mobile loyalty/eCoupons. In terms of the latter, Pets at Home has 3.8 million members who are now loyal customers and it can track 69% of revenue from swiped loyalty cards.

In the last two years the retailer has been deploying Datalogic scanners to read barcodes off smartphones. “They have an interesting approach whereby they have two scanners at the PoS; one is a cordless scanner which the cashier uses for scanning normal transactions through the till in a mobile way,” said Pike. “The secondary one is located just below the PED and is designed to read the barcode from the smartphone. The feedback from customers is that they don’t want to hand over their smartphones; the secondary scanner addresses this issue.”

To RFID or not to RFID

Pike was followed by GS1 UK’s Broomhead, who spoke about solving store issues through RFID. She focused on how RFID can fuel connected data and make it easier for staff to do their jobs. The market, she added, is set to grow from $10.1 billion to $18.7 billion by 2026, with apparel maintaining the majority share.

Marks and Spencer, Macy’s and Zara pioneered the use of the technology but a wide range of retailers, from value to high value products, are now getting onboard. “RFID empowers in-store colleagues,” said Broomhead. “Benefits include ease of locating stock, automating or speeding up key processes and improved store layout.”

A criticism of RFID has been that it is simply too expensive for many retailers to roll-out. And an poll carried out by Essential Retail during the webinar highlighted this, with 50% of participants saying that it was still too costly. “The cost of the tags has been the main concern. But the price has come down,” countered Broomhead. “The benefits far outweigh the cost of implementation. We are seeing a lot of growth. Of the top 20 UK retailers, only four are not looking at the tech.”

Dune’s journey so far

The final presentation came courtesy of Dune’s Abbott who noted that the retailer has been working on the notion of the connected colleague within its technology roadmap for around six years. “It started with the customer, who is central to how we make our colleagues as empowered as possible via technology,” he commented.

In 2011, the retailer introduced a solution that enable stores to order any footwear available in the warehouse. “We can get up to 20% of sales coming from smaller sites in a week. It gives that flexibility of adding the whole range to a smaller site. We also tackled stock availability so you can see what’s available in your local store and also search on the website to check if items are available in stores and concessions before you head off to try them on.”

Click & Collect has become a huge way of shopping (“we can do several thousand parcels a week,” notes Abbott), whilst mobile PoS is proving useful for smaller outlets and also the big London stores. “In terms of store fulfilment, it is no longer just from the warehouse but also from stores. Colleagues can order stock from any UK store.”

The iPad mini has been the device of choice but Dune is now looking at Android as it becomes increasingly popular. Other key areas include digital receipts (Dune has been using these for around four years and reports high uptake), e-learning, training and management tools and infrastructure refreshes. Meanwhile, a digital scheduling initiative is in the works.

“It’s about making the journey for colleagues in-store as seamless as possible,” he said. “The real change for us is in making processes as efficient as possible. Colleagues can download an app and connect with others.”

The road ahead

Whilst the connected colleague fuelling happy, loyal omnichannel customers is undoubtedly a fantastic idea, does it remain a utopian dream? Click & Collect can, for instance, be a huge strain on stores, especially during peak times.

We’ve all had a bad in-store experience. As Essential Retail’s Baldwin pointed out: “I attended a conference where it was stated that customers will be able to walk in-store, the retailer will recognise them by mobile device and start preparing their order so that it is ready by the time they reach the till. I was at Westfield recently, picking up three different packages, it didn’t happen to me once.”

Dune’s Abbot said the technology is available for that scenario to happen today.

“But the reality is, to have the staffing levels to achieve that, you would need to be one of the big players,” he said. “Click & Collect has been on the increase and many of our stores, such as Central London and Canary Wharf, are really used to it, but it’s a case of making their lives as simple as possible. Simple things like putting handles on shipping parcels so if the customer doesn’t want to try items on, we can give it to them there and then – we don’t need to re-bag individual items.”

For Datalogic’s Pike, the biggest challenge over the coming year is improving inventory and reducing returns in a more intelligent way. GS1 UK’s Broomhead flagged up Brexit as a major concern for many of her organisation’s members.

Whilst Abbott concluded: “Make sure you have all the bases covered. Understand your customers. The expectations of colleagues and customers are constantly changing; networks and devices must be fast and intuitive enough.”

Click here to revist Essential Retail's webinar on Empowering the Connected Colleague, sponsored by Datalogic.