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NRF Review Exclusive

Unlike in some recent years when Retail's Big Show, organised by NRF in New York, had been a sea of gimmicky - icing-on-the-cake - solutions, the 2014 event had an underlying element of reality about it as retailers continue to grapple with putting in the plumbing of multi-channel retailing.

In this area there is arguably a growing sense of urgency. Ralf Kern, global vice president of the retail business unit at SAP, suggests there is an acceleration taking place in the renew cycle of retailers' e-commerce solutions. 

Over the next two to three years he forecasts that most SAP customers - including Burberry and B&Q - will have a new multi-channel presence in the market. SAP has enhanced its own solution through the purchase of Hybris late last year. 

Another major addition to its offer is its recently launched Customer Activity Repository (CAR) solution that takes data inputs from across retail organisations, including transactions and social media platforms, to create a forecasting and insights tool that acts in real time.

This is being tested with a major grocery business in the UK and marks the start of what SAP believes is a gradual move by retailers to increasingly rely on science more than art in their decision-making.

France-based supermarket Monoprix exemplifies this transition that is taking place and its insights partner Dunnhumby represented one of many data analytics solutions featuring at NRF this year.

Emmanuel Dechelette, general manager of Dunnhumby France revealed that its analytics engine - using customer segmentation - enabled the grocer to debunk some serious myths. It found that as many as 67% of its customers do not buy any of its top10 products and that there are no products in its top 10 best sellers that are bought by both its most price sensitive and its upmarket shoppers.

Monoprix has made changes to its business as a result of these startling insights including the decision to offer free home delivery to its most loyal e-commerce customers having found that offering it in-store has created additional sales of Euros 3 million and profits of Euros 6 million. 

Data is also being increasingly used in a forecasting and planning capacity and TXT announced some new customer wins at NRF including Urban Outfitters. The fashion business recognises that as it becomes more multi-channel and international then the need to use a data-driven tool to plan its assortments becomes ever-more critical.

Marco Guida, CEO of TXT, says there is also a trend to combine his company's planning tools with its Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution. Having this combination of products puts TXT in a unique position.

He cites Louis Vuitton and the clothing category of France-based Auchan as early adopters in integrating both these components into their businesses. This is enabling them to better plan their forthcoming collections not only in a merchandising/assortment sense but to also tie it in closely to their financial objectives.

Creating efficiencies - that improve the bottom line - is also at the heart of a recent development by sports business Decathlon. Speaking at the Wincor Breakfast briefing running alongside Retail's Big Show Eddy Lecointe, CIO of Decathlon, revealed that he had taken advantage of the company's manufacturing and retailing mix to invest in developing its own system of RFID that it is to also make available to other retailers. 

Within Decathlon it source tags products at its own manufacturing plants and these are used to increase warehouse productivity, boost stock efficiency, and reduce markdowns. In addition, they are an integral part of the company's drive to bring greater mobility in-store, with employees equipped with smart devices that utilise the RFID tags for functions including accessing additional product information, accepting payments, and undertaking web orders.

Although there are clearly myriad technologies on offer at NRF the challenge for retailers with their IT strategies is just as much about the implementation process - especially as the introduction of new multi-channel solutions can be extremely disruptive to organisational structures.

Dane Stanley, head of digital marketing and social media at the Co-op, says he overcame this by teaming up with Thoughtworks that brought agility to the development of digital initiatives at the retailer. 

For the first initiative - a deals app that introduces promotions to customers via their smart devices thereby scrapping paper vouchers - Thoughtworks utilised the cloud by deploying Amazon's Web Services. This helped it bring a workable app to market in a matter of days and this base mobile site has since been used for a programme of other initiatives.

These have included an active shopping list and an alerts service to notify customers of deals when they become available. Stanley says the company is now looking at potentially introducing a 'scan & go' service onto this flexible platform.

Despite the inevitable focus on new omni-channel technologies and data analytics solutions at NRF, the Point-of-Sale solution still has a major presence. At Fujitsu its latest launch, Market Place, takes a more flexible approach to the checkout.  

Its PoS solution has been rebuilt using Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) - whereby it is possible to plug-in components from other vendors. Previously retailers would have been buying a more end-to-end solution from Fujitsu.

It also has enhanced multi-channel capabilities whereby customers' wish lists entered online and outstanding click & collect orders can be seamlessly imported onto the PoS when they are shopping in-store. 

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